RECENT publicity from the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) about the importance of young forest habitat has mentioned the endangered Kirtland’s warbler as an example of a nongame species that is helped by vegetative management, i.e., logging.

For the record, the organization’s use of several warbler species to argue for more active timber management in Wisconsin has integrity not found in the cries of wilderness proponents who used wolves, pileated woodpeckers and scarlet tanagers to argue their cause — with laughable results.

Last week, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that after years of intensive habitat management involving young forest types, the Kirtland’s warbler was removed April 12 from the federal endangered species list.

It’s another great conservation comeback story after 40 years of federal protection, which began when its Michigan population dropped to about 300 birds due to habitat loss and nest predation from brown-headed cowbirds.

In the late 1990s, the protections finally paid off and the warblers started expanding their breeding territory once again to Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Ontario. The first nest here was confirmed in Adams County in 2007.

The species’ numbers in Wisconsin don’t yet meet the criteria to be removed from the state’s endangered species list, so active conservation efforts will continue.

The Kirtland’s warbler thrives in young forest habitat, especially jack pine plantations that maintain a mix of 5- to 20-year-old jack pine. That’s how the species made its way into forest management plans and pro-logging publicity that promotes the regeneration of young forest through logging.

The same is true for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and a host of songbirds that include the golden-winged warbler. All thrive best in young forests, primarly aspen and jack pine.

Wisconsin’s population has grown from only 11 Kirtland’s warblers and three nests documented in 2007 to 53 birds and 20 total nests in 2017.

Importantly, the population has grown and its range has expanded from Adams County to also include Marinette and Bayfield counties. And Vilas County is listed as a supporter that is working to provide similar habitat.

National recovery team leaders believe the Wisconsin population provides an important backstop to the core Michigan population, and that newly established breeding areas on public land in northern Wisconsin will be important as hotter, drier conditions affect the warblers’ food supply at breeding sites at lower latitudes.

I guess that’s their indirect way of saying that climate change may affect these warblers in more southern locations, and that establishing a more northern breeding population could really help species survival long-term.

RGS and the subject of young forest habitat is the scribbler’s reason for this writing, but it’s important that people know RGS believes in more than just young forests.

John Eichinger, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, said achieving a balance of forest types and ages is the key to a healthy, productive forest. He’s also president of the American Woodcock Society (AWS).

“Some people are under the false impression that the only component of a forest for which RGS and AWS are interested is young forest habitat. Those people are mistaken,” Eichinger wrote in the Spring 2018 RGS magazine.

He said the RGS mission statement clearly supports preserving America’s sporting traditions “by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife.”

“A healthy forest cannot be comprised exclusively of young forest habitat any more that it can be covered entirely with old growth trees,” he said. “No single forest type, by itself, offers the healthy sustainability a forest ecosystem gains from the extensive diversity of plant and animal life provided by a range of forest types within a single forest.”

He said a healthy forest is one composed of a well-balanced range of age classes, along with species diversity.

“Forests are dynamic systems driven by the ‘competing’ processes of succession and (historically) disturbance. As disturbance resets successional pathways, it allows disturbance-dependent plant and animal species (blackberries, ruffed grouse) and communities (aspen, oak and beech) to remain a vital component of the forest.”

As human development has fragmented the landscape and motivated practices like aggressive control of wildfire, the natural forms of disturbance that historically shaped wildlife and wildlife communities have been substantially inhibited, he said.

“As a result, we are seeing broad shifts toward older forests composed of later-successional species. Succession moves forests forward, toward not only older classes, but also domination by certain species not well adapted to disturbance,” he said.

The extensive maple forests of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest east of Eagle River and Three Lakes would be a prime example of domination by later-successional species. However, there are national forests in eastern states that are much worse off, with virtually no young forest diversity.

In a nutshell, there cannot be diversity without disruption — and we need today’s logging practices to mimic the wildfire disturbances of long ago. It’s the only way to create the necessary young forest habitat.

That’s the message of the day, and it’s the kind of conservation work that is helping bring back the Kirtland’s warbler to Wisconsin’s forests.