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Two Trees Forestry
167 Main St.
P.O. Box 356
Winthrop, ME 04364
V: (207) 377-7196
F: (207) 377-7198 harold@twotreesforestry.com

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Wednesday, October 22 2014

New forestry focus is songbirds

Photo by Janet and Phil courtesy of the Creative Commons

In the doldrums of a mid-summer afternoon, the chirrups of a lone bird rang incessantly from the treetops.

It sounded a little like: "Here I am. Where are you? Up here. See me."

“Red-eyed vireo,” said Charlie Moreno, pausing his walk so others would take notice of the song.

It was a fitting soundtrack to a new approach to forestry that Maine Audubon, Moreno and others preaching and practicing. The idea is to be more intentional about maintaining conditions for birds in planning logging operations. It's both a way to stem the decline in songbird populations and a way to promote forestry among new audiences of landowners.

It's an approach that is certainly appealing to Ron and Tess Burke of Shapleigh, in whose 75-acre woodlot Moreno was traipsing around following a harvest. The Burkes had hired Moreno with the goals of earning some income from a timber sale while maintaining forest health and productivity.

"[Bird habitat] wasn't the first consideration certainly, but it was one of the things we were considering," said Burke.

I accompanied Burke and Moreno on the walk to better understand the new approach, which was pioneered by Audubon Vermont. After attending some workshops, Moreno thought to himself "this is exactly how I think."

He was not alone. Maine Audubon was interested in adapting the Vermont approach to Maine and received a $75,000 grant from Toyota TogetherGreen to develop Foresters for Maine Birds. Maine Audubon has consulted with foresters and held several field workshops in the past year. In late September, Maine Audubon expects to release a new guidebook that identifies habitat conditions and silvicultural recommendations for 20 bird species, according to Sally Stockwell, conservation director for Maine Audubon.

"The whole premise is if we create the right habitat, the birds should be there," said Stockwell. Foresters who have attended workshops - including some procurement foresters - have have been receptive to the approach, she said.

"I think there’s a potential to reach a whole new audience," said Stockwell "And and to reach people already doing [forestry] to look at it in slightly different perspective."

What I learned on the walk is that forestry for the birds is the opposite of tidy. To the untrained eye, the woods after a harvest look messy, which is the point, says Moreno. Woods with a groomed look and extensive views under the canopy are not necessarily the most conducive to birds, he said.

"We don't want the park thing - that is so contrary to good forest structure," said Moreno. By good forest structure, he means a healthy number of trees at all stages of growth and decay. It also means leaving behind the logging slash - the tops of logged trees - rather than chipping it up and carting it away.

"There are folks who would be horrified by this," he said, pointing to slash. "But you guys knew what to expect. In a few years, this will all be blended in."

Moreno points to a large dead tree, tipped over but not quite yet down.

"That size is very good. It's what our forests [tend] to lack," he said. "At this point, it can provide habitat in so many ways. In a heavy snow year, it could be a bear den. You could have a weasel running on the top. Then when it falls into the ground, it can be habitat for salamanders and all sorts of anthropods, decomposers. It can be used in so many ways."

What kinds of birds might find these woods conducive, I asked.

"The most common birds would be chickadees, white breasted nuthatch, downy and hairy woodpecker, red eyed vireo," he said. "On the ground might be oven bird, hermit thrush, possibly possibly wood thrush. You'd hear blue jays, maybe brown creeper, a beautiful little bird that goes up and down the tree trunk. Raptors, you might have barred owls in softwoods and broadwing hawks in the hardwoods."

How soon after a harvest might you notice, I asked.

"Almost immediately," he said. "Even while cutting is going on, there are more birds around. If you came here early in the morning, the would would be just alive with birds.

The Burke's harvest was conducted with a cut-to-length processor and forwarder, a combination of machines that makes it possible to remove a few trees in a stand, opening up small openings for light and leaving remaining trees intact. This time he points to a oak tree about the thickness of telephone pole that was left behind. A logger operating a less maneuverable machine might have harvested that oak tree in order to get access to a nearby "juicy pine," he said.

"It's so important to leave it. This woodlot has oaks like that all over it," he said. "It has so much more to gain. It's too early to take it ... That's why I like this [logging operation]. He was able to meander back and forth plucking trees."

If you're interested in more, connect with Harold at Two Trees Forestry or (207) 377-7196.