Sustainable Forestry Gives Songbirds a Place to Nest

blue winged warbler

New York resident Bruce Cushing is exactly the kind of private forest owner the Audubon has in mind for its “Woods, Wildlife and Warblers” program. Created to address population declines in forest birds like the Wood Thrush, the collaborative program provides forest owners with tools, knowledge and resources they need to make their forests healthier.

You might be surprised to learn that for Bruce and many others working to improve the health of the forests under their care, the answer often lies in cutting trees down.

Most trees in the state of New York are “middle-aged,” meaning there’s very little young forest of the sort songbirds prefer for nesting and foraging. Birds like the golden-winged warbler, which has lost 66 percent of its population over the last 50 years, need trees of varied ages to carry out their full life cycles.

The Adirondack Explorer explains how selective logging plays a role in the Audubon program. In the hope of restoring wildlife diversity to his property, Bruce plans to create a patchy mix of hardwoods, evergreens and shrubs on his hundred-acre plot.

Started in Vermont in partnership with the Tree Farm forestry certification program and other agencies, the warbler effort aims to knock some of the Northeast’s dense forests back into an earlier succession that favors certain birds and the insects they eat. Absent human influence, this wouldn’t be necessary. Storms, fires, insects or other disturbances would topple older trees here and there, letting sunlight to the ground and opening habitat for the species that live there.”

Today, though, much of the region’s forests grow on former croplands that were fallowed around the same time—in the span of a lengthy human lifetime, since the Great Depression. These mixed hardwoods can live on for hundreds of years. ‘A lot of our bird species don’t have that much time,’ said Suzanne Treyger, forest program manager for Audubon New York.”

Careful forest management can help make up for harmful human influences on forest habitats. That means planning harvests that are timed to provide a trees of a variety of ages to birds and other wildlife instead of clear-cutting entire stands at once. For landowners like Bruce, that equates to occasional payouts from timber harvests – a win-win situation.

For more details on how this process works, read the rest of the piece at Adirondack Explorer.

Blue-winged warbler photo via the Audubon Society

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