May 21, 2011
USFWS: Georgia Parham 812-334-4261 x 1203
USFS: Kenneth Arbogast Office: (231) 775-5023
Conservation Agencies Commit to Long-Term Management of Kirtland’s Warblers
The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources have signed a memorandum of agreement pledging to continue conservation efforts for the endangered Kirtland’s warbler regardless of the warbler’s status under the Endangered Species Act. The MOU, signed at Kirtland Community College’s annual Kirtland’s Warbler Wildlife Festival, is a first step toward eventually removing the Kirtland’s warbler from the list of endangered and threatened species.
“This is an historic milestone in the recovery of this bird,” said Charles Wooley, Deputy Director of the Service’s Midwest Region. “For decades, a dedicated partnership has worked to keep the Kirtland’s warbler from the brink of extinction, and we have been successful. We are now ready to look ahead to securing the future of the warbler beyond the point that Endangered Species Act protection is needed.”
As a conservation-reliant species, the Kirtland’s warbler will always be dependent on annual habitat management and control of parasitic cowbirds. The memorandum secures agency commitments for long-term habitat management, population monitoring, and coordination.
“By signing this agreement, we are committing that we will continue to work together on one of the great success stories about conservation and the recovery of endangered species,” said Gene Blankenbaker, Acting Deputy Regional Forester for the Eastern Region of the Forest Service.
"The Kirtland’s warbler recovery is one of conservation’s unsung success stories," said Russ Mason, Chief of the Wildlife Division for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "We brought North America’s rarest warbler back from the brink of extinction while creating jobs based on timber products and tourism."
Kirtland’s warblers nest exclusively in jack pine forests. Loss of suitable habitat and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds caused their population to decline sharply. By 1974, the population had plummeted to 167 singing males. Efforts by state, federal and private partners to save the species from extinction have paid off: a 2010 count found 1,773 singing males, including 1,747 from Michigan with an additional 23 males observed in Wisconsin, and three males observed in Ontario, Canada.
"This legacy moment is the result of creative thinking by the original recovery team members to address the needs of this critically endangered species while remaining sensitive to the needs of the local community’s economic well-being and to the ecological needs of other young jack pine associates," said Carol Bocetti, leader of the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team. "Subsequent Recovery Team decisions built on this foundation through good science and cooperative interagency decision-making to develop the key conservation strategies that this Memorandum of Understanding secures into the future. I am so proud to have been a part of this amazing partnership."
While numbers of Kirtland’s warblers have surpassed numeric recovery goals, ongoing management is needed to ensure their population continues to thrive. About 190,000 acres of public lands are managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically to meet the Kirtland’s warbler nesting habitat requirements. Efforts must also continue to control brown-headed cowbirds. In 2010, 60 cowbird traps captured 3,540 cowbirds, aiding in efforts to prevent nest parasitism. Over 151,740 cowbirds have been trapped during the 39 years of this program.
Until 1995 Kirtland’s warblers had only been known to nest in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Today, they also nest in the Upper Peninsula, and since 2007, have nested in Wisconsin and Canada. They migrate from their nesting grounds to the southeastern coast of the United States on their way to wintering grounds in the Bahamas. Avid birdwatchers seek out sightings of the Kirtland’s warbler, and the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival has become an annual celebration of the species.
Information on the MOU and Kirtland’s warbler recovery efforts can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/birds/Kirtland/index.html
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