Monday, July 30, 2018

Black-backed woodpeckers need small fires, not large ones

Scott Crosbie bands a BBWO at Sagehen in 2004.
The Black-backed Woodpecker (BBWO) is a threatened bird that colonizes burned areas, and depends on standing dead snags for their nests. As such, they are a touchstone species in the debate about salvage logging of burned and beetle-killed forests. Some environmentalists (notably, Chad Hansen of the John Muir Institute) are advocating for allowing large wildfires to burn, assuming this creates more habitat for the BBWO.

Here's an interesting new paper on Black-backed Woodpeckers:
"Our expectation, grounded in island biogeographical theory (MacArthur & Wilson, 1967), was that larger fires should show increased colonization and persistence. To the contrary, sites in larger fires were less likely to be colonized..."
So much for the emerging "Just Let it Burn" argument--these fires are just too big and destructive. We need to thin first, then let regular, low intensity fire back in. And leave lots of standing dead for BBWOs and other wildlife, too, of course.

Here's a short video of a BBWO nesting near the Sagehen fishhouse in 2014. BBWOs are a regular resident at Sagehen, where they nest in standing beetle-killed trees, not burned ones. See observations of BBWOs at Sagehen on iNaturalist: