I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful time of year to hike with wildlife-friendly landowners on their beautiful properties, and talk about ways to provide habitat for a tenacious little bird, the Golden-winged Warbler. I am blown away by the exuberance of the landowners who contacted me after reading my letter highlighting their opportunity to create young, shrubby forest habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler. I’ve heard from 60 landowners to date, and I’m still getting more calls every day!
A total of 1,506 letters representing more than 65,000 acres were mailed to landowners across 10 counties in Western North Carolina: Madison, Haywood, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery, Macon, Jackson, Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany. Landowners were pre-screened for some of the criteria for receiving financial assistance. The landowners who received letters have property 10 acres or larger within the focal area, within one mile of a known GWWA population, and above 3,000 feet in elevation. These properties represent the best locations to create habitat for this declining bird. Typically after first contact with a landowner, I schedule a site visit to see the land, learn about the landowner’s priorities, and discuss the financial and technical assistance available to them (see picture 2 of Yancey Co).
Audubon North Carolina is a partner with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, to connect interested landowners to the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) program. WLFW represents a historic partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NRCS that combines cross agency technical guidance with the financial assistance of NRCS’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). Other priority species across the U.S. that receive support through this partnership include the Gopher Tortoise, New England Cottontail, Bog Turtle, Lesser Prairie Chicken, Southwestern Willow flycatcher, and Greater Sage-Grouse. More information on WLFW & WHIP can be found here.
With financial and technical support through WHIP, landowners can help restore declining populations with the certainty that their actions are scientifically sound, and based in large part of work Audubon North Carolina has been doing for the past several years in our studies of this species. WHIP supports landowners by reimbursing them for a portion of the land management costs that creates prime GWWA habitat. This year $40,000 is available through WHIP for landowners to create GWWA habitat in North Carolina, but we expect this number to rise given our outreach efforts and landowner interest.
One landowner I’m working with was worried her property owners association (POA) was going to react negatively to creating “shrubby” habitat. She was overjoyed to report that after I spoke to the POA about the GWWA and the financial and technical assistance available there was no opposition to the creation of the habitat. The community is more than happy to make a better home for our golden-winged friends– and what a home they will have!
Our goal is to establish 1,500 new acres of GWWA habitat and engage 75-100 landowners in NRCS programs. We are well on our way! Thank you for your support of this project, and look for future updates soon!
Erin Singer McCombs
Conservation Biologist, Audubon North Carolina