eWestern Birds

The Quarterly Journal of Western Field Ornithologists

Vol. 45, No. 3
September 2014
Western Field Ornithologists

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Conservation Concerns for Sierra Nevada Birds Associated with High-Severity Fire
Chad T. Hanson

ABSTRACT: Numerous avian species are positively associated with “snag forest” habitat created by patches of high-severity fire, mainly because of the abundance of standing fire-killed trees (snags) and fire-following shrubs. There is now considerably less severe fire than there was historically in the forests of California’s Sierra Nevada, owing to fire suppression. Moreover, under current policies for management of public and private forest, much of the snag forest created by fire is subjected to post-fire logging of snags. Mechanical mastication and herbicide spraying of shrubs, followed by planting of conifers, are also common, and large-scale programs of mechanical thinning seek to prevent creation of this habitat. Thus there is reason for concern for birds associated with snag forest. I synthesized existing research to identify the species positively associated with this habitat and assessed their population trends according to the Breeding Bird Survey. In the Sierra Nevada 24 species are associated with snag forest, and half of these are declining or are too rare for the Breeding Bird Survey to detect any trend. For snag-forest species, there are significantly more declines than increases (all snag-forest species with statistically significant population trends are declining), whereas species of unburned forest manifest no such pattern. These results indicate a need for more managed wildland fire, and for current management policies, both pre- and post-fire, to be revisited, particularly in national forests where most of the post-fire habitat exists.

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