Research published in the Sept, 2019 edition of the journal, Science, tells a frightening tale. Since 1970, the year before I graduated high school, the total breeding bird population in the continental US and Canada has decreased by 29%. That is a loss of over 2.9 BILLION birds! Forest dwelling birds have diminished by 1,000,000,000, while our grassland birds have decreased by 700,000,000! What does this say for us?
One of the primary causes for the decline is the loss of suitable habitat. Others include use of pesticides (not just on farms) and global change. Ken Rosenberg is an applied conservation scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the study’s lead author. His take on the results is, “It’s a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife and that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”
Locally, a quick survey of the NH Fish and Game website (https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/wildlife/species-list.html#birds) shows approximately 60 species of birds in New Hampshire listed as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need”. The list includes various wrens, grouse, terns, warblers, sparrows, swallows, bobolinks and the Eastern Meadowlark. What to do?
Besides our homestead in Westmoreland, Gayla and I have approximately 25 acres in Sullivan, NH, that is equally divided between forest and a beautiful pasture. As supporters of the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD), we often rely on the services provided by the District, and the programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) located in Walpole, NH. One such program assisted us in developing a Forest Management Plan. Another continues to help us enhance the soil and overall pasture health of our organically managed hayfield. After learning of the study, we naturally approached them to learn if we can better manage our forest and pasture to enhance bird habitat.
First walking the forest with a fellow CCCD board member and forester, Peter Renzelman, and then the entire property with NRCS Soil Conservationist (and wildlife specialist) Wendy Ward, was an educational experience beyond compare! As we walked the land, I was amazed at the depth of their passion and knowledge as they read the history of the forest, pointing out areas that were beneficial, as well as areas not conducive for native and migrating birds and wildlife.
Peter showed me part of the woods that was damaged during the hurricane of 1938 and how it had affected trees standing today as they regrew. He also spoke of how a selective patch cut would create and area of new growth forest that would enhance migrating bird habitat.
Wendy identified birds and plants I had never even heard of! She also discussed how by adhering to specific dates for mowing and or grazing, we would greatly improve the desirability of the natural bird habitat of our pasture. All this I shared with the creator of our Forest Management Plan (FMP), Andy Sheere, (www.longviewforest.com) who also walked the land and, by thoughtfully combining our personal goals with everyone’s ideas, developed the FMP we will now follow starting in 2020. The plan is a valuable educational tool and provides us great insight as to the overall diversity, health and sustainability of our forestland.
As our primary goal is to enhance the overall soil health and wildlife habitat of this beautiful part of Sullivan for generations to come, Gayla and I can now feel we are acting as responsible land stewards. Due to the guidance of Peter, Wendy, Andy, and continued help from Steve Pytlik of the NRCS, our land will be enjoyed by wildlife and people alike well into the future. All made possible by partnering with the Cheshire County Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Please join us and help make a difference!
Written by: John Snowdon
CCCD Associate Board Member