Golden-winged Warbler Outreach on West Virginia's Private Lands
Golden-winged Warblers thrive in dynamic forested landscapes that are a composition of mature forest and young, shrubby habitat such as found in regenerative clearcuts and boggy wetlands. Working with private landowners to create and maintain enough young forest habitat across the landscape is crucial to help recover declining Golden-winged Warbler populations. In West Virginia, 88% of the state’s 12 million acres of forest are privately owned. The scale of outreach needed to inspire enthusiasm for young forests could be a full-time job in West Virginia and, in fact, that was exactly what several partners decided the state needed. In 2019, a joint Outreach Forester position among Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, National Wild Turkey Federation, and West Virginia Division of Forestry was created to coordinate outreach efforts for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) Golden-winged Warbler Initiative.
The Outreach Forester worked closely with the NRCS/West Virginia DNR Partner Biologist to connect private landowners to the available resources in their region. These efforts led to an incredible boost in interest in the WLFW program. After just 2 years, 136 new landowners had requested information and 541 acres had been enrolled in the initiative. Compared to the previous 5 years, it was a 54% increase and a huge win for the warblers!
The bulk of this outreach was conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, making it a unique challenge to meaningfully connect with landowners during a time with limited opportunities for in-person interactions. In addition to typical outreach methods like direct mailings and virtual presentations, an exciting virtual tour of young forests in West Virginia was successfully launched. The ArcGis Story Maps Tour uses 360 degree video to help landowners visualize what managing young forests would look like and help accomplish. It was completed in early 2022 and promises to be a valuable resource for land managers to share with private landowners. For example, take a look at the 360 degree video about the benefits of shelterwood harvests to Golden-winged Warblers in the Appalachians. Finding new ways to better connect and share information with both foresters and private landowners is ultimately helping maintain the overall diversity of the Appalachian forests as well as providing valuable resources and financial assistance for direct conservation action.