USDA Forest Landowners

Contributed photo by Liz Brewer

BLUEFIELD — The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, in partnership with West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, is seeking landowners interested in creating conservation plans for their property that improve habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Financial and technical assistance are available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help declining species.

Tiffany Beachy is a Golden-winged Warbler Partner Biologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The big picture of USDA programs is to help people help the land, so we are helping people help the land,” Beachy said. “That could take a lot of different forms. The traditional way that a natural resources information service helps producers and landowners is to benefit their farming operation and it could also help them preserve soil. Our goal is to address specific resource concerns that will both benefit operations of the landowner by also meeting our goals and objectives.”

Target species for these programs include golden-winged warbler, cerulean warbler, and insect pollinators, but many species benefit from active management.

“The project that I am in charge of is the Golden-winged Warbler habitat management program,” Beachy said. “We have similar program for cerulean warblers and we also have a pollinator biologist who works with pollinators. The Cerulean warbler biologist covers the western part of the state’s coalfields and that region. I cover the eastern part of the state. A Golden-winged Warbler is usually a species that will occur above 2,000 feet in elevation in Appalachia. We are looking for properties not much lower than 1,700 feet and up to get the places where

they are most likely to occur.”

Golden-winged warblers are migratory songbirds that have lost roughly 98 percent of their Appalachian population, in part to loss of suitable breeding habitat.

“This could be a matter of managing an old pasture or hayfield that is no longer in production, or there are opportunities to coincide the habitat management with grazing,” Beachy said.

According to a press release, habitat can be created through removing canopy trees, managing fields through rotational mowing or brush-hogging, planting native trees and shrubs, and controlling invasive plants. Young forest habitat also benefits game species, such as ruffed grouse and American woodcock.

“With the Goldenwinged Warbler program, a lot of times people are also interested in pollinators and it works out well that the type of habitat management that you can do for pollinators also benefits Warblers,” Beachy said. “You are introducing native species and promoting thick, meadowy, grassland- type growth. The reason that is important is because pollinators in general are just like birds and other critters, have been declining pretty quickly, their populations around the world.”

Beachy said that the program helps promote habitat practices that will benefit Warblers. Participation could be easy as taking advantage of wasted places on the edges of fields or actively planting a mix of native seeds of plants and wildflowers.

“With the financial assistance side of things, there is a ten-acre minimum to enroll. We can certainly provide technical assistance for anybody that is interest in benefitting their property for wildlife,” Beachy said. “As far as this project is concerned, we are looking for anyone who has a sizable piece of land that is around 2,000 feet elevation. That is in a mostly forested landscape.”

Pollinator species, including bees, butterflies, and moths, are critical for pollinating

both agricultural crops and native plants that support ecosystems.

Worldwide, pollinators are in decline due to habitat loss, disease and other human related activities.

They are thought to be declining in West Virginia for similar reasons.

Habitat enhancement for pollinators include providing native wildflowers that are diverse in color, size, shape, and bloom that support pollinators throughout growing season.

“There is a big economic incentive to protect pollinators as far as commercial crops, but it is also for the health of the entire ecosystem,” Beachy said.

“The forest depends on pollinators.”

Native grasses and sedges are also beneficial for pollinators by providing over wintering sites.

Additionally, controlling invasive plants, which often outcompete native plants, can benefit pollinators by maintaining plant diversity. Providing diverse pollinator habitat, and supporting a healthy native invertebrate community, will also help to provide food for desirable wildlife such as wild turkey and songbirds, including Cerulean and Goldenwinged warblers.

“Mercer County is a good place to manage for both species. What they would need to do is contact one of us and once they have a chance to have a phone conversation and we get an idea of what their land is like, we can point them in the right directions to which species of warbler would be beneficial for them to pursue management,” Beachy said. “The first step is to call or email us for more information.

Then at that point we would schedule a sight visit to go out and explore their property. We would make recommendations and listen to what their objectives are for their property and come up with a conservation plan for their property.”

Beachy said that the conservation plan would include a list of different practices that the landowner felt they can realistically accomplish.

If a landowner is interested in pursuing financial assistance, they would fill out an application and then go forward with pursuing funding through Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The way that these projects work is through reimbursement,” Beachy said. “Once the landowner has an obligated contract, each time they finish a practice, they let us know and we come out and take pictures, make sure it is up to specifications and we will certify that practice has ben completed and then the funds for that practice are direct deposited into their account. It kind of depends on what make sense to them, for their operation, for the equipment that they already have or the people they have to help with the work.”

Throughout her career, Beachy has studied Warblers in Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. She said that seeing these birds living alongside more tropical animals like Toucans, Parrots and Monkeys gave her a new perspective on the species.

“One of my favorite aspects of studying Warblers in general is their natural history,” Beachy said, “They are tropical migrants. We consider them our birds and I like to consider them my birds but they really only spend a few months out of the year in West Virginia.

The rest of their life is spent traveling or hanging out on their wintering grounds, which for the Warblers is north, south and central America. I absolutely love studying migratory birds because it gives us the opportunity to collaborate of international boundaries.”

While this is an ongoing project, there are deadlines to sign up each year. The deadline for the spring 2021 season is Nov.

20. Beachy said that even if a landowner misses the deadline they can still apply, but they won’t be considered for funding for a few months.

To get started creating a conservation plan or learn more about the Goldenwinged warbler, contact Tiffany Beachy, WVDNR/ NRCS Golden-winged Warbler Partner Biologist, at 304-799-4317 ext. 3 or tiffany. beachy@usda.gov.

For more information on the Cerulean warbler, contact Matthew Aberle, WVDNR/NRCS Cerulean Warbler Partner Biologist, at 304-618-6124 or matthew.aberle@usda.gov.

To learn more about pollinators, contact Lacey Smith, WVDNR/NRCS Pollinator Specialist at 304-368-6906 or lacey.smith@usda.gov.

— Contact Emily Rice at erice@bdtonline.com

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