W.Va. seeks landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat

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W.Va. seeks landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat
A resident of old forests in Appalachia, a cerulean warbler perches on a beech. (Photo W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

To help support native wildlife, the is seeking private landowners who are interested in improving habitat on their land.

In partnership with a variety of agencies, including the state Division of Forestry, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, division officials hope to help and improve habitat across the state.

Paul Johansen, chief of the division's Wildlife Resources Section, says the partnership seeks to address shrinking populations of priority wildlife species by implementing conservation practices that improve natural resources on private land.

“More than 80 percent of land in West Virginia is privately owned, and many wildlife species occur primarily on private land. Therefore, public-private partnerships are critical for the long-term persistence of these populations,” Johansen said.

“Private landowners benefit from the technical and financial assistance they receive to improve their land, which ultimately benefits many of the state’s priority wildlife species. It’s a ‘win-win’ for everyone.”

Target species include cerulean warbler, golden-winged warbler and multiple insect pollinators that have been identified as priority species in the .

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These species use a variety of habitats, including meadows, shrubby thickets and groves of young saplings, and mature forests, which are also preferred by species such as ruffed grouse, whip-poor-will, white-tailed deer, and wild turkey.

Professional biologists, foresters and conservation planners are available to develop individualized conservation plans based on each landowner’s objectives and the identified needs of the land.

Every conservation plan is unique but it may include removing problematic plants, establishing desirable plants, thinning trees from overstocked forests, adjusting the type and timing of current management practices and creating natural structures such as brush piles where wildlife can nest, forage and take shelter.

Mature Forest

Cerulean warblers prefer mature deciduous forests with an abundance of large tall trees and small openings in the canopy that are filled with vigorous new plant growth. Most forests in West Virginia have large tall trees, but they often form a uniform and closed canopy. Thinning some undesirable trees will increase growing space for trees that wildlife prefers and encourage the development of multiple canopy layers able to support a greater abundance and diversity of wildlife.

Landowners interested in managing mature forest habitat may also notice more hooded warblers, ruffed grouse and wild turkey. For more information about mature forests or for help getting started, contact Matthew Aberle, WVDNR/NRCS partner avian biologist, at (304) 618-6124 or matthew.aberle@usda.gov, or Kyle Aldinger, natural resource specialist, at (304) 284-7595 or kyle.aldinger@usda.gov.

Young Forest

Golden-winged warblers prefer shrubby thickets and young forests near large patches of mature deciduous forest at higher elevations. The right combination of these characteristics is quite rare in West Virginia. Fortunately, some pieces of the preferred habitat often are already in place (i.e., mature forest and/or old fields). So, it’s a matter of using management practices such as rotational mowing/brush-hogging, overstory removal, planting native trees, and shrubs, or controlling invasive plants to complete the puzzle.

Landowners interested in managing young forest habitat may also notice more American woodcock, eastern cottontail and whip-poor-will. For more information about young forests or for help getting started, contact Tiffany Beachy, WVDNR/NRCS partner avian biologist, at (304) 427-3007 or tiffany.beachy@usda.gov.

Pollinators

Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are an integral part of our environment and are vital for our agricultural systems statewide. These insects can benefit from management just like other wildlife species. Pollinators and their habitats are incredibly diverse, so a variety of existing management practices can be tailored for their benefit.

For landowners interested specifically in pollinators, a conservation plan may include management practices such as removing problematic plants, enhancing nectar resources for bees and butterflies by planting species such as common milkweed, and providing nesting structures for bees. For more information about pollinators and for help getting started, contact Lacey Smith, WVDNR/NRCS partner pollinator specialist, at (304) 368-6909 or lacey.smith@usda.gov.

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