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State of the Birds Report

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Boreal Forests


Boreal Forest on private land in Minnesota by
Gustave Axelson

Of the 146 million acres of U.S. boreal forests, 93% are in Alaska, where only 3% are in private ownership. In the lower 48 states, however, more than half of 9.6 million acres of boreal forests are privately owned. Including Alaska, 17% of the roughly 8.8 million acres of privately owned boreal forests are protected for conservation through ownership or easement.

Boreal Forest Birds on Private Lands

Thirty-eight bird species are obligate boreal forest breeders in the U.S. On average, 20% of boreal forest bird distribution is on private lands. Twelve of these species have U.S. breeding distributions only in Alaska, including Gray-cheeked Thrush, Solitary Sandpiper, and Bohemian Waxwing—all of which have only 2% of their distributions on private lands. On the other hand, private lands are vital habitat for boreal birds in the lower 48 states. From Minnesota to Maine, boreal species generally have more than half their distributions on private lands. Many of these species have disproportionately greater distributions on private protected lands, including Philadelphia Vireo (15%), Bay-breasted and Tennessee Warblers, (both 14%), and Bicknell’s Thrush (8%).

Boreal Forest Bird Distribution 


Outside of Alaska, more than half of U.S. boreal forests are privately owned, and these forests support a majority of the breeding distributions for boreal species such as Bay-breasted Warbler. Bay-breasted Warbler by Danny Bales. 

Local forest owners learned about stewardship
practices and planning during tours of native
boreal coastal habitat along Minnesota's North
Shore with Lake Superior. Photo by Sugarloaf:
The North Shore Stewardship Association.
Conservation Successes

In May 2012, The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society of Maine, and Plum Creek Timber Company created a historic conservation easement on 363,000 acres in northern Maine. One of the largest forest conservation easements in American history, the easement serves as the missing puzzle piece in one of the nation’s most extensive permanently conserved working forest regions. Altogether, the easement and surrounding conserved areas total 2 million acres of conserved lands across Maine’s North Woods. This easement contains management provisions specifically for Common Loon and Rusty Blackbird, as well as an agreement that the property will remain accessible to the public in perpetuity, thus continuing the long tradition of recreation and sustainable forestry in the Maine woods. Along Minnesota’s North Shore with Lake Superior—150 miles of coastal boreal habitat that hosts breeding birds such as Canada, Blackburnian, and Black-throated Green Warblers—family forest owners are banding together with a collective vision for ecosystem health. About 80% of the North Shore is privately owned. The Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Association has partnered with the University of Minnesota Extension to provide 30 private landowners with forest stewardship plans and technical assistance on invasive plant control and reforestation. Sugarloaf is now working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service under the Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to sign up another 50 landowners along the North Shore. 


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