Conservationists Hope to Turn Abandoned Coal Mining Lands into Bird Havens

For Immediate Release: April 9, 2008

, American Bird Conservancy, 502-573-0330, ext. 227
, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 740-258-7686
, American Bird Conservancy, 202/234-7181 ext. 216


Tree Planting to Restore Forested Habitat for the Cerulean Warbler and Other Declining Bird Species


Cerulean Warbler. Photo: Barth Schorre
Cerulean Warbler. Photo: Barth Schorre

(April 9, 2008) This week, a coalition of groups will contribute to a program that has the potential to dramatically alter the landscape of abandoned and disused coal mines throughout Appalachia for the benefit of some of our fastest declining birds. The project will plant 15,000 seedlings on a plot in Vinton County, Ohio that will serve as a model for future partnership efforts. The project will restore degraded mining lands to provide habitat for Cerulean Warblers and other interior forest birds that have been declining due to the loss and fragmentation of forests in the United States and Canada.


“We are working with partners to identify areas to target reforestation for Ceruleans and other priority forest-dwelling birds,” said Dr. Brian Smith, American Bird Conservancy’s Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture Coordinator. “At the same time we are also identifying reclaimed mine complexes to improve habitat conditions for viable populations of open-land priority species such as Golden-winged Warblers and American Woodcock.”


American Bird Conservancy is working with partners of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s “Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative” to reforest abandoned minelands in the coal region of the Appalachian Mountains. Large blocks of mature forest there provide important habitat for Cerulean Warblers and other declining birds, but these forested areas have been degraded due to loss and fragmentation from past and current coal mining operations. Cerulean Warblers in particular, rely on large expanses of diverse hardwood forests in the Appalachians—80% of the global population breeds in the Appalachians, especially in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.


“The project area is in Ohio's core range of the Cerulean Warbler, a species that has declined 70% in the past forty years,” said Kristin Westad, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biologist, and coordinator of this project. “The early growth will benefit priority species such as the American Woodcock, and Prairie Warbler for several years. As the stand matures, it will provide habitat that will benefit interior forest birds such as Ceruleans by reducing edge effect and providing a buffer for mature forests.”


Over the last 30 years, many mines have been reclaimed to non-native grasslands or shrublands, replacing diverse hardwood forests with large, unnatural openings. However, some of these areas now support populations of other priority birds such as Golden-winged Warblers, Northern Bobwhite, Henslow's Sparrows, and American Woodcock. Future reforestation efforts will be coordinated so as not to negatively affect these species.


Partners in the project include American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Ohio Private Lands Office (project lead), National Wild Turkey Federation, landowner Kurt Neltner, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, Vinton County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Forestry Division. American Bird Conservancy’s support for this project has been provided by the Lannan Foundation and other donors.


Dozer. Photo: USFWS
Photo: USFWS

Site preparation known as 'ripping' is necessary on reclaimed minelands because the soil is so highly compacted that trees are unable to take root. Seedlings will be planted in the seams created by the soil ripper (see photo above by FWS). The project in Vinton County will plant 8.8 acres of ripped land and 12.7 acres of previously unmined land this spring.

Additionally this spring, American Bird Conservancy will assist partners in southwestern Virginia with a similar mineland reforestation project. If you own previously mined lands in southeastern Ohio, or anywhere in the Appalachian Mountains, and are interested in learning more about reforestation opportunities, please contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Ohio Private Lands Office or American Bird Conservancy.




American Bird Conservancy is the only organization that works solely to conserve native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts to safeguard the rarest bird species, restore habitats, and reduce threats, while building capacity in the conservation movement. ABC is the voice for birds, ensuring that they are adequately protected; that sufficient funding is available for bird conservation; and that land is protected and properly managed to maintain viable habitat. ABC is a 501(c)(3) membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.