Established with the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008, the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund (MN OHF) was founded “to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife." The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) was established by the state legislature with the responsibility of providing annual guidance based on project proposals. The MN OHF is one of four funds created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment and receives one-third of the funding distribution.
The Golden-winged Warbler in Minnesota
In a race to keep the Golden-winged Warbler off the Federal Endangered Species List, ABC and its partners identified the need to create and maintain high-quality habitat for Golden-winged Warblers in the United States across its breeding range. Target areas include over five million acres of deciduous forest habitat in northern Minnesota. With up to half of the remaining breeding population residing there each summer and holding the largest remaining breeding population of any U.S. state or Canadian province, Minnesota is integral to the conservation effort of this species.
A neotropical migrant that spends its winters in Central and South America, the Golden-winged Warbler population has suffered one of the steepest declines of any songbird species in North America, falling 2.5 percent annually between 1966 and 2014 across its range, with a total decline of 65-70%. That decline is due primarily to habitat loss and land use change, particularly the reduction of early-successional, or ‘young forest' breeding habitat within a contiguous forest matrix of diverse ages. In these habitats, the Golden-winged Warbler is a ground nester that rears its brood in young forest or brushland patches before moving into older adjacent deciduous forest once the chicks have fledged. As part of a full life cycle conservation initiative, ABC works to restore and preserve GWWA breeding habitat throughout the Great Lakes Region and Appalachia, as well as migratory stopover sites and wintering grounds in Central and South America.
The Golden-winged Warbler is listed as a Species in Greatest Conservation Need in the Minnesota State Wildlife Action Plan, listed as a Minnesota Stewardship Species by Minnesota Audubon, listed as a Partners in Flight Tri-National Concern species, and is on the 2016 State of the Birds Watch List. Maintaining or increasing the state's population is critical to keeping the species off the endangered species list in the future. Furthermore, other young forest avian species such as the American Woodcock, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Veery, and Black Billed-Cuckoo also benefit from young forest habitat.
In 2013, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) received funding for a MN OHF habitat enhancement project entitled ‘Young Forest Conservation' to implement science-based Golden-winged Warbler Best Management Practices to restore and maintain young forest/brushland habitat in non-commercial forest cover-types to help sustain the Golden-winged Warbler population in the state, as well as benefit populations of more than 20 other SGCN, game and non-game species. (See pictures at left for before, during and after views of our work. Photos by Peter Dieser.)
In 2016, ABC received funding for Phase II of the ‘Young Forest Conservation' initiative to continue to complete habitat projects for the Golden-winged Warbler and associated early successional habitat wildlife species through 2021.
ABC's OHF Successes to Date
• MN OHF Phase I Final Completed Project Acres: 2581 acres
• MN OHF Phase II Completed Project Acres to date: 1778 acres
• Thanks to OHF funding, ABC Public Lands Coordinator, Peter Dieser, has completed projects with 11 Minnesota DNR Area Wildlife Offices, 6 Minnesota County Land Departments, 2 USFWS National Wildlife Refuges, the Chippewa National Forest, and the Red Lake Band of the Chippewa Reservation. Projects have been successfully completed in 12 Minnesota counties.
• ABC has also completed an additional 47 acres using Neotropical Birds Migratory Conservation Act (NMBCA) grant funds (Beltrami County Three Island Park (2013-14)) and completed an additional 46 acres using National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant funds (Banning State Park (2015-16)). This brings the total number of acres accomplished since July 2013 on MN public lands to 4452.
• The MN Golden-winged Warbler Public and Private Lands Coordinators have also taught young forest Best Management Practices (BMPs) to natural resource managers and private citizens at educational workshops in partnerships with the MN Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MN Forestry Association, MN County Land Departments, The Wildlife Society, The Forest Stewards Guild, and the Minnesota Logger Education Program.
• With technical assistance from The Conservation Fund and funding provided by the MN OHF, ABC acquired 480 acres for expansion of Four Brooks Wildlife Management Area using MN OHF funding provided in Phase I. Ownership was transferred to the State of Minnesota.
Thanks to the MN OHF, ABC is able to make habitat conservation and enhancement a reality for the Golden-winged Warbler and other species of concern in Minnesota.