FORSYTH — When surveys this spring confirmed cerulean warblers singing in north Georgia forest openings created to attract them, the news was music to Nathan Klaus’ ears. It was also confirmation for Klaus and others that some conservation efforts take years to see results.
Klaus, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Forest Service biologist Jim Wentworth had patches of trees cut on 20 sites in two Chattahoochee National Forest areas in the winter of 2004-05. Some cerulean warblers were documented at a few sites soon after. But it wasn’t until this spring — four years later — that the birds were reported using seven of 10 cuts along Ivy Log Gap near Blairsville, one of the two areas targeted. No cerulean warblers had been heard or seen at the sites before.
"This is the first real glimmer of hope we have to turn around that species," Klaus said.
The glimmer of hope for the continent’s fastest declining warbler comes from far-searching research. To accommodate breeding requirements for these small, sky-blue birds, state-listed as rare in Georgia, Klaus and Wentworth, working with the Audubon Society’s Important Bird Areas program, wanted to create a diverse hardwood canopy. Their aim: Mimic the forest canopy conditions — including small gaps — found in mature forests and needed by the warblers, instead of the more prevalent younger tree stands that lack a diverse canopy.
The long-range look is critical to many conservation projects. Examples vary from surveying sea turtle nests, done daily along Georgia’s coast since 1989, to restoring canebrakes in the Piedmont region. Years of data yield more effective recovery plans and clearer measures of management impacts.
But such science poses challenges. Land ownership can change. Careers, too. Researchers must plan and set sample sizes according to what they expect. They and their organizations also must be committed to this longer vision, said Klaus, who works with the Nongame Conservation Section of the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
The payback can be sizable, however. "There’s an opportunity to learn how the landscape works," he said. "Not all solutions are quick or easy, and understanding the issue may take time and patience."