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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 ...

Yellow lady’s slipper

Yellow lady’s slipper — Photo: Robert McCaw using passive management will produce the most natural appearance and old growth conditions in their woodlots in the future (i.e., no cut stumps or skid trails), because no trees are cut using this approach. Nonetheless, developing an old growth structure using passive management can take over a century in eastern deciduous forests, when you consider natural tree growth and natural disturbance patterns. While passive management means no human intervention, it does not mean do nothing. Since the time frame for developing old growth characteristics is beyond your lifetime, engaging in forest and estate planning is critical to achieving old growth structure in your forest. Preserving unaltered habitat can also be useful for retaining specific wildlife features, habitat, or landscape elements that are either in short supply or difficult to create through management. Leaving no-cut reserves within a woodlot can also help preserve unique habitats, at a small scale. Limiting cutting within the woodlot core can help protect forest interior conditions and habitat for area-sensitive birds. Buffering around rare plant communities, vernal pools, riparian areas, snags, cavity trees, and stick nests can ensure harvesting activities do not contribute to further declines of sensitive species. Land managers should be aware that in preserving unaltered habitat there is a chance that ice storms or major wind events set succession back to an earlier stage. This is a natural part of the process. 2. Increase old growth features and conditions in managed forests Stewardship activities benefit many specialist species. Today’s forests support more deer and Blue Jays but they provide fewer homes for Southern flying squirrels or Brown Creepers. Restoration is a long process, and land managers may not see the benefit, though immense, for generations. Many of the following management recommendations aim to encourage land managers to restore older growth features to our landscape. Today, virtually all old growth forest that remains in southern Ontario consists of small tracts of land (4–40 hectares) that resulted from private family preservation for aesthetics, hunting, or timbering. While these tracts pale in comparison to historic old growth forests, they remain a vitally important resource. Leaving some stands to remain on the landscape as old growth reserves remains a key management goal. However, there are a variety of management techniques to increase the prevalence of old growth characteristics on our landscape, particularly in stands with high existing basal area and large, old trees. (See Methods to maintain or develop old growth features in managed stands on page 64.) Planned forest management provides the opportunity to accelerate the development of old growth structures and allows for immediate economic return. However, no single attribute, be it tree age, tree size, canopy structure (foliage layers), or species composition, can consistently define old growth; and Old growth features —Photo: Jarrid Spicer 62 Guidelines for Forest Management and Maintenance of Forest Bird Diversity

Barred Owl — Photo: Dan Kaiser Old Growth Features — Old growth forests often have a variety of features that define these forests: 1. Trees of great age. For a forest to be old growth there should be a number of trees of great age. Though there is no definitive agreement as to how old constitutes great age, a reasonable criterion is the existence of trees exceeding at least half of that species maximum attainable age. Thus, in a Photo: Doug Tozer typical mixed oak forest, trees in excess of 150–200 years old would constitute an old growth condition. 2. Trees of commercial value. The presence of large economically important tree species is usually a good indicator that the area was not selectively cut or high-graded. For example, potential old growth forests should contain canopy specimens (preferably from multiple size classes) of black walnut, black cherry, red oak, white oak, tulip tree, or sugar maple. 3. Uneven-aged canopy structure. Trees of all ages and diameters generally characterize eastern old growth forests. These typically exhibit an age distribution where young stems occur at a much higher density than very large, older stems. Small-scale natural Photo: Lucas Foerster disturbances and differential shade tolerance among species will produce this type of structure. 4. Treefall gaps. Old growth stands show evidence of many small canopy gaps of one or several trees. These site disturbances create a diverse overstorey and markedly change the understorey microenvironment by varying the amount of light that reaches the forest floor. This results in an uneven-aged canopy structure. Old growth forests typically have multiple layers (3–5) instead of the 1–2 layers found in younger forests. 5. Downed logs. Coarse woody debris should be a prominent component of the forest floor. These downed logs should be from multiple size classes and in various states of decay, suggesting that they are the result of long-term processes and not one single disturbance event. These logs Photo: Lucas Foerster store a considerable amount of the carbon and nutrients present in a stand, serve as seedbeds for other plants, are important in maintaining forest hydrology, and function as important wildlife habitat. 6. Standing snags. Standing dead trees are another prominent element of the old growth forest. Snags indicate that trees have reached natural mortality in place. Snags are a vital component of the ecosystem and are important for a variety of species. They are critical habitat for cavity nesters, mosses, lichens, fungi, and many invertebrates. 7. Pit and mound topography. Wind thrown trees often dominate the old growth forest floor, creating a rolling topography. When weather or age knock over trees, their root mat rips up the associated soil from the forest floor and creates a pit or depression. As the root mass decays, the soil is loosened and Photo: OMNR falls into a mound adjacent to the pit. These pits and mounds are important in forest nutrient cycling and understorey diversity, but are not as common in managed forests. 8. Undisturbed soils. Old growth forests typically have soils with a thick organic layer and considerable numbers of ferns, mosses, and fungi. Exempt from heavy logging equipment, horses, dragged logs, or grazing livestock, the soils remain free from compaction. Photo: Ken Elliott 9. Ecosystem stability. Most old growth forests approximate a dynamic steady state condition where they exhibit only minor changes. Mortality and decay generally balances growth, and nutrient input is roughly equivalent to nutrient output. Since most of the nutrients are retained in the plants, and they die in place, nutrients remain on site. In contrast, two or more back-to-back clear cut rotations will deplete many eastern soils of nutrients. 10. Diversity of plants and animals. In addition to the above-mentioned abundance of ferns, mosses, and fungi, old growth forests often have a higher diversity of understorey herbs, particularly in hardwood stands. This may not be the case in some old growth Red eft — softwood stands (eastern white cedar) Photo: Teresa Piraino because of the decreased light and highly acidified soils. There is also a variety of animals associated with the structural elements of old growth stands. You can often find a greater abundance of certain species of salamanders, small mammals, soil invertebrates, and songbirds in old growth stands compared to younger stands. 11. Little or no evidence of human disturbance. Presently, we do not classify stands with obvious signs of significant human disturbance as old growth. This includes logging, livestock grazing, past agricultural, or residential use. Guidelines for Forest Management and Maintenance of Forest Bird Diversity 63

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