ARRI volunteers planted over 60 million trees in the coal fields of Appalachia.
ARRI Volunteers planting trees

Cerulean Warbler

The Coal Connection

The Cerulean Warbler breeds in mature forests in eastern North America and migrates each year across the Gulf of Mexico and through Central America to winter in South America. From April to September, Cerulean Warblers are concentrated in the mountainous Appalachian regions of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

While Cerulean Warblers are losing habitat in their wintering grounds, the threats in their breeding grounds are significant as well.  The areas with the highest densities and largest proportion of the breeding population of Cerulean Warblers are also the areas where mountaintop removal mining is used as the primary method for coal extraction. This direct loss of habitat threatens the success of breeding populations of Ceruleans and contributes to overall impacts of global warming.

Mountaintop removal mining typically creates large areas where all trees are removed from the mine sites.  Creating these large non-forested areas removes breeding habitat in the core of the Cerulean Warbler’s range and reduces the overall forest cover for the landscapes around the mines. As trees are lost, the ecosystem is losing its capacity to sequester carbon.

Overlay of coal fields and Cerulean Warbler breeding habitat
Overlay of coal fields and Cerulean Warbler breeding habitat

To maintain the species’ reproductive success it will be necessary to reduce the impacts of mining activities and to return surface-mined lands back to native hardwood forest in the core of the bird’s breeding range. The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) is one of the partners that actively works to encourage restoration of high quality forests on reclaimed coal mines in the eastern United States. Since 2004, ARRI has inspired the planting of about 60 million trees on about 87,000 acres of mined land currently being reclaimed by active mining companies in the coal fields of Appalachia.  In the last year, ARRI has enlisted more than 2,500 volunteers to plant 177,500 trees on 22 abandoned or “legacy” mine sites in six states. By replanting trees, the forests of the Appalachians would regain their capacity to capture carbon and combat global warming.

Substantial overlap occurs between the Cerulean Warbler’s habitat and existing areas of Appalachian coal and Andean coffee production. Therefore, these two industries are closely intertwined with the status of this bird and have the capacity to affect significant amounts of habitat for it and numerous other birds of conservation interest. This situation has prompted the development of a partnership between the Cerulean Warbler Working Group (with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists), the coffee and coal industry, and several other conservation groups.  The global nature of these products could lead to a strong partnership that could potentially reverse population declines of Cerulean Warblers by strategically conserving and restoring forest habitat on breeding and non-breeding grounds in a coordinated manner and improve ecosystem functions in these areas.

The hope is that this unique partnership of conservation organizations and two of the largest global economic industries can work together to keep the Cerulean Warbler off the endangered species list and that its song may be heard long into the future.

Video

Check out this video of a cerulean warbler female feeding her young!

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Coffee. Credit: USFWS
coffee

The Coffee Connection

The Cerulean Warbler is a small songbird named for its pale blue hue. It breeds in mature forests in eastern North America and migrates each year across the Gulf of Mexico and through Central America to winter in South America. From October to March the entire population inhabits the broad-leaved evergreen forests of the northern Andes Mountains in Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru.

The warblers’ wintering habitat is disappearing quickly. Most of the original forests in the northern Andes have been lost as the land has been converted for agriculture, mostly for coffee crops and pasture for cattle.

The deforestation contributes to global warming as the trees are cut and burned, releasing carbon. Additionally, as trees are lost, the ecosystem is losing is capacity to sequester carbon.

The Cerulean Warbler population today is just one-fourth of what it was just 40 years ago. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists from the Northeast and other areas of the country along with their counterparts in South America are striving to find ways to reverse this precipitous decline. This international partnership is working to develop programs that will maintain or restore forest habitat for the songbird.

Cerulean Warblers, which feed on insects in tree canopies, are known to occupy shade-coffee plantations where taller trees shade the shorter coffee plants. To meet global demand for coffee (see sidebar), shade-coffee plantations throughout the warblers’ wintering area are being replaced by higher-yield sun-grown coffee crops.

The Service and its South American conservation partners, including Fundación ProAves, are focusing their efforts on shade-grown coffee, including promoting existing certification of shade coffee plantations and carbon sequestration among landowners, organizing farms to achieve the certification requirements, and promoting coffee products that conserve forest habitat for these birds. Farmers will make a better living by being paid a premium for cultivating shade-grown crops.

The partnership also hopes to establish carbon sequestration credit programs that would allow industries afar to earn credit for supporting reforestation efforts in South America. By replanting trees, the forests of the northern Andes would regain their capacity to capture carbon and combat global warming.

The hope is that these international conservation efforts will keep the Cerulean Warbler off the endangered species list and that its song may be heard long into the future.

The world’s love of coffee runs deep

  • The International Coffee Organization estimates that people consumed 7.8 billion kilograms of coffee in 2008.  
  • More than half of all Americans over the age of 18 -- 107 million people -- drink coffee daily.
  • Coffee is the world's second-most-valuable commodity exported by developing countries, after oil.
  • The global coffee industry earns an estimated $60 billion annually but less than 10 percent of those earnings end up in the hands of coffee farmers. Although the fair trade coffee (coffee that is sustainable and pays a fair price to farmers) market is on the rise, it constitutes only two percent of the world's coffee supply.
  • Fundación ProAves produces shade grown Cerulean Warbler Conservation Coffee to support habitat protection for the species.
  • Our choices as consumers can have a direct impact on the survival of a declining species and a disappearing ecosystem. 

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