Tag: Applegate Watersheds

What exactly is a bird’s eye view of the forest?

This post first appeared on Rogue Forest Partners.

At Klamath Bird Observatory, we frequently tell the story of birds knowing our forests better than we do. Using birds as indicators, we’ve applied our science across the diverse and beautiful Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion to understand the ecological change from a bird’s perspective and used that information to inform conservation planning and restoration design. But what exactly is a bird’s eye view of the forest? When we see a forest, we see trees, shrubs, and grasses; we notice how dense the vegetation grows and how old the trees are. Birds see all of these things too, but individual species also hone in on specific features—snags, downed logs, openness or tightness of a canopy, the size of the patch of forest, or how close it is to a stream. We already use much of what we know about birds and habitats in conservation planning. Our work with the Rogue Forest Partners has provided a recent application for using birds as indicators in planning for the future health of our forests.

With new statistical tools, we can more effectively picture what a bird “sees” and how habitat is distributed across a landscape. Distribution modeling is the process by which a dataset of bird presences and absences from multiple surveys is paired with data about the landscape where the surveys took place. We get data about the landscape from satellite imagery known as Landsat, which measures and reports the reflected light, like a photo, but using more wavelengths, including some invisible to the human eye. “Species-centered” distribution modeling (named for its focus on what the bird sees in the landscape, instead of how people quantify it into vegetation types) uses the information from the surveys and data from the Landsat images to determine what features of the landscape best predict whether a species will be found there.

Unlike simply measuring bird presence directly with a survey, the species-centered models allow researchers to study larger areas and glean more information about where the potential habitat for a species is most likely to occur, even in places where surveys haven’t taken place or where the forest habitat features have not been quantified.

Once the models are created, they have a multitude of applications. A recent study by KBO scientists in partnership with OSU used species-centered distribution models “stacked” on top of one another to understand the effects of habitat fragmentation on bird diversity.

Species-centered distribution models can also help us understand the broad landscape-scale impact of disturbances such as wildfire or restoration treatments such as prescribed thinning and burning.

Black-Throated Gray Warbler Photo (c) Frank Lospalluto

Since data from Landsat images are available every year, KBO scientists are beginning to test how species-centered distribution models can be applied to assess the effects of restoration treatments on bird habitat over time. For example, we have recently applied distribution models to examine a natural disturbance and recent restoration work in the Rogue Basin. The Quartz Fire, which burned in 2001, was studied using point count data in 2015. Using species distribution models and Landsat from the years before and after the fire, we were able to not only confirm results from our bird survey analysis, but also extract more data points to further our work examining differences among bird communities in low, moderate, and high severity burned areas following the fire.

In the Ashland Watershed, we used the models for 41 songbird species and Landsat imagery from 2004 (before any work took place) and 2019 (after the treatments were completed), we were able to quantify how the bird community changed following those treatments and evaluate whether restoration goals were achieved.

The ability to quantify changes in forest conditions using models, instead of solely monitoring birds directly at a given location, offers efficiencies for expanding the scope and scale of existing bird monitoring efforts to assess ecological change in the places we study. Our ongoing collaboration with Rogue Forest Partners provides an immediate, relevant application for the models, as restorative forest treatments are planned for the next decade to make forests more resilient and communities safe from wildfire. We monitor some of these treatments with bird surveys, but models provide another way to quantify that change across large landscapes that would be financially and logistically challenging to survey directly.

Over time, we can also measure how the forest grows back year after year and assess how bird habitat develops. For example, are the indicator species we expected to see following treatments likely to be there now? Are some species likely to occur in some areas that received a particular ecological thinning prescription more than other areas with a different approach? Does the presence of a species depend on how much of the landscape was treated? By asking these kinds of questions, distribution models provide “snapshots” of the ongoing restoration work that is vitally needed in our forests, help biologists assess habitat change over time, and inform the design and implementation of future restoration treatments.

Contributed by KBO’s Caitlyn Gillespie

Bird Monitoring in the Upper Applegate Watershed

This post first appeared on Rogue Forest Partners.

The Upper Applegate Watershed, located south of Ruch in Jackson County, Oregon, is a 52,000-acre USFS and BLM planning area among the region’s highest priorities for forest restoration. As part of a new project led by Rogue Forest Partners, over 18,000 acres of forested lands in the Upper Applegate Watershed are receiving restoration treatments over the next few years. Project benefits include improved forest health, protecting the surrounding communities from wildfire, and supporting climate resilience to mixed conifer forests that host many species of plants and animals.

To help monitor the ongoing restoration in the Upper Applegate Watershed, Rogue Forest Partners are working with Klamath Bird Observatory to study how the bird community responds to the forest restoration. KBO has a successful track record of studying the effects of restoration actions on bird communities, for example, oak restoration and riparian restoration. Similar to this previous work, KBO has designed a scientific study that uses both treatment and control areas (i.e., areas of the forest where there will be no management) to measure how the restoration treatments influence bird communities.

Birds are excellent indicators of forest structure and plant composition changes because they respond quickly to change, have known habitat associations in western forests, and are relatively cost-effective to monitor. In the case of the restoration activities in the Upper Applegate Watershed, scientists can track the presence and abundance of species such as Lazuli Bunting and Nashville Warbler to monitor increases in understory habitat. They can also observe other species such as Pacific-slope Flycatcher or Black-throated Gray Warbler to assess the increased proportion of large trees and canopy cover of hardwood species in mixed-conifer deciduous forest.

In 2021, KBO scientists completed bird surveys at treatment and control points within the Upper Applegate Watershed before any restoration work started on the ground. The surveys documented over 50 species. Once treatments conclude, KBO will go back to monitor these same points in a few years to see how the bird communities have changed.

Knowing how birds respond to treatments will help scientists better understand the overall effect of the restoration on achieving improved forest health and resilience and serve as a valuable tool for planning future projects in the area.

The Rogue Forest Partners are working with communities, government agencies, and other organizations to plan much-needed forest restoration in strategic locations to transform forested landscapes of the Rogue Basin in the next decade. Bird monitoring can help inform these projects to confirm that treatments are accomplishing the restoration goals or adjust as needed to provide healthy, resilient forest habitat for wildlife and people for decades to come.

Contributed by KBO’s Caitlyn Gillespie

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