The Kirtland's Warbler Wildlife Festival (KWWF) has drawn thousands of birding and nature enthusiasts to its annual 'celebration of nature' held on the third Saturday in May at Kirtland Community College's main campus near Roscommon. This year, the festival will also help celebrate a very important anniversary, as well as a gracious donation that will benefit the area's wildlife for years to come. Global ReLeaf, American Forests' education and action program responsible for the planting of more than 30 million trees in over 600 projects across the U.S. and internationally, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Michigan, home to the group's very first project in the AuSable State Forest, located in Roscommon County. Through the Global ReLeaf initiative, American Forests seeks to plant 100 million trees worldwide by 2020. As part of the activities at the 17th annual KWWF on Saturday, May 15, John Hancock Financial, one of American Forests' major sponsors, will show its continued support of the organization's planting efforts by announcing the donation of 35,000 jack pine saplings. It's a gift the Kirtland's warbler will appreciate, as the rare song bird prefers nesting under younger jack pines that stand between 5 to 20 feet tall in northern Michigan, as well as parts of the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. 'It is fitting that we celebrate our anniversary near where Global ReLeaf began its important work,' said Dan Smith, vice president of communications at American Forests, the nation's oldest non-profit conservation group. 'I am pleased to announce that, when our most recently donated trees have been planted, we will have planted 1 million jack pines for Kirtland's warbler habitat and 1.6 million total trees in Michigan.' The conservation and educational efforts by American Forests and the Kirtland's Warbler Wildlife Festival were among the reasons officials at John Hancock Financial joined in by donating thousands of saplings, helping the Global ReLeaf effort reach the 1-million milestone of jack pines planted in Michigan. 'We are proud to be part of Global ReLeaf's effort and to support the state of Michigan,' said James Gallagher, executive vice president of John Hancock Financial. 'John Hancock and its parent company, Manulife Financial, have a long history of supporting environmental causes, as well as a longstanding relationship with Michigan. 'In fact, Manulife Financial established its U.S. operations in Michigan in 1903, so we are especially pleased to be able to give back to the state that has become so important to our company,' Gallagher added. Because of the conservation work to restore the Kirtland's habitat, the population of the still rare songbird is at its highest level in decades, according to annual census data. The warbler population has been on an upward climb since a reported low of 167 males in 1987, with the total population of the species now nearing 4,000 birds. 'The Kirtland's warbler could not have survived without the high level of commitment of so many who help ensure this species has the proper environment in which to breed and thrive here in northern Michigan, as well as the benefits to the other wildlife that call the jack pine ecosystem home,' said Jim Enger, chairman of the KWWF committee. To mark the 20th anniversary of American Forests' replanting efforts in northern Michigan, as well as the donation of the thousands of jack pine saplings by John Hancock Financial, the KWWF will host a special ceremony at 12:15 p.m. during the day-long festival May 15 near the festival headquarters' tent. 'We would like to take time to recognize the many individuals and organizations who have stepped forward with generous donations,' Smith said. 'If not for their commitment to helping the environment, and saving endangered species such as the Kirtland's warbler, we would never have been as successful as we are today.' The event will also include the planting of a jack pine sapling. 'We believe the Kirtland's Warbler Wildlife Festival is a celebration -- a celebration of nature, the Kirtland's warbler and of the jack pine ecosystem that dominates our region, helping to educate festival-goers through the tours and presentations,' Enger said. 'So, we're proud to host these two great organizations -- American Forests and John Hancock Financial -- and help bring about an added awareness to their accomplishments to help protect and grow our natural resources here in northern Michigan.' For details on the 17th annual KWWF and a complete schedule of events, visit online at warbler.kirtland.edu or call 989-275-5000, extension 266 or 242. Additional information on American Forests and John Hancock Financial can be found at www.americanforests.org and www.johnhancock.com, respectively.