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A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

Garlic mustard —

Garlic mustard — Photo: Robert McCaw Prothonotary Warbler — Photo: Greg Lavaty House Wren — Photo: Jeff Nadler facilitated the gradual replacement of trees which do not tolerate shade, or can moderately tolerate shade (shade intolerant and mid-tolerant tree species like birch and pine) with trees that can tolerate shade (shade tolerant tree species like sugar maple and American beech). Exotic diseases (such as chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease), invasive plants (like garlic mustard and European buckthorn), and exotic insects (such as gypsy moth and emerald ash borer) shape the forests of southern Ontario. Even the white-tailed deer, by foraging heavily on woodland trees and shrubs has, and continues to change the structure of woodlands today. These historical and current driving forces have had a large effect on the nature of the forests that remain on the landscape, and hence the wildlife that depend on these forests for habitat, including forest birds. Birds are important components of biodiversity, the health of their populations serve as a benchmark of the health of our ecosystems (see The Value of Biodiversity page 7). Biodiversity is the variety of plants, animals, and other living organisms in all their forms, from the gene and species level up to the ecosystem level. Though forest dependent birds likely suffered declines with the initial transformation of the landscape by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not until the late 1930s that methods were developed to properly count bird populations and allow trends to be documented (see How do we measure bird populations trends page 9). It is known that since the 1960s population declines have occurred in many forest bird species. Today many of these continue to decline and have created some conservation concern. In Ontario, some species are considered endangered (Acadian Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler), threatened (Hooded Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker), or of special concern (Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush), because their populations have been dramatically reduced, while other species remain relatively common despite steady population declines (2.2 percent per year Wood Thrush; 1.9 percent per year Rose-breasted Grosbeak (see Bird Species of Concern table page 88). Even so, there have been a few species that have responded favourably to human habitat alteration and have increased in population size and/or expanded their ranges, including American Robins and House Wrens. Most species threatened or in decline are Neotropical migrants; species who 6 Introduction

Gray tree frog — Photo: Scott Gillingwater The Value of Biodiversity With more than six billion people living on this planet, it is no wonder that our environment is rapidly changing and the world’s natural resources are under enormous pressure. The human population currently consumes more than its share of Earth’s natural resources per year, and humans have already cleared nearly half of the world’s natural habitats for their use. An estimated one third of what remains is set to disappear over the next few decades if current trends continue. This not only compromises nature’s ability to provide us with an abundant supply of clean air and water, and filter toxins from the environment, but many of the world’s species are now vanishing at an unprecedented rate. This loss of biodiversity is alarming considering our lives are dependent upon an intricate relationship between multitudes of organisms working together to achieve ecological balance and stability. Without biodiversity we would have no oxygen to breathe, no clean water to drink, no fertile soil to grow our crops, no food to eat, indeed no functioning biosphere. Many experts agree that any human goal toward improving environmental sustainability must include actions toward maintaining and protecting biodiversity. Because our understanding of ecosystems remains incomplete, preserving biodiversity allows us to keep our options alive. We cannot predict the consequences of losing species, because all species in nature are connected. When one species vanishes, others that rely on it are weakened and may become threatened, which can in turn weaken more species. Apart from these practical considerations, each species and ecosystem has its own natural, intrinsic value and should be allowed to continue to exist because it exists today. It has been suggested that birds are important indicators of biodiversity as they are found almost everywhere on Earth, comprise over 10,000 species, and occupy a diverse array of habitats. Not only are birds relatively easy to survey, but they are sensitive to environmental change. Unfortunately, like other wildlife, bird numbers have been declining worldwide due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Some estimate that one out of every eight bird species today is globally threatened, and one-fifth of all bird species is at some level of conservation concern. Most alarming is that even some of the most common and widespread species are experiencing rapid declines. Loss of habitat, agriculture, poor logging practices, and the spread of invasive species are the top of the threat list followed by urban sprawl, hunting, changes to natural fire regimes, and human-induced climate change. When managing for biodiversity you manage for all living organisms in order to conserve the full variety of life. Doing so requires that forest management be anchored in the principles of ecology. Any forest management activity (timber harvest, habitat development, re-vegetation, etc.) should occur within the limits of natural disturbance patterns. Because our native species evolved under these patterns, maintaining or mimicking them as closely as possible offers the best protection against the loss of biodiversity. It is in our best interest to slow or reverse the global loss of biodiversity. By taking an active role in properly managing our remaining natural resources, you will take a small but positive step towards protecting and sustaining biodiversity. Fairy helmet mushroom — Photo: Robert McCaw Forest wildflowers — Photo: Al Woodliffe Southern flying squirrel — Photo: Ken Elliott Wood Thrush on nest — Photo: OMNR Introduction 7

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