The Kirtland's warbler has very restrictive habitat requirements. It nests in just a few counties in Michigan, Wisconsin and the province of Ontario. Because they are ground nesters, Kirtland's warblers prefer young jack pine stands with low branches, interspersed with numerous small, grassy openings, sedges, ferns, and low shrubs.
Fire always has been an important factor in the jack pine barrens. The young jack pines upon which the Kirtland's warbler depends, grow after fire removes older trees and rejuvenates the forest. Heat from fire opens jack pine cones to release seeds. Fire also prepares the ground for the germination of the seeds.
Historically, the jack pine barrens were maintained by naturally occurring wildfires that swept through the region. With the advent of modern fire protection and suppression efforts, forest management practices did not emphasize the regeneration of jack pine. Consequently, there was a drastic decline of available warbler nesting habitat, and its numbers plummeted.
Today Jack pine stands are managed by logging, burning, seeding, and replanting on a rotational basis to provide approximately 38,000 acres of productive nesting habitat at all times. By carrying these stands to a 50 year rotational age, nesting habitat can be maintained for the warblers with little sacrifice to the commercial harvest of jack pine. These jack pine stands also provide habitat for the upland sandpiper, Eastern bluebird, white tailed deer, black bear and snowshoe hare, and for several protected prairie plants, including the Allegheny plum, Hill's thistle, and rough fescue.
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