Glennie, Mich. — Federal forestry officials plan to clear-cut hundreds of acres in the Huron National Forest near Glennie and replant the area with jack pines as part of a habitat restoration effort for the endangered Kirtland’s warbler.
The project, which is in its early stages, is drawing criticism from some locals who contend they were not aware of the plans until recently, and are concerned about the loss of public access for things like hunting, fishing, and firewood collection.
Officials with the U.S. Forest Service, however, believe most of the public concern about the project is misplaced, and based on a misunderstanding of what the project entails.
U.S. Forest Service officials released a report for the Roy Creek Project in September to solicit public comment on plans for 15,900 acres in the Pine River Kirtland’s Warbler Habitat Management Unit in Iosco and Alcona counties, just southeast of Glennie.
Kirtland’s warbler is a fire-adapted species of song bird that only lives in young jack pine forests – between five and 15 years old – which historically regenerated through wild fires. Chris Mensing, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said an estimated 2,020 singing males exist in the world, with 1,969 in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, 31 in the Upper Peninsula, 17 in Wisconsin, and three in Canada.
Because modern firefighting is so effective, the birds now rely on collaboration between state and federal agencies to create new habitat, he said. Lands managed for Kirtland’s warblers are generally closed to hunting between May 1 and Aug. 15, if birds are present. That breeding season coincides in part with spring turkey season, though thick jack pines are rarely used by turkeys, Mensing said.
“The primary purpose of the Roy Creek Project is to create Kirtland’s warbler essential breeding habitat …,” according to the report, but it also includes plans for “timber management, hazardous fuels reduction, fuelbreak creation, wildlife habitat improvements, endangered species habitat creation, rehabilitation of user-created resource damage, and non-native invasive plant management activities.”
Paul Thompson, district wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, said there’s currently proposals for work on 6,000 of the 15,900-acre project area, including the creation of “approximately 861 acres of jack pine in two areas for Kirkland’s warbler breeding habitat.
“The Forest Service does that by clear-cutting and replanting the trees” and is required by law to cut only mature trees that “provide a merchantable product,” Thompson said.
The Forest Service posted its report online, and solicited public comment from local residents through a newspaper notification, as well as letters sent to adjacent property owners and those who have signed up for Forest Service updates.
But resident Kim Swanson contends many locals were unaware of the plans until recently, and were not given enough time to respond. Swanson contends the area is widely used for hunting and fishing, collecting firewood, snowmobiling, and other activities that would suffer if areas are clear-cut and replanted with jack pine. He’s worried about how public access would be affected.
“It’s disappointing they are trying to do this. It’s going to ruin the area,” said Swanson, who contacted numerous politicians, news media, and state and federal agencies to “stop this, or at least get some public meetings.”
Swanson, who hunts and gathers firewood on the property, contends the Roy Creek Project is the latest extension of Forest Service policies that have blocked off motorized access and limited public use in recent years.
“The people are not happy about this type of thing, and it needs to stop,” he said.
Thompson believes much of the public concern about the project stems from editorials in the local newspaper that mischaracterize the project, and imply the lands would be closed to the public.
“The entire project area is open to hunting and recreational use of any kind that’s legal, with the exception of the few blocks that are closed,” from May to August, Thompson said. “If the decision is made to create the habitat as proposed, and the birds use the habitat, as we’d hope … it would be closed during the breeding season.”
The Kirtland’s warbler project areas cover 861 acres of 6,600 proposed for management, he said, with the remainder focused on other priorities, such as habitat improvement for deer, turkeys and several nongame species.
The first public comment period for the Roy Creek Project ran for 30 days and closed Oct. 24. Officials will review the comments and may develop alternatives. A second public comment period will take place in 2015, Thompson said. Contact the Huron Shores Ranger Station in Oscoda for updates at (989) 739-0728.