In the 1970s, the Kirtland’s Warbler was one of the rarest species in North America, with only a few hundred birds surviving. A species that once ranged across multiple states and Canada became restricted to only six counties in Michigan.
The Kirtland's Warbler is solely dependent upon young stands of jack pine forest that occur in Northern Michigan and a few scattered locations in adjacent states and Canada. Suppression of fire and other natural forest cycles that once provided ample stands of young jack pine, along with the loss of forest habitat, led to the Kirtland’s Warbler's listing as an Endangered Species in 1973.
Today, more than 3,500 Kirtland’s Warblers nest in Michigan. The species has met the biological criteria for removal from the Endangered Species List, although it has not yet been delisted. This has been a true success story, but biologists agree that maintaining a healthy population will require the same intense management actions that have been in place for the past 30 years. However, if the species is delisted, there would likely be a decrease in federal and state funding and a lessening of management of the warbler. The feared result is another decline in the Kirtland’s Warbler population.
NFWF's Kirtland's Warbler Initiative was created in 2009. Its goal is to develop a public-private partnership for the conservation of Kirtland's Warbler that, should the species be removed from the Endangered Species List, would provide financial and public support for maintaining its viability. NFWF is developing that partnership and a long-term trust fund that will support both Kirtland's Warbler and jack pine management for decades to come.