GRAYLING - It's not too late to comment on a draft plan from the Department of Natural Resources to protect the Kirtland's warbler.
The DNR is accepting public comment on its Kirtland's Warbler Conservation Plan until July 28 by email, or at a meeting in Grayling Wednesday. These birds nest almost exclusively in Northeast Michigan, including Montmorency and Presque Isle counties, and their population has recovered to the point where officials are considering de-listing them as an endangered species, DNR Wildlife Division Northern Lower Peninsula Field Operations Manager Keith Kintigh said.
"We've had a recovery plan in place for the Kirtland's warbler since 1985," he said. "This conservation plan is an attempt to replace the recovery plan, and take that first really important step moving towards the delisting consideration."
In 2013 biologists counted around 2,000 singing Kirtland's warbler males, up from 187 in the mid-1980s, Kintigh said. That's in line with a population goal the DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service all work for. The draft plan spells out how the DNR would continue to work to maintain that population, and will be reviewed every 10 years.
The plan is available online at www.michigan.gov/wildlife under "Wildlife Spotlight." Email comments to DNR-Wildlife@michigan.gov, or attend the meeting at Grayling Nature Center, 100 South James St., Grayling, Wednesday from 4-7 p.m.
Kirtland's warblers are very picky about their habitat, and only nest in stands of young jack pine, Kintigh said. These were historically created by wildfires, habitat now artificially made through timber harvest and replanting. The DNR and USFS create about 3,000 acres of this habitat every year.
Cut jack pines are used for saw logs, some of which are made into shipping pallets, while others are chipped for paper mills or power plants, Kintigh said. They're all commercially and economically viable products, although these managed lands don't make as much for the DNR as other state-owned forests.
Without wildfires, Kirtland's warblers are dependent on these habitat projects, Kintigh said. Their population is tiny compared to other continental warblers, but they're so selective with their habitat that their numbers will never be huge.
The plan also details how agencies will partner to control brown-headed cowbirds, Kintigh said. These nest parasites lay their eggs in other birds' nests after pushing out whatever eggs were already there. While some bird species are very well adapted to deal with this, Kirtland's warblers are not.
Both the habitat projects and cowbird control efforts have paid off, and this little bird stands out as an endangered species success story, Kintigh said. Now the public is invited to weigh in on the next steps to ensure the bird thrives even after de-listing.
"We welcome and encourage participation and comment," he said. "This is something the DNR and its partners have been at for over 40 years. The people of this state have invested a lot of time and money into the management of this bird, and it's something the people of this state should be proud of."
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews.