Environment Picture

Kirtland’s warbler conservation success celebrated with second in series of MEC-sponsored markers

Highway rest stop near Clare gets dash of history
The second in a series of environmental historical markers sponsored by the Michigan Environmental Council was dedicated in June at the junction of two major Michigan freeways.

The Michigan Conservation Trail marker—at the highway rest area just north of the I-75/US-127 junction near Clare—celebrates the decades-long work of conservationists to save the Kirtland’s warbler from extinction.

The Kirtland’s warbler is one of the world’s rarest birds and nests almost exclusively in Michigan during the summer months where habitat restoration efforts and scrupulous protections have helped it survive.

Storied protection efforts for the warbler include a 1997 incident when a wayward military tank commander from Camp Grayling was pulled over and ticketed by a state conservation officer for rumbling through the warbler’s jack pine habitat.

In the winter, the bird flies south to the Bahamas for the season. The small blue-gray bird has a bright yellow breast and a black streak on its back, and only nests in the grass at the bottom of young jack pine trees. This specific type of habitat is found in Michigan’s northeastern Lower Peninsula, making it virtually the only summer home for the endangered bird.

The population has rebounded from just 167 known nesting pairs in 1974 to more than 1,800 pairs as of 2009.

The recovery is testimony to sustained habitat restoration work by federal and state agencies in concert with private bird conservationists.

The marker was a collaborative effort between the Michigan Historical Commission (MHC), the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and the State Historic Preservation Office. MHC and MEC are partnering to create the Michigan Conservation Trail with startup funding from the Americana Foundation.

The warbler marker is the second in what is envisioned to be a series of linked historic sites and associated educational materials. The first marker in the series was placed at the headquarters of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in Trenton in 2007. It recognizes the work of conservationists and sportsmen’s groups to demand tougher state water pollution laws.
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