Huron Pines is one of 16 Wildlife Habitat Grant recipients and will use this funding to manage and restore native jack pine ecosystems on state-owned lands in and around Ogemaw County.
The Wildlife Habitat Grant comes from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It will allow Huron Pines to try new approaches to habitat restoration on state land with a focus on the broader jack pine ecosystem. Past efforts managing the landscape leaned heavily on planting dense stands of jack pines for Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat.
The Kirtland’s warbler is emblematic of Michigan’s jack pine forests and was one of the first to join the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Species in 1967. It was delisted in October 2019 following a strong recovery in its population, due in large part to focused management of its Northern Michigan breeding habitat on federal and state lands.
Now that the Kirtland warbler population is more stable, Huron Pines, in collaboration with state and federal conservation agencies and local partners, is looking to take a more comprehensive approach to restoring the landscape.
Michigan’s State Wildlife Action Plan lists northern dry forests and jack pine barrens as key habitats for rare or threatened species including dusted skipper butterfly, secretive locust and eastern massasauga rattlesnake.
“The goal with this project is to promote a more healthy jack pine ecosystem, not just for Kirtland’s warbler but for the other species that live in or use that habitat,” said Steve Woods, Stewardship Director for Huron Pines. “This is a chance to look at other methods and it’s creating the opportunity for cohesive management across different land ownerships.”
Traditional management approaches will still be part of the plan, like cutting mature jack pine to regenerate younger trees which the Kirtland’s warbler prefers for nesting. In addition, Huron Pines will also remove invasive plants and improve the habitat for wildlife by replacing the invasive species with native grasses and wildflowers like little bluestem, poverty grass, harebell and goldenrod.
“It was a dire situation with Kirtland’s warbler,” Woods said. “Now we have the opportunity to tweak our approach so that other species that share this landscape don’t go down that same path.”
Huron Pines is in the midst of establishing a native seed collection and propagation program, wherein grass and wildflower seeds are collected locally for use in future landscape restoration projects. Species like little bluestem, rough fescue, showy goldenrod and blazing star are all being collected for future propagation. For these species to be reintroduced with the best chance of survival, the jack pine forests will have to be managed to allow sunlight and space for these plants to propagate.
“In some instances, managing for Kirtland’s warbler habitat reduced plant diversity,” Woods said. “This is exactly the kind of project we’re doing our native seed program for. Restoring the ecosystem requires us to bring that diversity back.”
The diversity of plant life also benefits game species like wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse and whitetail deer, as well as nongame species like upland sandpiper and dusted skipper butterfly.
“It was a dire situation with Kirtland’s warbler. Now we have the opportunity to tweak our approach so that other species that share this landscape don’t go down that same path.”Steve Woods, Conservation Stewardship Director, Huron Pines
Huron Pines was awarded $84,400 from the Wildlife Habitat Grant Program. The Wildlife Habitat Grant Program is funded with a portion of revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and is administered by the DNR to enhance and improve the quality and quantity of game species habitat.
To learn more about the Wildlife Habitat Grant Program, visit michigan.gov/dnrgrants.