Statewide program benefits birds

What in the world do wild turkeys and golden-winged warblers have in common? Besides the obvious fact that both are birds (with a vast difference in size), these species have more in common than you may think; the most important commonality being the need for early successional or young forest habitat.

Young forest are exemplified by a few mature trees, a variety of shrubs and saplings (preferably regenerating hardwoods), and patches of herbaceous cover such as bunches of goldenrod or blackberry brambles. This type of structure is a great place for hen turkeys to nest in the spring, providing concealment from both aerial and terrestrial predators.

Quality nesting habitat is often a limiting factor for wild turkey populations in the northeastern United States and coincidentally, golden-winged warblers use the same young forest to nest in the spring.

The forests of Appalachia are getting older; they are maturing. In 1980, roughly 29 percent of the Appalachian forest was in an early stage of succession. Today, approximately 11 percent of the Appalachian forest qualifies as young forest. Young forest habitat is declining throughout the Appalachian range and consequently, so is the golden-winged warbler population.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the leading conservation organization dedicated to improving upland wildlife habitat, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have partnered on an initiative to create or enhance young forest habitat on private land throughout the Appalachian region. The Working Lands for Wildlife Golden-winged Warbler Initiative (GWWI) provides funding for planning and developing young forest habitat for golden-winged warblers and consequently, all other users of young forest, including ruffed grouse, white-tail deer, American woodcock, and more than 15 different song bird species.

Young forest habitat can be created naturally by windstorms, disease, forest pests or fires, but since these disturbances occur infrequently or are suppressed (in the case of fire), young forest are created mechanically using silviculture methods, more specifically, timber harvesting. Timber harvesting, along with other forest best management practices, is a great way to increase young forest habitat, manage for wildlife, and provide income to landowners all at the same time.

The NWTF has a top-notch staff of wildlife biologists and foresters throughout the Appalachian region that can meet with private landowners to discuss where and how to create young forest habitat on their property. The program is available to private landowners in Randolph, Barbour, Tucker, Pocahontas, and other West Virginia counties.

To qualify for the program, the property to be managed has to be roughly 2000-3200 feet above sea level and have more than 75 percent forested land surrounding the property; both qualifications are fairly easily met in Randolph and surrounding counties.

Landowners who have forestland, areas actively grazed by livestock, or areas of hayland or meadow actively or periodically managed should consider applying for this program. Pastures that are overgrown with shrubs or have patchy areas with scattered trees would also rank high on property eligibility.

Landowners are asked to create or restore a minimum of 10 acres of young forest habitat on their property.

Following a property visit, the biologist will draft a wildlife management plan which includes prescribed forest stand management practices, a schedule detailing when the prescribed practices are to be implemented, and detailed maps describing where each practice will occur. There is no cost or obligation associated with the initial site visit or the wildlife management plan.

If your property meets the qualification credentials and is deemed acceptable, a contract can be signed with the NRCS and the habitat work could be completed on a cost share basis, with the NRCS toting most of the load.

In fact, the landowner’s share can be covered by the timber harvest prescribed on the property, and then some. This program is a great opportunity for landowners looking for technical and financial assistance to create better wildlife habitat on their property.

With over 85 percent of West Virginia’s forest owned by private landowners, no other entity is as well positioned across the landscape to address priority environmental issues and implement sustainable conservation practices.

If you are interested in the program or have any questions regarding program logistics or qualifications, please feel free to contact Mitchell Blake, project biologist, National Wild Turkey Federation, at 814-977-0007 or