The cerulean warbler, named for the sky-blue upper feathering of the adult male, is in desperate trouble, especially in its core breeding area — the coal-field region of Appalachia. In 2000 the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a petition, cosigned by 27 other organizations, to list the species as threatened and designate critical habitat. But, strapped for money and human resources, the Service took no action. Finally, in 2006, it announced that listing was not warranted.
But with funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) available from the Farm Bill’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (a partnership of state and federal agencies and NGOs including The Nature Conservancy) is helping private land owners restore cerulean habitat. Work on existing forests in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia is only in its second year, but already results are encouraging.
In Kentucky and Ohio restoring supposedly “reclaimed” surface coal mine sites to cerulean habitat is a far slower process because the forests have to be started from scratch. The kind of reclamation mandated by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) wasn’t about wildlife; it was about preventing landslides and erosion. So sites were compacted by bulldozer and seeded with aggressive, often alien grasses, legumes, shrubs and trees including