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Stop the Spray BC demands more research on silviculture impacts on songbird populations

James Steidle, Stop the Spray BC.

A bird count conducted last spring by members of the Prince George birding community found dramatic differences in songbird species and densities in two adjacent cutblocks on either side of the Baldy Hughes PG Rod and Gun Club gun range south of Prince George.

Carried out within a day of each other under similar weather conditions at the same time, the birders found 2.5-times more birds and 1.7-times more species in the mixed deciduous plantation compared to the pine-dominated plantation, even though the mixed deciduous forest was 10 years younger (bird numbers typically increase with forest age).

The results reflected the few studies that have compared older deciduous forests to older coniferous ones.

In a 1995 study by Rosamund Pojar, Breeding Bird Communities in Aspen Forests of the Sub-boreal Spruce (dk Subzone) in the Prince Rupert Forest Region, she found:

“The number of species, abundance, and the species diversity were lowest on Conifer, which was a dense stand of pure pine with very little structural diversity in the vegetation. Low bird species richness in dense pure coniferous stands with single, or few, conifer species has also been reported by James and Wamer (1982) and Morgan, et al. (1989).”

“What folks may not know when they applaud the destruction of deciduous trees in the name of ‘sustainable forest management,’ is that they are applauding the elimination of huge amounts of bird life,” said Stop the Spray BC spokesperson James Steidle, in a news release. “We can protect songbirds, and pat ourselves on the back, but that won’t count for much if we carelessly destroy the most productive forests for birds and replace them with pine plantations with much less productivity, which is the standard forestry practice we are implementing on the landscape.”

Tellingly, the mixed deciduous block was an accident. It was also sprayed with glyphosate twice, once by helicopter in 2010 and again by backpack spray in 2011, said Steidle, adding probably due to wind, rain, or contamination of the herbicide mix, the deciduous did not die.

“Opportunities to research this topic are limited because the war on deciduous is relentless.  The control block in this case was an anomaly because it too had been sprayed, twice, but had survived. The places they don’t spray or brush typically don’t have much deciduous to begin with. So it was a real opportunity that we had these two blocks with such different ecological trajectories, side by side like this,” said Steidle.

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