Cerulean warblers spend their lives in the treetops of the Appalachian Mountains and South America. Deforestation threatens their existence, and is a factor in climate change. Photo: Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Video: Clip of a cerulean warbler feeding her young
The forests of West Virginia are home to the breeding grounds for the cerulean warbler, a bright blue songbird famous for its distinctive call.
Unfortunately for the cerulean warbler, those same West Virginia forests are also home to coal mining operations, including mountaintop mining. That’s the practice of cutting down forests, then removing the ridge-tops to access underlying supplies of coal. The practice removes the ridge-tops preferred by the cerulean warbler, and inhibits new tree growth for decades, if not centuries. It’s a factor in the species’ decline, which has a population that’s roughly one-third of what it was 40 years ago.
On a much larger scale, scientists say that mountaintop mining for coal is accelerating climate change in two ways: It removes trees that would otherwise soak up carbon dioxide, and it facilitates the burning of coal to produce electricity, one of the main ways carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is changing the Earth’s climate.