Bird species are a key part of our forests’ biodiversity. From owls and hawks to ducks and songbirds, they play many roles in the boreal forest ecosystem and are some of our province’s most fascinating wildlife species. If harvesting isn’t done responsibly, bird populations can be disrupted, which is why Alberta’s forest industry takes proactive measures to prevent disturbing birds during their breeding season.
Foresters and forest companies care deeply about making sure our bird populations have what they need. Part of this work has been extensive research on assessing and minimizing risk to birds. Forest companies in Alberta have worked with researchers to develop a tool that uses information about important periods like breeding seasons to predict the risk to birds if a particular area is harvested at a given time. Testing and review of this tool was based on long-term bird survey data collected by forest companies over extended time periods. A combination of expert opinion, bird survey data and additional research was used to validate the risk models.
This tool is one “layer” that Alberta forest companies use in their planning. It generates maps that show the relative risk to birds associated with harvesting particular sections of forest at specific times, which informs companies’ forest management plans. The tool is also used to inform best management practices that can be applied to further reduce risk to bird species during their crucial breeding period.
Often, avoiding risk means timing harvesting activity around birds’ lifecycles and seasonal patterns. The breeding season is when disrupting and displacing birds could have the most negative impact, and special care is taken to avoid disturbing that key point in the lifecycle with forest harvesting. Company-sponsored training is also provided to help foresters identify situations where best practices around mitigating risk to birds need to be applied. This risk assessment, compilation of best practices and training started with a few companies in Alberta, but it has been enthusiastically adopted by the vast majority of forest companies in both Alberta and BC.
In addition to the industry-wide reduction of risk to birds, hearing from individual foresters has been one of the most rewarding parts of the project. The wellbeing of our bird populations is something foresters are personally passionate about, and many have taken time to share how the risk assessment tool and company-sponsored training have helped them put that passion into practice. Taken together, all of these stories about foresters spending their lunch break looking for signs of birds, or spotting nests they might have missed before, makes a big difference.