1,000+ trees in the ground:
Jack Pine Planting Day a success
Take that, Covid!
On May 1, ten hardy volunteers ignored the light sleet and spread out across the northern Michigan landscape to plant more than 1,000 jack pine trees to support Kirtland’s Warbler conservation. When the trees reach five or six years old, they will provide nesting habitat for the rare warbler.
This year's event was conducted in partnership with Huron Pines and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and with generous support from the Au Sable North Branch Area Foundation.
Volunteers gathered on Stephan Bridge Road, about a quarter mile south of Four Mile Road, at 9 a.m. with the goal of planting more than 1,100 trees on a one-acre site. The Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance and its partners developed a COVID-19 policy that guided the day's activities. With everyone's cooperation we are confident that no one caused the spread of Covid.
The Kirtland’s Warbler is a Michigan conservation success story. The tiny warbler, which spends it summers primarily in the northern Michigan jack pines and winters in The Bahamas, was on the brink of extinction in the mid-1980s with a population estimated at fewer than 400 birds. Today, the population is estimated at more than 4,000 birds because of good stewardship by the Michigan DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Still, the Kirtland’s warbler needs continual human intervention to create new habitat. Jack Pine Planting Day is an effort to connect people with the whys and hows behind jack pine management by the DNR and the Forest Service. It’s also an opportunity for people to do something tangible for a bird that is such an important part of the jack pine ecosystem and is important to northeastern Michigan’s economy.
The DNR annually cuts and replant hundreds of acres of jack pine forests in northeastern Michigan to support the jack pine ecosystem, which includes the Kirtland’s Warbler and other wildlife including Wild Turkey, Snowshoe Hare, White-tailed Deer, and Upland Sandpiper.
We hope you will join us for Jack Pine Planting Day in 2022. Make a note in your calendar now for Saturday, May 7. We'll make registration information available in early April.
The Jack Pine Ecosystem
This is the Jack Pine ecosystem that is the center of the Kirtland's Warbler historic range in Michigan's norther Lower Peninsula. More than 90 percent of Kirtland's Warblers' nests are in one small area of northern Michigan, some 70 miles from north to south and 90 miles from east to west.
There's not much here -- Jack Pine trees, of course, along with grasses, sedges, blueberries in the undergrowth and a few shrubs and trees. The soil in this ecosystem is sandy and nutrient poor, which severely limits what can grow.
Fire is historically has been a fundamental part of the ecology of the Kirtland’s Warbler’s ecosystem. The warbler and the other plants and animals in this area have not just adapted to fire, they have come to depend upon it. But no species in this ecosystem requires fire more than the Jack Pine. The Jack Pine's cones usually remain undamaged by the heat from a wildfire because fire moves through the tree so quickly. After the fire, the wind can disperse the winged seeds onto the ash-rich ground as far as 130 feet from the tree.
The Jack Pine is one of the most common trees in northern North America. A Jack Pine belt stretches across Canada from the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean, and extends south into northern Michigan and as far north as Hudson Bay. The Jack Pine is able to live on the thin, acidic soil of the Canadian Shield, on rocky outcrops on mountainsides and in wet riverbeds. So with all these Jack Pines across North America, why does the Kirtland’s nest where it does? The answer is in the ground.
That’s because much of the soil here is composed of Grayling sand. The combination of low-hanging, overlapping branches of young Jack Pines with this sandy, well-draining soil that rarely floods is perfect for a bird that nests on the ground.
Today, this ecosystem is managed by both the U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Through regular harvests and replanting, the agencies are creating new stands of young Jack Pines desirable to the Kirtland's Warblers.