Managing Forests for the Birds

An innovative program involving Audubon Vermont, foresters, and land managers conserves woodland for the birds.

The veery singing and flitting through the understory of Vermont’s forests may have caught Nancy Patch’s ear or eye in the past, but these days when she sees the bird she thinks about how the surrounding habitat is meeting its needs. Patch, a forester with the Vermont Forests, Parks & Recreation Department, credits a novel program called Foresters for the Birds with changing her perspective. The three-year-old effort combines Audubon Vermont’s bird expertise and land managers’ know-how to conserve forests that are important to avian species.

“It’s given me a whole new way to look at the forest, and that’s speaking as a forester,” says Patch, her agency’s lead on the project. The forests of Vermont and northern New England boast the continental United States’ highest concentration of breeding bird species, including declining neotropical migrants such as the Canada warbler and the wood thrush. The program—developed by Michael Snyder, commissioner of Vermont Forests, Parks & Recreation, and Jim Shallow, Audubon Vermont’s conservation and policy director—offers tools and training for foresters to help landowners manage their forests with birds in mind.

For instance, a pocket guide identifies 12 birds representing different habitats with management tips for each: The chestnut-sided warbler needs more than an acre of hardwood seedling or sapling stands, with less than 30 percent canopy cover. Patch says the program is particularly popular with landowners who support wildlife but are nervous about cutting trees. Foresters for the Birds’ practices were recently covered under Vermont’s tax incentive program, so landowners can benefit from managing their woods to protect targeted species. Now more than a million acres of private forest—about half the state’s forests—are enrolled in the program.

Snyder says the project continues to grow as foresters tailor strategies in the field. “I’m most proud of the real integration of science and experience,” he says. Ultimately, he believes, the model could spread throughout the Atlantic Flyway.