High-severity fires have occurred for millennia, but historically were isolated to cool, moist forests that burned infrequently. Due to the practice of fire suppression that has become common in modern times, today’s fires are fed by over a century’s worth of accumulated fuel. Further, a warming, drying climate in the American West has dried the fuel, and expanding human development and recreation have increased ignition sources – the proverbial match in the tinderbox. These factors allow high-severity fires to burn indiscriminately across forest types. Projections vary, but all agree that the number of acres burned by these fires that are extreme in both size and intensity – now known as megafires – will increase in coming decades. Let’s take a look at what these modern wildfires mean for wildlife, and birds in particular.
The forests of the American West have long been sculpted by fire. Modern human expansion and land management practices often suppress natural fires, an in the absence of natural fire, forest conditions have been changing. Modern “megafires” are largely a result of these changes. But what were forests like before the “megafire” era? And how can our understanding of historical fire regimes improve our management practices today?
The Private Lands Wildlife Biologist (PLWB) program is a crucial pillar in Bird Conservancy’s three-pronged approach to avian conservation through science, education, and stewardship. Our PLWBs work across the western Great Plains and eastern Rocky Mountains, often in rural and remote communities. Their jobs are complex, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. Recently, several of our current Private Lands Wildlife Biologists (PLWBs) visited with their predecessors to hear their reflections on how working as a PLWB for Bird Conservancy influenced their future career path, capturing insights that to inform our current cohort of biologists and seeking inspiration after all the challenges of working in people-centric conservation during a global pandemic.
GIS is an acronym that stands for Geographic Information Science, or Geographic Information System. This powerful technology enables Bird Conservancy Biologists to answer research questions, design scientific surveys, and measure the impacts of conservation projects on bird populations at a landscape scale.
The past year of pandemic life has been a struggle for most us in many ways. For a field biologist who truly values time outdoors and in nature, the transition to telework and isolation is particularly impactful. But forced solitude leads to unexpected new perspectives, including a stronger connection to the land, nature, and community.
Diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility are essential to our work at Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. We are working to promote these principles at every level of our organization, including in our most public-facing communication tool – our website. We are therefore excited to launch the Recite Me toolbar on our website, which you can access on a desktop, laptop, and mobile device!
Ever notice what appear to be small ponds on the grasslands during spring? These are ‘playa lakes’ — temporary wetlands that dot the prairies of the western Great Plains. Playas are shallow depressions lined with clay soil that holds rain water. Healthy playas are a win-win for water conservation and birds. They benefit people by helping replenish groundwater, filtering water and assisting with flood control. They also provide wildlife habitat and important stopover points for migrating birds. Over the years, many playas have become degraded and are disappearing from the landscape. However, with proper restoration and management, playas can return to their full potential.
With over 70% of landownership in the Great Plains and Intermountain West being privately owned, landowners are one of the keys to conservation of wildlife habitat. Many at-risk bird species use private lands during their annual life-cycle. Our Private Lands Wildlife biologists work assist landowners in navigating the complex process for securing funding for management plans, habitat enhancements, and infrastructure improvements on working lands through USDA Farm Bill. By targeting the specific needs of local stakeholders and geographic areas, we not only make funding more accessible, but we use the resources more efficiently to ensure conservation is happening where it’s needed most.
Effective conservation requires understanding when and where species face limiting factors. For nomadic birds collecting this data can be extremely challenging. Bird Conservancy is testing out Motus for tracking the winter movements for an uncommon Colorado bird, the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.