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The study site in question was not managed for Golden-winged Warbler.

Regarding the article “Evaluating outcomes of management targeting the recovery of a migratory songbird of conservation concern” (Streby et al., Jan. 29, 2018), there are inherent flaws in the authors’ analysis. The study site in question was not managed for Golden-winged Warbler, nor was the management prescription for that area directed by American Bird Conservancy. Instead, the prescriptions on the study site were carried out by Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge using best management practices for a different species, American Woodcock. As a result of these inaccuracies, the article is misleading and its conclusions invalid.

Shawn Graff

Vice President, Great Lakes

American Bird Conservancy

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Accepted answer

We, the authors are confident that an unbiased reader will find that our description of the Golden-winged Warbler management at this site is thoroughly corroborated by the references we cited, including multiple products from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). However, we are happy to provide additional corroboration of the facts as presented in our paper in response to Mr. Graff’s public statement.

As we stated in our manuscript, the site where we evaluated management effects was manipulated to benefit Golden-winged Warblers by shearing vegetation and creating early-successional forest. The American Bird Conservancy leads the conservation initiative focused on management for Golden-winged Warblers and early-successional forests, describes their leadership role in the initiative in several documents, and identifies the site in question as Golden-winged Warbler management in their reports.

Of the extensive documentation available, we direct the reader to the Larkin et al. (2016) report (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcseprd1310877.pdf}, the lead author of which identifies himself as an ABC employee in the report and is described by ABC president, Mike Parr, as ABC’s leading expert on Golden-winged Warblers. The same report with relevant sections highlighted can be found here (https://www.henrystreby.com/larkin-et-al-2016-report).

Of particular importance, we note the following:

1) Post-management surveys in the ABC-authored Larkin report are described as being conducted as part of a self-assessment of ABC management activities targeted at Golden-winged Warblers.

2) The report describes sites managed by “the American Bird Conservancy and its partners” (Pg 1, Par 1; Pg 3, Par 1).

3) All sites included in the report are involved in “management initiatives that target Golden-winged Warbler habitat” using “best management practices that create or maintain Golden-winged Warbler habitat” (Pg 1, Par 1; Pg 3, Par 1; Pg 8, Par 1; Pg 12, Par 1).

4) The Larkin report acknowledges the managers of Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge (the site in question) for access for these post-management surveys, all of which were on land managed for Golden-winged Warblers as part of this initiative (Pg 41, Acknowledgments).

5) The Larkin report includes the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge site as a site that was successfully managed for Golden-winged Warblers because at least one Golden-winged Warbler was detected during post-management surveys (Figures 5 and 10).

6) The Larkin report describes the management in Minnesota and Wisconsin as follows: “All of these sites were derived through timber harvest or shrub management; most private lands consisted of timber harvests and public lands were a mixture of both” indicating that the “shrub management” applied at the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge site was, and continues to be, applied throughout the western Great Lakes region by ABC and its partners (Pg 18, Par 1).

7) We have no direct knowledge of whether American Woodcock surveys occurred on these managed sites, but the Larkin report states “We conducted woodcock surveys (n=694) at sites that were recently managed to create habitat for Golden-winged Warblers.” (Pg 1, Par 2; Pg 8 Par 1).

In addition to ABC’s own assessment of their activity at the site we report on in our manuscript, we were present at the site when ABC employees scouted the site as a potential management location for Golden-winged Warblers prior to the initiative and we were present at the site when the ABC-supported surveyors from Indiana University of Pennsylvania conducted post-management surveys for Golden-winged Warblers. We have documentation of these activities ranging from emails to license plate numbers and we are happy to provide all such documentation to Mr. Graff or any interested party.

Furthermore, three of the authors of our manuscript attended a meeting in August of 2015 about the Golden-winged Warbler management at the site in question. That meeting was attended by a small number of individuals interested in Golden-winged Warbler management in Minnesota, including three ABC employees and representatives from multiple state and federal agencies. It is not our prerogative to publicly identify attendees of that meeting, but we are happy to provide a list of attendees and a transcript of that meeting, all of which corroborates the facts as we report them in our paper, to Mr. Graff.

We hope that our assessment of management for Golden-winged Warblers at a site in Minnesota, in a portion of their breeding distribution where they are currently abundant, is evaluated for what it is; one necessary step in the adaptive management framework. That framework can be reduced to 1) manage based on the best available science, 2) scientifically assess management outcomes, 3) adapt the management plan based on the assessment, and 4) repeat steps 1-3. This is especially important in the current case because ours is the only empirical, independent assessment of any portions of this management initiative and the management we assessed is identical to much of that being applied across the western Great Lakes region under this initiative, based on the descriptions in ABC’s reports. Ours is an assessment of a single site, not an entire program, and we specifically stated that it was not our intention to impugn the intentions of any involved organizations. However, we believe our assessment is scientifically sound and suggests that current management prescriptions, or perhaps where those prescriptions are being applied, may not be benefiting the species of conservation concern that the program targets. We understand that a large, collaborative conservation program, such as that spearheaded by ABC and targeting Golden-winged Warblers, involves many partners and funding sources. In the case of Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge, official decisions regarding management actions are, of course, under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Mr. Graff stated, and management may be recommended, prescribed, or funded by multiple sources. However, the management action we evaluated was described by ABC as, and is consistent with, the prescription applied as part of the larger ABC-directed initiative targeted at Golden-winged Warblers, and our assessment suggests that current prescriptions could benefit from modification.

Henry Streby

Assistant Professor of Ecology

University of Toledo

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