Landowner makes ef­fort to aid war­bler


Just as ca­naries were used in coal mines to warn min­ers of im­mi­nent dan­ger, the cerulean war­bler serves as to­day’s ca­naries in Penn­syl­va­nia’s woods.

That’s what Stephen Zuk, a Penn­syl­va­nia for­est ste­ward and landowner from North Man­heim Town­ship, says. He is in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to­day speak­ing about con­ser­va­tion ef­forts for the mi­gra­tory song­bird.

“The demise of the cerulean war­bler and other species are telling us that the ecol­ogy of the for­est as we know it to­day is in im­me­di­ate and im­mi­nent dan­ger,” Zuk, who has a con­ser­va­tion cost-shar­ing con­tract with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice, said.

He was asked to join Amanda Duren, Penn­syl­va­nia Cerulean War­bler Part­ner­ship co­or­di­na­tor, and Todd Fearer, co­or­di­na­tor of the

Ap­palachian Moun­tains Joint Ven­ture, to­day as they high­light the suc­cess of the Cerulean War­bler Ap­palachian Forest­land En­hance­ment Project.

They were sched­uled to ad­dress the Farm Bill con­ser­va­tion pro­grams ad­min­is­tered by the USDA NRCS and how the pro­grams ben­e­fit birds they seek to pro­tect.

About 80 per­cent of the to­tal cerulean war­bler pop­u­la­tion breeds in the Ap­palachian Moun­tains, which in­cludes parts of Schuylkill and Dauphin coun­ties.

“Un­for­tu­nately, cerulean war­bler pop­u­la­tions have de­clined steeply and, over the last 60 years, about 70 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion has been lost. The loss of for­est habi­tat and de­clines in ma­ture for­est health have led to these de­clines,” she said.

The cerulean war­bler, named for the male’s bril­liant blue color, breeds in ma­ture de­cid­u­ous forests of eastern North Amer­ica.

They pre­fer oak-dom­i­nated forests that have large trees and some gaps in the for­est canopy. While much of Penn­syl­va­nia is forested, most forests are very uni­form with densely packed trees and closed canopies. With­out canopy gaps, forests lack the va­ri­ety of habi­tat struc­ture re­quired by many song­birds, ac­cord­ing to Duren.

Pri­vate landown­ers, like Zuk, have stepped in to help.


“When I in­quired about the Cerulean War­bler Project through the NRCS, I was in­formed that cer­tain land to­pog­ra­phy (south sides of moun­tains and cer­tain el­e­va­tions), species of nest­ing trees (large old white oaks), food sources (new for­est re­gen­er­a­tion), and other fac­tors were nec­es­sary for the cerulean war­bler habi­tat,” Zuk said.

“This par­tic­u­lar land par­cel is my largest lot. Al­most all of this par­cel will be set aside (60 of about 67 acres) and ded­i­cated to for­est re­gen­er­a­tion. The re­main­ing 7 acres have unique nat­u­ral fea­tures, and other parts have too steep of to­pog­ra­phy where re­gen­er­a­tion prac­tices would pro­duce min­i­mal re­gen­er­a­tion re­sults.”

Zuk is on the board of di­rec­tors for Schuylkill County Con­ser­vancy and a mem­ber of the Penn­syl­va­nia Forestry As­so­ci­a­tion and Amer­i­can Chest­nut Foun­da­tion.

“On my prop­erty, the fi­nan­cial aid I have re­ceived has en­abled me to off­set the cost of hav­ing over 30 acres of in­va­sive plant species treated with her­bi­cide. Had I not the fi­nan­cial aid, only half of the acreage would have been treated, re­sult­ing in the in­va­sive plants not erad­i­cated, then re-es­tab­lish­ing across the acreage al­ready treated. I am plac­ing deer fenc­ing to en­close ap­prox­i­mately 60 acres in an ef­fort to pre­vent over­graz­ing and thus pro­vide re­gen­er­a­tion of the for­est. The fence alone is ap­prox­i­mately $25,000, be­yond my fi­nan­cial means, yet pos­si­ble due to cost shar­ing pro­vided by the NRCS,” he said.

So far, 84 Re­gional Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship Pro­gram con­tracts have been awarded in Penn­syl­va­nia, pro­vid­ing landown­ers with $2.1 mil­lion in fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and im­prov­ing habi­tat for cerulean war­blers on more than 3,600 acres in 24 coun­ties.

Schuylkill and the north­ern por­tion of Dauphin County are part of the Cerulean War­bler Ap­palachian Forest­land En­hance­ment Project’s fo­cal area, which cov­ers parts of 35 Penn­syl­va­nia coun­ties, Duren said. It iden­ti­fies ar­eas most likely to pro­vide qual­ity habi­tat for the bird and where habi­tat im­prove­ment ef­forts are most likely to have the most im­pact. In par­tic­u­lar, The Kit­tatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Moun­tain, in Schuylkill and Dauphin coun­ties has been iden­ti­fied as a Glob­ally Im­por­tant Bird Area for cerulean war­blers.

Con­stituents speak

Duren said they are ex­cited to have an op­por­tu­nity to meet with staff mem­bers from the of­fices of U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-17, Moosic, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey to dis­cuss the work that the AMJV does in Penn­syl­va­nia to as­sist pri­vate landown­ers like Zuk in sus­tain­ably man­ag­ing their prop­er­ties to ben­e­fit wildlife.

“It was an ob­vi­ous choice to in­vite Mr. Zuk along with us on our visit to D.C. He is well-spo­ken and knowl­edge­able about for­est man­age­ment, but it is his pas­sion for con­ser­va­tion and com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing his woods for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions that is most strik­ing,” Duren said.

“I was in shock, ex­tremely hum­bled and hon­ored to be cho­sen,” Zuk said. “Third­gen­er­a­tion landown­ers such as my­self have end­less pride in pre­serv­ing the land for gen­er­a­tions to come, for we do so with such vigor and en­thu­si­asm that no gov­ern­ment agency can repli­cate. How­ever, with­out the fi­nan­cial aid we could not make the for­est sus­tain­able for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, nor save the en­dan­gered species that make the for­est a for­est.”


Duren works for the AMJV and Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy. Her of­fice is in Blooms­burg, but she re­sides in Mif­flinburg.

The AMJV is a part­ner­ship of agen­cies and or­ga­ni­za­tions that fo­cuses on con­serv­ing and restor­ing habi­tats for pri­or­ity bird species in the Ap­palachian Moun­tain re­gion, stretch­ing from Alabama to south­ern New York. ABC is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to con­serve na­tive birds and their habi­tats through­out the Amer­i­cas.

Ap­prox­i­mately 75 per­cent of cerulean war­bler breed­ing habi­tat in the Ap­palachi­ans is on pri­vately owned land. That means it is un­likely they would be able to re­verse the de­cline of the species by fo­cus­ing on pub­lic lands alone, Duren said.

“In 2015, the AMJV part­ner­ship re­ceived an $8 mil­lion grant through the USDA Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice’s Re­gional Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship Pro­gram to sup­port the Cerulean War­bler Ap­palachian Forest­land En­hance­ment Project. The five-year Re­gional Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship Project al­lows us to work with pri­vate landown­ers to im­ple­ment ac­tive for­est man­age­ment to im­prove 7,000 acres of for­est habi­tat for cerulean war­blers and other wildlife in Penn­syl­va­nia.”

The part­ner­ing groups have made ex­cit­ing progress over the last three years to­ward achiev­ing their habi­tat im­prove­ment goals and, hope­fully, in re­vers­ing the de­cline of this im­per­iled species in the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to Duren.

“Our project team in Penn­syl­va­nia works in the lo­cal USDA ser­vice cen­ter with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice to de­velop con­tracts with pri­vate landown­ers, of­fer­ing tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to con­duct ac­tive for­est man­age­ment,” Duren said.

Landown­ers should con­tact NRCS at their lo­cal USDA ser­vice cen­ter for more in­for­ma­tion.

SuB­mit­tEd PhOtO

Some landown­ers through­out Penn­syl­va­nia are work­ing to make ar­eas more in­hab­it­able for the cerulean war­bler.


Zuk Penn­syl­va­nia

for­est ste­ward

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