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July 10, 2012

LANGLADE COUNTY - Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better: a rare songbird bird alights amidst private landowners on a field trip to see the benefits of managing for young forest to provide habitat for rare and declining bird species. The songbird is captured, fitted with a leg band and released by one of the landowners.

"Talk about impeccable timing!" says Jeremy Holtz, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist based in Rhinelander. "One-third of my job is trying to recruit private landowners to manage for young forest to provide nesting habitat for rare and declining species, and here one of the stars shows up on cue."

Holtz pulled out his camera and started taking video of the scene that followed at Ackley Wildlife Area on June 23. Amber Roth, a researcher from Michigan Technological University who was helping conduct the field trip, banded the bird and talked to the group about its habits and habitat, and gave the bird to one of the field trip participants released it.

The golden-winged warbler is a very rare bird nationally and Wisconsin is a nursery for this species, Holtz says.

Over the last few years, biologists in the Upper Midwest region have documented a decline in golden-winged warblers and many other bird species that rely on what Holtz calls, "young forest." Young forest is another term for early successional forest, which is comprised of fast growing, sun loving tree species like aspen, tag alder, paper birch, and jack pine, he says.

Golden-winged warblers need aspen and other early successional species to nest in; research has shown that 1- to 10-year-old aspen stands harbor a higher abundance of golden-winged warblers than other early habitats in north-central Wisconsin, and are also home to ruffed grouse, Holtz says.

Historically, the golden-winged warbler had a broad distribution across Wisconsin. Extensive clear-cutting during the 19th century created ample suitable young forest habitat but the bird's breeding range has contracted northward and it is now largely extirpated from most historical breeding areas in southern Wisconsin. Loss of shrubby habitat to succession and development may play a role in this range shift, along with global climate change and genetic mixing with the northward-expanding blue-winged warbler, Holtz says.

To reverse the decline in bird numbers, several state and federal conservation agencies have joined to form the Upper Great Lakes Young Forest Initiative. In addition, several non-government organizations like the Ruffed Grouse Society, Wildlife Management Institute, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the American Bird Conservancy have joined in to help spread the word about the decline of young forest in Wisconsin and across the Midwest.

Wisconsin's first pilot project under that umbrella effort is known as the North Central Wisconsin Young Forest Initiative. It's focused on reaching out to landowners in Oneida, Lincoln, Langlade, Price, Taylor, and Rusk counties to help raise awareness of the need for young forest and to get landowners to manage for such habitat on their land.

"Our goal is to increase the number of young forest wildlife species, including woodcock, golden-winged warblers, brown thrashers, whip-poor-wills, and many others by increasing the amount of managed young forest habitat in these counties," Holtz says.

Golden-winged warbler
Golden-winged warbler.

The field trip where the golden-winged warbler made its appearance was the inaugural workshop of a series that DNR has received funding for from The Ruffed Grouse Society, Wildlife Management Institute, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the American Bird Conservancy. These groups have provided funds for Holtz to set up and run educational workshops for landowners interested in learning more about young forest management.

Holtz also works with cooperating partners and agencies to help find funding sources for landowners to do young forest management work at a reduced cost.

Landowners who are interested in learning more about young forest and how to manage for such habitat can contact Holtz at 715-365-8999 or

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeremy Holtz - 715-365-8999

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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