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State of the Birds Report

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USDA Forest Service

Mission: To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

  USFS Lands at a Glance

• The USFS administers 155 National Forests, 20 National Grasslands, and 82 Experimental Forests covering more than 193 million acres of public land. Management is guided by research and development at seven research stations with numerous field locations.

• The USFS administers about 8% of the land in the United States. It is the steward of large areas of diverse habitats, including 47% of Mexican pine-oak forest, 42% of western forest, 23% of boreal forest, 5% of eastern forest, and 5% of aridlands. Although the USFS administers only 4% of all arctic and alpine habitat, it administers 70% of the arctic and alpine habitat in the contiguous United States.

• Thirty percent of Forest Service lands are permanently protected to maintain natural habitats; 69% are permanently protected from conversion of natural land cover but permit a wider range of management and multiple uses.
  Image: Kirtland's Warbler by Greg Lavaty   

Stewardship of Birds

• National Forests support, on average, 34% of the distribution of obligate bird species of western forests in the U.S., including more than half of the distribution of Whiteheaded Woodpecker (56%), Williamson’s Sapsucker (58%), Dusky Grouse (53%), Sooty Grouse (46%), and Hermit Warbler (51%).

• USFS lands support, on average, only
3% of the distribution of arctic and alpine
bird species in the U.S., but more than
half of the distribution of White-tailed
Ptarmigan (77%), Black Rosy-Finch (61%), and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (67%).

• USFS lands support high percentages of the distributions of birds of high conservation concern, including Gunnison Sage-Grouse (36%), Florida Scrub-Jay (30%), endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (35%), and endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (41%).

• Pine-oak forest in several National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico support more than half the U.S. distribution of Mexican Chickadee (60%), Painted Redstart (56%), and Grace’s Warbler (52%).

USFS and Bird Conservation

The Forest Service seeks a balance in resource use such that ecosystems are sustained for future generations. This responsibility includes providing for the diversity of plant and animal communities and sustaining individual species while also providing lands for timber harvest, grazing, energy extraction, and recreation.

The Forest Service provides valuable habitats for birds through management and conservation activities, including prescribed fire, silviculture, and designation of lands as research natural areas, late-successional reserves, roadless areas, or wilderness. The Forest Service is also committed to bird monitoring in National Forests. For example, the Southern Region has monitored more than 200 species in 14 National Forests since 1992, providing knowledge of species trends and habitat occurrences to guide management.

Forest Service scientists contribute knowledge needed for bird conservation and the Forest Inventory and Analysis program tracks changes in U.S. forests. The International Programs' "Wings Across the Americas" provides critical coordination and assistance for international conservation of migratory birds that depend on lands outside the U.S. for part of the year.

The Forest Service must reconcile multiple uses that are not always compatible with bird conservation objectives. Finding the right balance is a challenge. For example, timber harvest reduces habitat for species such as Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl but meets other agency objectives. The Forest Service balances these uses in a forest planning process open to public, federal, and state involvement to develop National Forest and resource management plans. Given a broad mandate of sustaining biodiversity and native species, balancing the needs of multiple species that have diverse requirements is also a challenge for land management planning.

Percentage distribution of breeding bird species dependent on each habitat on USFS lands. 

Conservation in Action: Birds Respond in Fire-Adapted Landscapes

Many forest birds of conservation concern are dependent on ecosystems maintained by fire or disturbances. Decades of fire suppression have altered the composition and structure of forests, savannas, and grasslands, resulting in declines of these bird species and threatening the health of these ecosystems. During 2001–09 the Forest Service treated 5.5 million acres with prescribed fire and 2.7 million acres with mechanical treatments to restore fire-adapted ecosystems and reduce hazardous fuels across the United States.

Critical habitat for endangered Red-
cockaded Woodpeckers is maintained
through prescribed burning and thinning
of long-leaf pine forests on Forest
Service and other public lands. Photo
courtesy of USFS

Returning fire to ponderosa pine forest is reestablishing interactions among woodpeckers, bark beetles, wood-boring beetles, and fungi, and is benefiting species such as White-headed and Black-backed woodpeckers. Kirtland’s Warbler increased in response to prescribed fires and other management of jack pine forests on 190,000 acres of National Forests, National Wildlife Refuge, and state lands in Michigan. Prairie Warblers are 10 times more abundant on savanna and woodland sites on midwestern national forests and state lands that were restored through use of prescribed fire and thinning than non-restored sites.

The use of thinning and prescribed fire along with other changes in management resulted in increases of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers on southern National Forests while populations on private lands declined. Prescribed burning to restore overgrown sand pine scrub and scrubby flatwoods is essential for the persistence of Florida Scrub-Jays. The Northwest Forest Plan, a reserve strategy affecting 16 National Forests inhabited by the Northern Spotted Owl, has proven more effective than other management regimes in stemming the decline of the species.


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