Birds are an integral part of any ecosystem they inhabit. Birds help control insects and rodents. They disperse seeds, helping to bring new life to disturbed areas. And birds are pollinators, critical for flowering plants, trees and shrubs.
When birds and their habitats are at risk, so is the wider environment. Birds depend on certain habitat conditions for survival — conditions that can be supported through balanced and sustainable forest management.
In the United States alone, there are over 800 species of birds, with nearly 200 considered species of concern and almost 70 regarded as endangered or threatened.Currently, more than 250 million acres are certified to the standards of sustainability set by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). These same standards help conserve critical bird habitat. SFI is the only standard in North America that requires participants to engage in research to advance forest sustainability — and that makes a difference for birds.
“Working lands, like those managed by SFI-certified companies, represent some of the best opportunities for conserving forest bird breeding habitat,” says Jim Shallow, conservation and policy director for Audubon Vermont.
Beyond the research requirements of the SFI standard, SFI also provides direct funding for significant research on conservation issues of importance. Here are six SFI-inspired projects that are helping birds and the critical habitats they depend on.
1. Looking for, and out for, Canada’s breeding birds
SFI awarded a grant of nearly $250,000 over three years to not-for-profit Bird Studies of Canada to research breeding bird populations. The research provided information to forest managers to help conserve bird biodiversity and keep habitats safe for species at risk, including species like the Canada warbler, olive-sided flycatcher and the rusty blackbird.
Data was gathered from remote forest areas and from harvesting data already collected on existing and potential SFI project participant lands in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. The project produced a customized web portal where forestry companies can request, obtain, manage and potentially analyze data specific to their managed lands.
“Wild birds are excellent indicators of environmental health. This research is playing a pivotal role in figuring out how Canada’s bird populations may be affected by a variety of factors in our forests,” says Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of SFI Inc.
Community involvement was an integral part of the program. Bird-loving volunteers worked closely with biologists, spending tens of thousands of hours collecting data in their provinces.
Over a million bird-breeding records were processed to help create breeding bird atlases, which have detailed maps showing the abundance and location of hundreds of different breeding species and their key hot spots and habitats across Canada. The results are an important source of information for government agencies and other land managers, including forestry companies. Atlases are particularly useful in providing information on bird species considered to be at risk.
“We are more than thrilled that the wider forest landowner community has responded so well to the information produced from this project,” says George Finney, president emeritus of Bird Studies Canada.
Seven SFI program participants were involved in the project — NewPage, Port Hawkesbury Corporation, Bowater Mersey Paper Company, Abitibi-Bowater, J.D. Irving, Acadian Timber and Louisiana-Pacific.
2. Bringing landowners and bird lovers together
Through an SFI Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant program worth $80,000, the American Bird Conservancy is partnering with NatureServe, Resource Management Service, and SFI program participants Plum Creek Timber Company, Weyerhaeuser and Hancock Timber Resource Group.
This project is designed to work with a broad array of landowners certified to SFI standards to identify priority habitats for bird conservation, improve management scenarios for these habitats, and focus on locations where the lands intersect with critical habitats in North America.
3. Talking turkey in North Carolina
In the U.S., wild turkey populations have declined sharply over the last decade. New York’s population hit a 20-year low in 2009. Mississippi’s population declined more than 40 percent between 2004 and 2009, while in Texas the population declined 30 percent.
Connecting networks of private forests could be a new way to reverse some of this decline. These networks can then form corridors for a variety of species, including wild turkeys, to travel through. The Nature Conservancy North Carolina Chapter was awarded a grant by SFI to support landowner outreach to encourage these networks along the Cape Fear Arch in North Carolina.
The Cape Fear program helps landowners develop a forest management plan. This is a key program benefit. Having a forest management plan gives landowners access to expertise and cost-sharing through a variety of programs available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Linking these lands together creates a larger network of sustainably managed forestland that benefits turkeys and a wide variety of other species.
“We want to encourage buffering and forming corridors between existing managed lands,” says Dan Ryan, a program director with the Nature Conservancy. “But this can’t be achieved solely by buying land to be set aside for conservation. We need private forest landowners to participate.”
4. Keeping ducks unlimited
Wetlands in Canada serve as habitats for over 500 species of wildlife. Migratory ducks are especially dependent on wetlands, which are critical to the ducks’ lifecycle. But these areas are under threat. Up to 70 percent of them have been lost in southern Canada because of urbanization, agriculture and industry. Wetlands are also under increased risk of degradation and loss in Canada’s northern forests. As a result, species like the American black duck and lesser scaup have declined drastically.
Ducks Unlimited Canada, a private nonprofit, received a grant from SFI of nearly $200,000 over three years to work with SFI and researchers from FPInnovations to help conserve wetlands. FPInnovations is one of the world’s largest nonprofit forest research centers. Another project partner was Louisiana Pacific Canada, an SFI program participant.
The grant supported a program to determine best practices for planning and building forestry roads that protect wetland ecosystems in the western boreal forest of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“This is a wonderful example of why SFI launched the conservation grant program. It brings together conservation and forest engineering expertise, fosters collaboration and builds knowledge to improve practices and protect special areas,” says Abusow.
The project found that understanding the water movements of the different types of wetlands can enhance forest engineering to improve wetland flow, which in turn helps improve biodiversity conservation.
“The ability for us to have a broad influence and broad geographic scope is important for our habitat conservation work,” says Chris Smith, head of boreal conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited Canada.
5. Conserving longleaf pine to help woodpeckers
The Longleaf Alliance is using SFI funding to help buyers of forest products better understand how markets are actually promoting longleaf conservation. With the grant-funded information, buyers can better understand that longleaf pine is being harvested sustainably, which is good for business and the environment.
The mission of The Longleaf Alliance is to manage and restore the longleaf pine ecosystem for ecological and economic benefit. Thanks in part to the efforts of The Longleaf Alliance, the acreage of longleaf pine forests has increased to 4.4 million acres, up from 2.8 million in the 1990s.
But this kind of growth wasn’t what defined the story of the longleaf pine until recently. The over-exploitation of this ecosystem began accelerating about 150 years ago. One of the many species affected was the red-cockaded woodpecker, which was on the verge of global extinction, before longleaf restoration efforts and habitat management programs put the species on the road to recovery.
“The longleaf ecosystem is growing, and we want to maintain that momentum by expanding markets,” says Robert Abernethy, president of The Longleaf Alliance. “This restoration has been achieved by working on our public lands but also by working on private lands to plant and manage additional longleaf acres.”
6. Providing a home to roam on the ponderosa
The not-for-profit American Bird Conservancy received an SFI grant to support its work to reverse the decline of bird species in ponderosa pine forests. These forests in Idaho, Oregon and Washington state are habitats for species of particular conservation concern, including Lewis’s woodpecker, the flammulated owl, the white-headed woodpecker and Williamson’s sapsucker.
The project aimed to enhance bird conservation by improving habitats. On-the-ground habitats were created at 10 private landowner properties spanning 12,000 acres. Tips on bird conservation were provided to dozens of landowners responsible for over 100,000 acres combined. Seminars were held in four states to offer guidance to federal wildlife and forestry agency staff.
“This is the development of practical, effective and affordable forest management options that sustain and create more bird-friendly habitats,” says Mike Parr, American Bird Conservancy vice president and chief conservation officer.
To find out more about SFI’s conservation efforts — including birds and beyond — visit http://www.sfiprogram.org/grants.