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NEWS RELEASE: Using Life Cycles of Culturally Significant Birds to Inform Timing of Prescribed Burns

CONTACT: Elva Manquera-DeShields, Science Communications, Outreach, and DEIJ Manager, Klamath Bird Observatory, 541‐908-0040,

This press release was first published on the Forest Service and United States Department of Agriculture website. 

Photo Credits USDA Forest Service photo by Frank Lake
Western Klamath Restoration Partnership prescribed fire at Roger’s Creek near Somes Bar, California, June 2023.

Pacific Southwest Research Station and Klamath Bird Observatory ecologists recently published new findings about using life cycles of culturally significant birds to inform the timing of prescribed burns in the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion of Northern California and southern Oregon. The research was a collaborative effort with partners from the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Technological University, and others.

The team studied bird banding data from 11 different species collected over 22 years. Focusing on birds that have cultural significance to local tribes, such as orange-crowned warblers, researchers gathered information about their life cycles. Birds expend a lot of energy during molting and breeding seasons, which leaves them more vulnerable to threats such as fire.

Michigan Technological University Assistant Professor and the paper’s co-author, Jared Wolfe, stated that “we found, in general, breeding tends to start near the beginning of April in the redwood forests, and later, towards the end of April, in coastal regions and along the Klamath and Trinity rivers.”

Birds have long been integral to tribal ways of life and part of indigenous knowledge but have suffered population losses. Devastating wildfires fueled by climate change and other factors have caused some western bird species to plummet. Prescribed burns can benefit these birds by helping restore forest ecosystems. However, when prescribed burns take place during birds’ molting and breeding seasons, they can cause unintentional harm.

Klamath Bird Observatory Executive Director and the paper’s co-author, John Alexander, explained that “our research results provide more precise guidance that can inform the timing of prescribed burns based on birds’ breeding and molting seasons.”

Researchers found cultural burning practices, which coincide with natural seasonal cycles, likely pose fewer threats to birds.

Pacific Southwest Research Station Ecologist, Tribal Liaison, Karuk tribal descendant, and the paper’s co-author, Frank Lake, emphasized that “this research can guide land management decisions to better align with traditional tribal burning practices that consider culturally significant birds.”



The Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) is a non-profit organization that advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships. Working in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the ranges of migratory birds KBO emphasizes high-caliber science and the role of birds as indicators to inform and improve natural resource management. KBO also nurtures an environmental ethic through community outreach and education.

Headquartered in Albany, California, the Pacific Southwest Research Station is part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Research and Development branch, developing and communicating science to sustain forest ecosystems and other benefits to nature and society. Pacific Southwest Research Station scientists are engaged in research across a network of experimental watersheds, ranges and forests, with research facilities in California, Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. For Research and Development happenings, follow Pacific Southwest Research Station on X.