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State of the Birds Report

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Boreal Forests

Alaska has the largest area of boreal forests in the nation: roughly 138 million acres or one-third of the entire state. Nearly 88% of Alaska’s boreal forest is publicly owned, with management divided among state lands (35%), BLM lands (24%), National Wildlife Refuges (20%), and NPS lands (9%). Much of this boreal forest region of Alaska includes a mosaic of important wetland habitats. Roughly half of the 9.5 million acres of boreal forest in the lower 48 states is publicly owned, with more than 2 million acres each of state forestlands and National Forests. These acreages pale in comparison with the 800 million acres of boreal forests in Canada, however, so the future of boreal birds depends on international cooperation.

Percentage of the U.S. distribution of 38 boreal forest-breeding bird species on public vs. nonpublic lands (left). Breakdown of bird distribution on public lands shown for each public agency (right). 

Boreal Forest Birds on Public Lands

Public lands support 69% of the U.S. breeding distributions of 38 boreal forest obligate species. For 16 species that breed primarily in Alaska, including wetland birds such as Trumpeter Swan and Short-billed Dowitcher, more than 90% of the breeding distribution is on public lands. In the contiguous 48 states, 18 obligate boreal forest species have 34% of their U.S. distribution on public lands.

More than half the U.S. breeding distribution of Black-backed Woodpecker, Blackpoll Warbler, and Gray-cheeked Thrush is on state-owned land. NPS lands support more than one-third of the distribution of Common Loon, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Great Gray Owl. More than 25% of the distribution of Spruce Grouse, Hudsonian Godwit, and Least Sandpiper is on several vast National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. BLM lands in Alaska support more than 20% of the distribution of 10 boreal forest species, including Boreal Chickadee, Trumpeter Swan, and the rapidly declining Rusty Blackbird.

Conservation Successes

New York’s Adirondack Park is one of the largest protected areas in the contiguous 48 states, including 2.6 million acres of state-owned high-elevation and boreal forests that support more than 25% of the U.S. population of Bicknell’s Thrush, a species of conservation concern.

In Alaska, the USFWS protects more than 26 million acres of boreal forest in several National Wildlife Refuges. With areas large enough to allow natural disturbance such as fire and flooding, these refuges support large populations of breeding waterfowl such as White-winged Scoters, Hudsonian Godwits and other shorebirds, as well as Spruce Grouse and many other boreal birds.

Conservation Challenges

Spruce bark beetle infestations have affected 3 million acres of forests in Alaska since 1989. Unusually mild winters and summers, consistent with global climate change, have exacerbated the proliferation of beetles. Climate change also has contributed to more frequent and larger fires in the Alaska boreal forest and a steady shrinking of acreage in the United States. Exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas can cause permanent loss and fragmentation of slow-growing boreal forests. Unlike in Canada, however, large-scale industrial forestry is not a major threat to bird populations in the United States


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