Boreal forest conservation; Forestry
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
8 Jun 2003
- Calling Lake
- 55.18514 -113.35693
- HHB PORTADAT PDR 1000
- Sennheiser MKH 30
- Sennheiser MKH 50
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH50 Hypercardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic
Show: Boreal Songbirds
Log of DAT #: 6
Engineer: Marcia Caldwell
Date: June 8, 2003
Ambi. Loud birds chattering.
Alright, Sunday morning¿we¿re about ready to start the same set up MKH40, I¿m sorry MKH50 and 30 combination.
EA: Have you slated? You¿re ok?
MC: Yes, I¿m fine.
EA: Well let¿s just¿you¿re good?
MC: Almost¿Are we doing an interview or sounds gathering?
EA: No, we are talking.
MC: Ok good.
EA: Ok, ok¿are we good?
Fiona Schmiegelow Interview
EA: Let¿s just first orient ourselves and tell me where we are. Where are we?
FS: We are at a Calling Lake Alberta, which is a lake, or this area is at the southern edge of the Boreal Forest in Alberta. Didn¿t used to be the southern edge actually, but it¿s about the southern edge now. So, we¿re sort of mid-central Alberta. We¿re at 55 degrees latitude for what that means to people, in Canada.
EA: And specifically right here?
FS: Specifically right here we¿re standing in one of the areas that is adjacent to a number of study plots that we¿ve been sampling for the last 11 years as a part of a large experimental study that is looking at the effects of habitat loss and of fragmentation on Boreal songbirds.
EA: And how long has that been going on?
FS: It¿s been going on for eleven years. This is the 10th year after harvesting in the area, so it¿s the tenth year post experiment so that¿
Ambi. Talking about FS messing with her hat and creating bad noises.
EA: Tell me who you are. Who are you?
FS: Who am I?
EA: What¿s your name?
FS: Fiona Schmiegelow. I¿m a professor at the university of Alberta.
EA: And how long have you been connected with this place?
FS: I¿ve been connected with this place since 1991, which is when I first came up here, and at that time I was just starting my PhD work and I had been interested in fragmentation issues for a long time. I had worked in eastern Canada on fragmentation, forest fragmentation, but in the agricultural setting. But when I started my PhD work, I was interesting in furthering some of those things, looking at birds and fragmentation issues and I actually considered working in northern Ontario in Tomogamy because there was a lot of controversy then around the loss of old growth Red and White Pine and then I was interested in working in coastal BC around the Clayoquot Sound area and then learned about Boreal issues and came up here to check things out and ended up settling on this study area and I¿ve been up here ever since.
EA: What does fragmentation mean?
FS: Fragmentation is about breaking apart habitat. That¿s a really basic description. With fragmentation you also have habitat loss. People are being really careful to distinguish the two now because they have different affects on animals and plants, but essentially what it mean, when you harvest an area, when you convert an area for different land use practices, you break up what was formerly continuous habitat into smaller pieces.
EA: Which can be just as¿well, can have just as much effects as loss?
FS: Yes. Loss, people are thinking is sort of the larger initial issue, but once you start loosing habitat and it becomes more fragmented, that has additive effects on plants and animals and in particular a lot of negative effects have been associated with edges, the creation of additional edges and also the juxtaposition or the intersection of different habitat types that typically wouldn¿t be side by side. So, there¿s been an awful lot of work in agricultural areas where you now see fields adjacent to woodlots and you have things like different predators that live in the adjacent agricultural lots that prey on species in the remaining forest fragments and there¿s been a lot of very negative consequences, well documented in the eastern US and southeastern Canada looking at these things so we have higher predation rates we have higher predation rates on the birds themselves. Brown headed Cowbird parasitism is something that has also received a lot of coverage so the Cowbirds are exploiting the adjacent agricultural areas but then also going into the adjacent wooded areas and laying their eggs and we¿ll talk about what Brown-headed Cowbirds are. They are obligate nest parasites or brood parasites. They don¿t build their own nests; they don¿t raise their own young. They lay their eggs in the nests of other species, host species we call them, and when they do that, generally what happens is that their young grow faster, grow bigger than the host species. Brown-headed cowbird is sort of a robin sized bird, most people can relate to that I think, and they lay their eggs in a lot of smaller songbird nests and so the cowbird chick grows faster, is very aggressive, sometimes physically removes the chick of the host species, their own chicks from the nest. Anyway, the net result is that we see much lower nesting success for those species as a result.
EA: How did this study come about?
FS: This study was initiated because in the late 1980s there was real pulse of interesting in developing harvesting, broad scale harvesting, in the Boreal Forest and that was in response to a few things. The trees that we¿re looking at right around here, the Poplar species, so the trembling Aspen and the Balsam Poplar historically were considered weed species. They weren¿t of commercial interest to the forestry industry at all, they just didn¿t have the technology to deal with the particular type of fiber and in the 1980s there were some technological developments such that they now could use these species commercially for production of pulp and ultimately paper so there was a real pulse of interest in economic development in these forests and Alberta in particular aggressively marketed their forests, in fact. They were interested in diversifying their economy away from a strong reliance on gas and oil so very rapidly, large areas were essentially allocated for forest harvesting and so myself and many other people at the time were quite concerned because we actually knew very little about the ecology of these forests, but there were some very clear implication of the forestry strategies and the ones that I focused on were the loss of older forest and the fragmentation of older forests because as the forests are brought under commercial rotation which just means the sequencing of the harvesting, they won¿t ever reach the stages that we see these forests. It¿s just not economically viable to let the forest grow this old again so they¿ll be brought under a rotation period in which we¿ll see them. For the deciduous Forest, they¿re projecting sort of 50 to 70 years and for the Conifer forest, 90-100 years, but the forest we¿re standing in right now is about 140 years old and that¿s sort of the minimum age that we estimate it to be. It could be quite a bit older because there is self replacement going on here because as the older trees die and open up the canopy, the other tress species are coming in and there¿s self replacement of the Aspen and the Poplar so it could be in fact that the forest is older than we actually think, but as a minimum this forest is 140 years old so you¿ll never see this forest developing to this age again under the current harvesting regime.
EA: Because if they wanted to come in and cut it they¿d cut it and continue to cut it¿
FS: They¿d cut it and they would allow it to regenerate and in another fifty to seventy years when it¿s reached a sufficient size they¿d come in and harvest it again.
EA: So you decided to put together a study?
EA: and look at what?
FS: Well specifically we were interested in looking at the fragmentation of these older forests because it was clear that there would be less older forest around over time and what was remaining would be in much smaller pieces so where as there are still large continuous expanses under the harvesting strategy. It¿s basically reducing that except there¿s provisions for special wildlife and things, wildlife areas there won¿t be a lot of older forests around in the allocated areas and I really wanted to look at this experimentally because there¿s a lot of noise introduced when you haven¿t controlled for all the additional factors that might affect the outcome of a study and so this was an area that was allocated for harvesting to Alberta Pacific Forestry Industries for the deciduous component and some coniferous outfits for the spruce. So, what I did was work with them and with the provincial government to modify that harvesting plan so that we could actually look experimentally at the effects of fragmentation. And so this is a 140 square kilometer area and what we did was we created fragments of different sizes that are surrounded by clear cut harvesting on all side and what we did is that we have been monitoring the response of the bird community to all that experimental fragmentation.
EA: So looking at what happens to a specific chunk of area¿
FS: Yes, yes. We delineated these areas beforehand and we studied them before harvest so we knew what the bird community was like before the harvesting went in and then we followed it through after harvesting. We¿ve also got a large control area set up as part of the study because there¿s an awful lot of just year to year changes in the bird community in terms of numbers and in some degree composition, but particularly in terms of numbers. The annual fluctuation in numbers, which is natural, is about 20-30 percent and so that¿s a source of variation we want to account for when we¿re actually looking at the effects of harvesting. We want to remove that just annual variation. So that¿s the function of the control area here. But, we¿ve been studying those specific fragments that we¿ve studied continuously now for eleven years.
EA: Why look at birds?
FS: Well, there¿s a number of practical and also, well I guess all practical in a all ways depending on how you look at it. Birds are by far the most diverse vertebrate group that occur in the Boreal Forest, so there are many more bird species than there are mammals or amphibians or anything like that., So, they occur in good numbers, they are very important ecologically within this forest in terms of filling many different roles. They are a group for which there have been some pretty well documented affects of forest fragmentation systems so they¿re a group we know are pretty vulnerable and they¿re a group we can sample fairly easily and quite reliably because they¿re relatively conspicuously. You can hear them singing in the background here, you can see them flitting around. They¿re easier to sample than something like a caribou or a wolf that you might get a fleeting glimpse of and that you¿d have fewer individuals so they provide some very good information for us in terms of the response of the animals in the system to the changes that we¿re seeing, both natural, but now human induced with the harvesting
EA: So they tell the story well?
FS: They tell the story well. You know, it¿s always dangerous to think, to assume that because you¿ve studies one group and you see a certain set of responses that that applies to everything else, but they¿re a pretty diverse group in terms of their life history characteristics. I¿ll try not to use too much terminology.
EA: That¿s ok, you¿re doing great.
FS: We have birds in the system that are ground nesters, we have birds that nest in shrubs, we have birds that nest in trees, in the canopies of trees, and birds that nest in the cavities in trees so as a group they have fairly diverse requirements that tell us a lot about the condition of the system, both in terms of the structure of the system so the forest structure and also the forest composition because some species, for example in the forest we¿re standing in right now, this is a very nice old mixed forest, so the fact that we¿ve got a mixture of species here means that we¿re going to have bird diversity because there are some species that¿ll be associated with the big Spruce trees here, the Conifer component, and others that are associated with the deciduous tress, the Aspen, the Poplar, the Birch and others in the shrubby layer here. So, we get a pretty good idea of the sort of overall community by studying the birds.
EA: That¿s why it was so loud this morning
EA: Because we¿re in a healthy forest.
FS: Yes, yup.
EA: Tell me how it works. I mean, how does someone who goes into the field to sample, what does he or she do?
FS: Well, we use a variety of sampling techniques up here. The sampling technique that sort of makes up the basic framework of our sampling here is something we refer to as point counts and those basically are in this case, permanently marks stations, where we go and we sample repeatedly. The point count stations that we have up here we sample each of a minimum of five times a year and those have been sampled repeatedly over that eleven-year interval. And when we do a point count, essentially what we¿re doing is almost what we¿re doing right here except that you¿re standing my yourself and you¿re recording everything you hear and everything that you see within a fixed radius and so ewe have different distances, or bands, in which we make our observations and for a fixed amount of time so it¿s a standardized sampling technique, but you can cover fairly large areas. So we have these point count areas laid out on grids. Through all of our study areas, there¿s jut over 400 permanent point count station in this area so that¿s a very good way of getting a quick picture of what the community is doing in terms of overall numbers and the composition. So, what species are out there and what sort of relative numbers. What is doesn¿t tell you about is what they¿re doing in terms of their actual breeding biology so we need to use more detailed sampling technologies for that, but when you do more detailed sampling you¿re also more restricted about how much area you can actually cover. So, one of the other techniques we use out here is referred to as spot mapping, or territory mapping, and that involved sampling in the same areas, but essentially what we¿re doing is walking transact lines through these areas and mapping out the actual location of birds and that allows us to mark out territories of individuals so we can look then at the size of the territory. We can look configuration, the spatial arrangement of the territory, what sort of habitat features are encompassed in that territory, how it¿s oriented in the case of the experimental fragments here, how the territories are oriented relative to edges or to different habitat types. And then we can start building additional layers on tot hat territory information. You know, when you¿re mapping out the territories, you¿re relying on observations of the territorial males, primarily. Singing is a very important behavior and counter singing in particular, is very important. Counter singing is when you have two males singing back and forth, dueling males and you see a lot of that counter singing right around territory boundaries and it helps you get a pretty good idea, Yes, this male is established in this area over here and that one is in a territory adjacent. So, once we have the territorial males and the sort of boundaries of their areas delineated, then we can start looking things like, we know there¿s a territorial male there. Does he actually have a partner? So we can start doing, what we essentially do is we follow the males around and see if we can associate them with a female. Are they paired? And then once we get that information, if they are paired, then we¿ll stat looking for information like are they carrying nesting material, are they building a nest? Later on in the season we¿ll try and locate the nest, see if there are young at the nest and then even later on look and see if there are family groups. So it kind of takes us through, allows us not just to associate the birds being here, but actually how productive they are in the different habitat types because one of the things that we think happens with fragmentations of forests is lower productivity in those remnant areas as a result of predation and things like that.
EA: So basically you¿re mapping out in different sizes, in different fragment sizes, what¿s there and how it¿s behaving.
EA: And you¿ve been doing this for
FS: eleven years.
EA: Eleven years, more than a decade. IS it too soon to make any conclusions? I mean, what are you finding?
FS: Um, it¿s not too soon. There are certain patterns that have been quite apparent for some time now, but there¿s also still changes occurring. One of the interesting things that¿s now been documented in a few others studies as well we actually saw an increase in a number of species after harvesting in the fragmented areas. We now refer to that as a crowding effect. It was short term, one year after harvest, and it was mainly for the neo-tropical migrants, real long-distance travelers. And what we think happens is that these birds have pretty high sight fidelity, meaning they come back to the same areas year after year, at least the same sort of general area, and that probably when young are born in an area, they prospect for their territories, for breeding areas, at the end of their first season and that¿s where they come back to. What we think happens with this crowding effect is that the birds have prospected for their territories for the following year, they go off to their winter holiday in South America and they come back in the spring and they come back to the same area and if part of that habitat has been lost, in the case of the experiment here, and there¿s remaining patches, they essentially crowd into those areas rather than going off and looking for new territory somewhere else because this is a very important breeding area for the neo-tropical migrants, but they do spend a good portion of the year, in fact most of the year in other places. When they come up here they have a fairly short time period to get up, establish a territory, pair, nest, get their eggs out, or their chicks out, and head back south again. So they don¿t have a lot of time to be wandering around and saying, oh that forest is gone so I¿ll just find another patch somewhere else, so this is the crowding effect. So, we saw that the first year after the fragmentation up here and then by the second year, we had started to see declines in some species, in particular the ones that we¿re now referring to as ¿Old forest specialists¿ and those are bird species that we really don¿t find in other forest types, younger forest, and there¿s about eighteen species that occur in these forest which I¿m now referring to as ¿Old forest specialists¿ we¿ve looked for them in younger forests and recent clear cuts, areas like that, and we just don¿t find them. Whereas there¿s a much broader community that do occur in old forests, a number of those species will also utilize younger forest. But for these ¿Older Forest Specialists¿ they require areas of older forest and so what we saw with the fragmentation experiment, or have seen, is that populations of those species decline, some of them quite dramatically. The Black-throated Green Warbler, their populations by the 4th year after fragmentation had declined by 50% in the remaining fragment and to put that in perspective, that¿s an effect that¿s independent of overall habitat loss. So, we know when we lose habitat that we¿re going to lose individuals because their habitat just isn¿t there anymore. But, the additional effects of fragmentation, and this is why I referred to them as additive effects before, is that in those remaining areas of habitat, they may no longer support as many individuals per unit area they did before and that¿s in fact what we¿ve seen in some of these fragments. So, we know that the populations overall in this area declined as a result of loss of habitat, but we¿ve also seen additional declines in the remaining areas of habitat as a result of fragmentation. So, it¿s like a double whammy for them
EA: And that habitat is no longer what it was even though it may be intact, it doesn¿t support what it used to support because of what¿s happened around it?
FS: That¿s right. Those remaining patches of fragmented habitat. And we¿ve got four different sizes of fragments that we¿ve been studying here. The smallest is one hector and then we have ten hectors, forty hectors, and a hundred hectors and those areas and those sizes were chosen to essentially bracket what we anticipated would be left where areas were left of older forest under the harvesting strategy. So they have cut blocks sizes that are supposed to average about forty hectors. They have a two-pass system, which is essentially the patchwork quilt that people have seen in other areas. They take out half the forest the first time in this checkerboard kind of pattern and then come back. That¿s changing now, to be fair, the forest harvesting strategy, but at the time this project was initiated that was very much the norm. That was how things were planned out. So we were interested in seeing what happens after half the forest has been taken out, to those remaining patches, and then over time, as there really are only very small chunks left, what do we anticipate will be the effects on those remaining populations? So, I¿ve sort of rambled on a bit, but across those size classes, then, it¿s allowed us to look at patch size effects, or fragment size effects, and so the bigger fragments have done a better job at maintaining the populations whereas the smaller ones really haven¿t.
EA: The declines you¿re talking about, are you alarmed by that?
FS: Yes. I think there could be some very serious declines of the songbird populations. Are we going to lose species? Probably not, we won¿t totally lose some from areas, but this is a very rich community, a very extensive forest. You know, not just here in Alberta, but from a Canadian perspective, this is our dominant forest cover type. The Boreal Forest is 75% of all forested land in Canada. And it¿s a very significant area from a global perspective as well. You know, I think, within the conservation community, or maybe sort of the broader public, we¿ve come to recognize terms like ¿minimum population sizes for viability¿ and I really don¿t think that from an ecological or conservation perspective that¿s what we want to be managing for. Not the minimum number that may allow us to trickle through. You know, we don¿t want to be dealing with these crises all the time. We¿d like to have healthy, abundant populations of things, things that approximate the natural condition and under the current forest harvesting scenarios and the other land management practices that are going on, these forests will not support the same number of birds. And, you can always try and put some sort of utilitarian slant on it. People have looked at forest birds as regulators of forest insect pests and things like that and being important for the health of the trees so one can make those series of arguments about the role of importance of birds and raising the alarms about declines, but birds as a group are something that people connect with well and people like to see lots of birds around and it may seem that you don¿t need this much forest to support minimum populations of birds, but if we want to have populations of birds throughout other areas of North America, it¿s very important that we keep productive population in the north because those are really feeding a lot of southern populations at this stage. I think we¿ve seen systematic degradation of the forests further south as development has marched northward and you know, we¿re on the cusp of making the same mistakes that have been made in other places in the north, here, but I think we can advert them as well.
EA: And hopefully your work will point the way towards that.
FS: Well, this is a piece of it and there¿s lots of really good research going on that other people are doing and this sort of answers some of the questions that I have and it feeds into other projects that I¿m involved in, trying to scale it up and look at over those larger extents, what are the implications of the different harvesting strategies. What if we change this parameter or that variable in terms of the approach to harvesting, the spatial patterning of the harvest, amount of harvest, the interval between subsequent harvests. If we start to manipulate those a little bit what does that mean in terms of our projections of what forest bird populations and other species might do. So, yeah, it¿s helping us to understand and hopefully, improve the management strategies of this forest.
EA: What¿s been the response, or maybe it¿s too early, but what¿s been the response of the communities to you?
FS: Other communities?
EA: As in forestry¿
FS: Hmm, forest companies and government are certainly very interested in the results of this research, but some of the results don¿t fit very conveniently in the decisions that have already been made. And I think where it¿s really important to take some lessons from this is not making those push to the edge allocations of forests such that we maintain a lot more flexibility. One of the things that hasn¿t happened in the Boreal is a lot of proactive though into conservation planning and I think that¿s where we¿re going now and we still do have that opportunity because not all the forests are allocated and even those that have been allocated, most of them are in the fairly early stages of being harvested or being developed, so we still have a lot of the flexibility in terms of the decisions we make over the next ten or twenty years.
EA: How long will the study continue or is that unknown?
FS: That¿s a good question. Ten year was a milestone for us, you know ten year after experimental harvest, for a couple of different reasons. That seemed like a good interval of time over which to measure the population responses, mostly to the bird species, which occur up here, the individuals live anywhere, form two to five years. Five years would be, for a natural, for a songbird, would be a pretty good age and so that took us through a couple of generations and so we figured we¿d have a pretty clear signal what the response of the birds was after that time interval. Ten years is also a milestone in terms of forest harvesting strategies. Right now, the minimal interval between a first and a second pass through subsequent passes of harvest is ten years and then there¿s a certain regeneration requirement as well that goes along with that and so in theory, this area could have the second pass go through as early as next year and what we¿re discussing now with the forest harvesting companies right now in this area and with the provincial government is maintaining the experiment to date in its present form, but having the subsequent passes go through the adjacent areas, so what we¿re really interested in looking at there, we¿ve had some clear signals of what¿s happened there after the first pass, but that¿s really not representative of what we¿re going to see in the longer term in these forests as harvesting proceeds, so there¿s still actually a lot of older forest in this area and so that¿s probably supporting much more abundant populations of birds that are potentially moving into these fragments as well. So, what we will do, if this goes through then, is not have a second pass of harvesting go on in this particular experimental area, but in the surrounding areas there will be a second pass go through. So, regionally, over a large scale, and when I say large scale, I¿m talking about, let¿s see, can I put it in miles for you? Over, say, a two hundred and fifty square mile area, or so, there¿ll be a fairly high level of regional old forest loss and so what we think will happen is that we saw these initial declines in the fragments as a result of the harvesting in this area, we think we¿ll see probably a further pulse of declines as a result of the overall regional loss of forest habitat. That¿s what we¿re hypothesizing or predicting. It could be too that the local effects are the most important things and that we¿ve seen all the declines that we¿re going to see so far, but that¿s the plan at this point, so this experiment would stay intact, but regionally we¿d lose more older forest.
EA: Have you personally witnessed declines? Have you said to yourself, you know, I just don¿t see that bird as much?
FS: In these areas, um¿
EA: And anecdotally¿
FS: Yeah, there¿s, well, here¿s a really good example. Before harvesting we had a Pileated Woodpecker nesting in one of the fragments, or what was to become a fragment, it was still a part of continuous forest at that point. So, it was in a big beautiful old Aspen tree with a great big cavity. Then the year after harvesting we had an American Kestrel nesting in that tree and we hadn¿t had American Kestrels up in this area until the harvesting occurred. Kestrels certainly feed on songbirds and the Pileated we haven¿t seen in the fragment again, or the area of forest now that it¿s fragmented. So, you know, that¿s an anecdotal type thing. There was another one of the areas, which again was part of continuous forest that had a Bard Owl in it prior harvest and it was still in there after harvesting, so when the harvest occurred in the winter, and probably the pair had already established in there They stayed in the nest that year, but they abandoned that area afterwards. So¿
EA: Why do you give a damn?
FS: Why do I give a damn? Well, I am conservation biologist by formal academic training and I¿m a conservationist at heart and I¿m a Canadian and the Boreal Forests are, you know, Canada¿s true northern forests and they are a global treasure as well. You know, these are some of the most extensive forests that we have on earth and they are incredibly vibrant forests and I fell into the mistake or I think, the misconception that many people do when they think about northern forests. They think about these sort of barren expanses of tundra and stunted trees. I mean, look around us¿there¿s nothing like that. And this is such a diverse system. My first summer up here was phenomenal, just in terms of opening my eyes to the life in this system, not just from a bird perspective, although it is incredibly diverse and vibrant from a bird perspective. We have incredible diversity in these forests than many areas further south and that¿s really unusual because usually as you go further north you find fewer species. In the case of forest birds you go further north, to a limit, you find more birds. So, these are really productive forests for forest songbirds and other bird species. It¿s also an incredible system from a wildlife perspective for other species as well. I know we have caribou, we have wolves, we have many different deer, moose¿
FS: You guys had a good bear experience yesterday. You know, it¿s a really great system and it¿s still in a relatively natural state and so, it¿s wonderful, just from a human perspective to come up and experience it, but from a conservationist perspective I think we have a better chance of making wise decision in the Boreal Forest than we do anywhere else on earth right now, so it¿s very special in terms of that opportunity and it¿s very exciting as a conservation biologist to have the opportunity to work in that context.
EA: So you see the Boreal as an opportunity. That¿s interesting.
FS: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
EA: As opposed to it¿s on the downslide and my god, we¿ve got to save whatever¿s left. You see it more as we can figure this out and do it right?
FS: I think that¿s a big part of it, yeah. I think we have that opportunity here and as I said, very few places on the earth where that¿s possible, in fact, I¿d say this is probably THE place on earth where we can make more intelligent decisions because we still have these huge expanses of forest that are relatively undisturbed from human perspective, and I say relatively because there is no where on earth where human¿s haven¿t touched in some way. And, as a so-called developed nation, it¿s a place where there¿s pretty good standard of living, economic prosperity. There are different economic options. There¿s not the same social pressures to exploit the forests as, and again this is relative, but I think there are more economic options here than there are in perhaps South America or some of the other systems where there are some remaining extensive forests¿and you know, I lost my train of thought on that one. Sorry.
EA: If you were standing here doing a sampling, what would you say? If you were looking around and doing what you described when you sample, what would you say?
FS: Well, I wouldn¿t say anything because I would be standing very quietly and listening.
EA: What would you be writing down?
FS: Oh In terms of what I was hearing right now?
EA: Yeah, or seeing?
EA: Is it seeing or hearing?
FS: It¿s both. So, the bird that just chattered up there is a Tennessee Warbler and so I¿d have a little piece of paper in front of me, a write-in-the-rain-paper because it¿s always wet up here, and so I would write down the location of that bird. I¿d give it a species code; I¿d give it a behavior code so in this case I¿d know it was a singing male. I might write down something about what tree it was in, but doing the point counts, usually not because we¿re not getting that much specificity, especially when most of it¿s by here. So, there¿s a Tennessee Warbler, we¿re hearing a White-throated sparrow over there¿There we go. So, I would map him out. He¿s probably just at the edge of the sampling radius that I would use for a point count so he might actually be in the next point that I would go and sample. And, he¿s probably singing probably from the edge of the forest over there. [pause] So, there¿s another Tennessee Warbler singing now, I think there¿s another one rather than the one just behind us here. I think, it hasn¿t moved. I think there¿s two singing right now. We¿ve had, boy there¿s been a lot of different things signing in the background. What tends to happen when there¿s a TN Warbler singing in an area is that they have such a strong song and they¿re so persistent that they kind of swamp other species.
MC: Is that it?
FS: Yeah, people will describe it as ¿ticka, ticka, ticka, switch, switch, switch, chew, chew, chew¿ so it¿s go three levels to it.
EA: It must be be¿
FS: there we go, the trill at the end.
Ambi. TN Warbler.
EA: Oh, NOW I got it. Ok
FS: So you hear the three sort of distinct intervals of the song?
EA: It must be such a discipline to be able to just stand somewhere and sort of sort it out., what¿s going on around you.
FS: Yeah, there¿s a good amount of sound going on right now, but it¿s certainly not as busy as it gets and it can actually, you know, you do get used to it, but even an experienced birder can get quite overwhelmed sometimes standing in the same one spot and trying to know you, reference, listen to all the respective birds over the five minute interval a reference them with respect to where you are standing and people that we bring out for the first time that we¿re training it can really be overwhelming for them¿.sort of, where do I even start?
EA: Everybody, stop, stop. Please slow down. One at a time please!
FS: You know, TN Warbler, would you shut up so I can hear! Because some of the birds have really quite quiet songs, very high pitch, so you¿re listening hard to get those additional ones. What we tend to do, at least I do and I think most other people, what we encourage through the training, is that when you start your sampling you get all the easy ones first. So, the ones that are easy recognizable, singing loud, you get them on your datasheet and your reference it. In fact when we start at a point, we stand for one minute quietly before we actually start the officially sampling interval. And that¿s for a couple of reasons. One is that it allows things after you¿ve sort of walked into that point just to settle down because even just a human walking into an area will depress the sound a little bit, you know the birds just ¿hmm, hmm, hmm¿ who¿s that, what¿s going on? So you stand quietly for a minute. It allows you to catch your breath for a little bit because, you know, you¿ve been hiking hard through the forest and it allows you to get a quick fix on, ok, who¿s doing what in here right now so that when you start your official sampling interval you¿ve got the guest and area in your head a little bit and then you start mapping them out. So, if I was standing right here I would get the TN Warbler and White-throated sparrow right away. Get them referenced. I¿d continue to listen to them throughout the sampling interval to see if there¿s an additional one coming in, you know, am I starting to get some counter singing, has that bird moved? But, then you kind of tune them out and start listening for the more quiet songs and the ones that might be a little further away. And then you just sort of put those layers on until the end of your sampling interval. If there¿s something you haven¿t been able to identify we have a little bit of margin of time for people to actually track down birds that they might have been a little unsure of, but yeah, discipline I guess is a good word for it, but it¿s really fun to and it¿s quite a challenge. It¿s neat to do this kind of repeated sampling in an area so you really start to get to know the community of birds that¿s in there and sometimes you¿ll get really excited going into plot thinking, what am I going to hear? So and so was in here yesterday and heard the Blackburniun Warbler. I hope I get to hear the Blackburniun Warbler, so you get that kind of excitement going as well. And from year to year also, I¿ll go into some of these plots and know, oh boy, the Black-throated Green Warbler had a territory over here last year, I wonder if he¿s come back here this year, so it¿s fun.
EA: What is your hope from all this work?
FS: My hope is that Canada will set an example for what really good conservation of forests should be. And that¿s a larger goal beyond jus the study here, but as I said, this study is sort of a piece that fits into a lot of other research work that¿s going on and because, as I said, I really do see it as an opportunity, I think we do have a chance to do things so much more intelligently than what¿s being done in other places. Usually what¿s happened is that decisions are made, land use changes the dynamic of an area, whether it¿s forest or some other habitat type. Then, there¿s crisis because population have declined to some critical level where they¿re going to be listed or something like that. You know, it triggers a response and so how I would characterize it is that most of our conservation has been very reactive. There¿s a real problem here, we¿ve got to do something before we lose it. Here there¿s an opportunity to be proactive and that¿s a really important distinction, I think. When you¿re dealing with something proactively instead of reactively you just have a lot more latitude to make decisions that aren¿t sort of where you¿re pushed to a wall and in so many cases we¿ve pushed situations to the extent where we may not be able to quote, fix them. We¿re always going to be dealing with, sort of band-aid approaches to reconcile things and often we don¿t understand enough about these systems to be able to fix them. That¿s a very arrogant sort of human perspective to think that we understand these systems so well that oh well, if we¿ve degraded them we¿ll just restore them. The Boreal is, some people think of it as a very simple system. I think it¿s an incredibly complex system and the more that we¿re studying it, the more people are realizing it. Again, it¿s not just a barren expanse of tundra, we do have those areas of muskeg, but there¿s some really diverse forest. There¿s a whole dynamic that¿s introduced by the natural disturbance regime. Fire is a very important, plays a very important role in the system and periodic insect outbreaks as well. So, it¿s by no means a static system. It¿s constantly changing. That change is part of the character of these forests and it¿s important that we maintain that, but it¿s also important that we understand that in order to make appropriate decisions about the uses of these forests and my hope is that we¿ll put a fair emphasis on conservation of these forests.
EA: Let¿s take a walk.
MC: Let me just get a minute here, or so.
EA: Oh, ok. Alright. We¿re going to walk this way and if you could be in front of us when we do that¿
Ambi. Talking about recording ambi.
Ambi. Birds with talking in the background.
Ambi. Interview site. Birds.
Ambi. Talking about talking and what to discuss next.
FS: Well, you know, we suspected that we would see things like high nest predation rates and an influx of brown-headed cowbirds into the area and thing like that, but in fact we haven¿t which is good and again this is kind of the notion of opportunity as opposed to always thinking about constraints.
EA: Good news, bad news kind of thing.
FS: Well, yeah. At first we sort of wondered, well, why aren¿t we seeing these sort of thing and it¿s really got to do with the fact that you know, even though there¿s loss of habitat going on, there¿s also regeneration of habitat going on and fortunately the sort of fragmentation we see here isn¿t permanent land conversion in that when you see classic fragmentation that people have been exposed to with agricultural area is permanent land conversion, so those fragments of forest that are left really have become true islets. They¿re not connected adjacent areas, the land usage around them has also changed the larger community so that you see things like what people refer to as the mesopredators, things like coyotes and raccoons that are very efficient nest and egg predators, coming in. And we haven¿t seen the same shift in communities up here. As I¿ve said, we haven¿t seen an influx of brown-headed cowbirds probably because there¿s not that much, there¿s not a lot of agricultural land around. Where you do find extensive clearings, even in the small community of Calling Lake, there¿s more brown-headed cowbirds that we hear regularly, you know, when we¿re going in for groceries and stuff, than we hear around here. That is good news, but the qualifier I¿ll put on that is¿
EA: Not yet?
FS: Yeah, that¿s one thing. And also for the species that are truly associated with the older forest, it is pretty much conversion of the habitat type for a very long time. If it comes back at all, if it¿s allowed to regenerate, it¿s going to be a hundred years before the sort of forest that they¿re associated with is going to be around again. So, that¿s the down side and that¿s why we have to make intelligent decisions about how we manage these forests and make sure that we are maintaining sufficient habitat to support abundant populations of these species.
EA: Let¿s go look at the one-hectare. What is a hectare?
FS: A hectare is¿what¿s a hectare? Who had the conversion last night? Is it 2.5 acres?
EA: So a hectare is twice the size of an acre plus a little bit.
EA: That¿s how I¿ll remember it.
FS: Yeah, so there¿s 2.5 acres in a hectare. The dimensions are basically100 meters by a 100 meters is an even sided hectare.
EA: And that¿s the smallest?
FS: That¿s the smallest fragment that we¿ve created here and we¿ll see it in a minute up here.
Ambi. Walking and Talking.
FS: That¿s a Magnolia Warbler.
EA: Oh¿that I just heard?
EA: So, we¿re going to walk up here?
Ambi. Birds with some talking.
Ambi. Mike sounds.
FS: ¿that just flew by and called¿
EA: That guy that was flying? That was the Pileated?
FS: That was the Pileated Woodpecker. I saw it¿
EA: Was that the call, I mean the song? Boo, boo, boo?
FS: That¿s their call. The ¿eeehhh, eeehhh, eeeehhh¿ sort of thing. It can be really really loud sometimes.
EA: So, if you all weren¿t doing this study, they would have just come in and cut this whole swath that we can see?
FS: Yeah, that fragment wouldn¿t have been left.
EA: That¿s the Pileated. I¿m getting good at this!!
FS: Yeah, yeah.
EA: And instead, they left that little patch there.
FS: Yeah, and so it looks kind of odd and it looks kind of sad, but it has been, it certainly helped us understand what happens to very small patches of forest that are left behind. And you can see they left a little bit of structure in the cut block, the old tree things.
EA: Sorta, kinda. There¿s a few trees.
FS: And to be fair, we wanted to standardize the type of harvesting that took place around the fragments so a number of the companies now have moved to leaving a little bit more structure in their first cut blocks than we would see here. And those are probably pretty important sources of structure as the surrounding forest regenerates. So, you can see here you know, the forest is growing back. It doesn¿t really look like a forest yet, but it certainly doesn¿t look like a barren land. There¿s a lot of stuff coming in, a lot of non-tree species in there, willow and alder and things like that. But¿
EA: It¿s not going to come back like it was.
FS: Not within the time interval that¿s planned for subsequent harvest¿
EA: Not unless we leave it for 140 years.
FS: Yeah, yeah. Within ninety to a hundred years it¿ll start to develop some of the structure that we associate with older forest. It¿s not really just about age, it¿s about structure of the forest and composition of the forest. So, that¿s about the time, ninety to a hundred years, that we start to see the canopy of the forest breaking up, so the individual trees that were there at the time the stand was initiated and historically that would have been primarily by fire, in this case harvest, so an individual tree is basically reached maturity and they start to die and open up gaps in the canopy and then you start to see other species coming in and then the sort of multiple structure developing in some of these stands. There you start to get the mix of the deciduous and the coniferous, in this case, the Aspen and the Spruce, or the Aspen and Balsam Popular and Spruce. Now you¿ve got some compositional complexity and so that¿s more attractive for a number of these species, some that are just associated with the conifer component, some of the deciduous, some that really require the mix and these are mixed wood forests is what they¿re known as. We¿re in the Boreal Mixed Wood Eco-region so the typical late successional forest is a mixed forest so you¿ve got the mixed composition and this great structure, vertical structure as well in terms of an interesting shrubby layer, an interesting sapling and regenerating, sorry a sapling and pole, is what it¿s referred to in forestry terms, but younger age trees of the same species as the canopy coming in the canopy and into the sub-canopy, sorry into the understory and then into the sub-canopy. So, you¿ve got the vertical structure, you¿ve got horizontal structure in terms of different levels in the forest as you move through and then this mixture of different tree species and shrub species as well and they¿re really just nice diverse forests that support many things.
EA: What have you found or what are the researchers finding in the small patches?
FS: In the small patch. Yeah, well, when you stand in the middle of that patch to do a survey, so it¿s one hectare which is basically a hundred meters by a hundred meters, so when you¿re standing in the center you¿re about 50 meters from an edge, it kind of feels like you¿re standing in a doily, you know, instead of if you go into continuous forest or a larger patch, doesn¿t have to just be continuous forest, but continuous forest or a larger patch, you feel like you¿re just surrounded by forest. There¿s no sense of being near and edge, but standing in the middle of a one hectare fragment, it feels perforated. You can feel the edge blowing through you. You really feel the influence of the adjacent habitat, in this case, a younger forest. From a bird community point of view, you really tend not to hear very many true forest birds in there, older forest birds, in particular. What you hear are the bird species that are utilizing the adjacent habitat regenerating forests. So, in that area before harvest, we had things like Red-breasted Nuthatches and Chickadees and things that are associated with older forest and now, after harvest, it¿s more as a community, well, there¿re fewer species in there so it¿s a lot quieter in there than it used to be from a songbird perspective. And the species that you do hear are things like sparrow, well, mainly members of the sparrow family that are primarily utilizing the shrubs in the adjacent area, but will also come into the forest as well.
EA: Do you miss doing fieldwork?
FS: Well, I still get to do a bit, but yeah I do. I feel like I live a bit more vicariously through my students and summer assistants, but it is so good for me to come out here because it make me feel more alive for one thing. I mean, how can you not feel alive in a system like this compared to sitting in a sterile office. And, it helps ground me with respect to the things I¿m doing and their relevance and it reinspires me, you know, if I¿m feeling kind of flat about my work, and I think everybody does at some points, not because it¿s not interesting, it just, sometimes it looses its edge, I just have to come out here and get reinspired and it doesn¿t take me very long to be out here to get reinspired.
EA: Just to hear a bird. Let me ask you again about your hope. I mean, you¿ve put a lot of time and effort into this and why? What do you hope? Not why, but what is your greatest hope for this whole project and all the time you¿ve put into it?
FS: Well, my greatest hope for this project is that all the information we¿ve gathered here will help inform the decisions that are made in other places within the Boreal so that we can avoid some of the problems with fragmentations of forests that we¿ve now documented here and really I think the larger issue as I¿ve mentioned is the overall loss of old forest and I think we need to be very cognoscente of the risks associated with that now over very large areas. Really, my hope is that we will look, instead of looking at little pieces of the puzzle, little pieces of the forest, we will catalyze on the opportunity, having this huge extent of forests in the north of Canada to look at these things over a very large scale. The birds that occur here are very broadly distributed. They occur across Canada, some of them breed in the US as well, but right now there are risks across their entire ranges in some cases, but there are also opportunities, as I¿ve said. There are risks because allocation decisions are being made right now and development decisions, not just for forest development, but in the east hydroelectric developments out here, oil and gas, exploration development is a major land use. Increase roading, as I¿ve said. I think if we can just keep our minds on the big picture and look at the opportunities over that large scale and use the information from this study and from a lot of other research that¿s gone on in the Boreal in the last ten years and is continuing, then I really think that we¿ll be able to make better decisions. I think it¿s very exciting right now because there seem to be some momentum building in terms of increased awareness in these forests. You know, they¿re remote so they¿re less tractable for a lot of people than the forests that they¿ve experiences. Certainly the tropical forests have received a much higher profile in these kind of northern forests and maybe people think, we¿ve got so much, why should we be concerned about it, but that¿s why it¿s so great, because we still do have so much and that we could keep a lot if we care enough about it now to make those decisions.
MC: Hold on for a second for me. I¿m hearing something, like I might have to change my mike cables. Like, I¿m hearing some electric ticks that are coming through, very slightly. It usually means there¿s moisture and I¿ve got other cables so let me just listen carefully here for a second.
Ambi. Mike sounds. Birds.
MC: Maybe it wasn¿t tight enough there because it went back in now. Unfortunately, that last question it was there very low. Do you maybe want to ask it again? It¿s very low¿
FS: I don¿t know that I said anything that different the first time.
EA: It was fabulous actually.
MC: It was very good.
EA: You know what, we¿ll just¿We¿re almost done. You¿re almost off the hook, I promise.
FS: Cathy, are you going to talk about sort of CBI and the larger initiative at some point or do you want me to¿
Cathy: Well, however you go¿
EA: You alright?
EA: Well, this may be unfair, but you were sort of answering it there in your answer to the hopes, but why should I care? Why should we care?
FS: Well, I think you can look at that on a lot of different levels. If you like seeing birds and you live in the US you should probably care about what¿s going on in the northern forests because they are the source of many of the birds that fly through the US in the spring and in the fall, so if you want to keep seeing beautiful Wood Warblers in your backyard you should care about the northern forests and what¿s going on there. Even if you¿re not a birder, I think, people are realizing that humankind as a group has been placing enormous pressures on a lot of other resources in the world and there¿s a lot of concern about loss of habitat and alteration and associated species declines and increased extinction rates. There¿re a lot more species being listed. We can avert that here, that¿s again coming back to the opportunity. Why should you care? Because you¿re part of the problem but you¿re also part o the solution. A lot of what¿s driving the exploitation up here is markets further south, so there¿s a direct connection between what¿s going on here in terms of both forestry and oil and gas and what¿s happening south of the border in your case, or south of the border for me, in the US. I think, with all the technology we¿ve got, it¿s increased the convenience in our lives, but I think we would all say that we¿re using a lot more paper these days with the wonders of computers, printing out a lot more things. Consumption rates have gone up and there¿s a lot of frivolous use of paper and wood products and I think we need to get a lot more efficient in that and I¿m speaking not just as a scientist, but as a public citizen. I think that the whole reduction, reducing use part of the equation is really important. So the decisions you make in your everyday life can have some really important consequences up here so I think you should care on that front.
EA: We do care, I¿m just asking, just being devil¿s advocate. But, one last point and that is the largeness of what¿s left. There really is, this isn¿t all chopped up yet. Right? There is, large tracts of land, intact ecosystems. There¿s not much of that left.
FS: Well, some of the recent work that¿s been done says that Canada has the largest extensive intact forest of anywhere in the world and boy, that¿s really saying something. That¿s pretty special. And, we¿ve lost those in so many other jurisdictions and wouldn¿t it be great to have those up here and to keep them and to make decisions that allow them to persist and thrive into the future. You know, it¿d be a major achievement for Canada, but it¿d just be a wonderful global thing as well. They have a lot of significance, not just from the abstract notion of forests and things that go along with it, but they have some very important ecological functions as well in terms of regulating global climate change, effecting carbon cycles. The Boreal forests contain the largest expanses of fresh water in the world. There¿s lots of stuff going on. Really, a great and diverse system and it plays a very important role both in term of the Canadian and North American scene, but also internationally as well.
EA: I think you¿re off the hook. Tell me what you want to be identified¿how do you want to be identified.
FS: I guess as a conservation biologist at the University of Alberta.
EA: Conservation biologist. Ok.
FS: Or just a researcher.
EA: Do the industry guys ever give you are hard time?
FS: All the time!
EA: Do they? I mean, do you ever feel like they¿re not real happy about you being out here, doing this stuff?
FS: You know what, you can¿t paint them all with the same brush. Some of them, I¿m sure, would rather this kind of work not and the findings from it not be publicized because as I¿ve said it¿s not very convenient for what the plan is in some people¿s minds, but some of this research has been funded by industry and they¿ve been cooperators in terms of actually laying out the design here and in the larger scheme with some of the other research projects. They¿re businesses so obviously they need to stay in business, but there¿re some very progressive companies and when you take it to an individual level with some of these folks, they want to be doing the right thing. They don¿t want to be painted as the people who¿ve mowed down the last bit of Boreal Forest. They¿d like to be able to make a living, but also maintaining the many other values that these forests represent for people; And I think that¿s a real challenge. These forests have so many different values for so many different people and groups of people. Maintaining them is going to be, it¿s a challenge, but we¿re certainly moving away, I hope, philosophically, from the idea that you just manage them for timber or you manage them for this or you manage them for that. You have to manage them for multiple values, so do the industry guys give me a hard time? Yes, some of them do, but they realize that we need to understand more about these forests and we need to feed that back into the management decisions that are being made and so do many of the government people, but you know, it¿s pushing them in directions that are certainly different than where they¿ve been historically and a number of people whose careers started with a different kind of paradigm in terms of management so it¿s taking them in a different direction, so it¿s¿
EA: Slow going¿
FS: Yeah, well some of them are leading the way¿
EA: Yeah, they¿re funding your study, right. [pause] Will you say, my hope is that we will because that is what was stepped on¿
FS: My hope is that we will.
EA: Great. You¿re off the hook. Is there anything you want to say that I didn¿t ask you about?
FS; Oh, I¿ll think of a million things¿
EA: Oh, you will, but is there anything in your mind that you¿re like, goddamn it, why didn¿t she ask me that? I know that one, it¿s a Red breasted Nuthatch. No, chickadee.
FS: Chickadee, but it was doing that Yankee bit so you were close with the nuthatch. No, I don¿t think so, anything in particular because I¿m sure you¿ll get the pieces out that you need.
EA: You need to stretch a little bit or take a walk?
EA: I¿ve been looking at these guys everywhere¿Where do you want to be?
Ambi. Talking about where to do the next interview.
MC: Let me just get a little bit of the sound bite and remember that I can hear you.
MC: Ok, here is the ambience for the interview that we just had with Fiona. Hopefully they won¿t talk too much.
Ambi. Forest. Bird calls. Some talking.
MC: I can hear you!
Ambi. Mike sounds.
MC: Sorry about all the moving guys, trying to get it set here.
EA: What¿s your name?
CW: Cathy Wilkinson
EA: And where are you from?
CW: I¿m from Ottawa Canada.
EA: And what¿s your claim to fame?
CW: I¿m the director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative.
EA: Which is what?
CW: The Canadian Boreal Initiative is an organization, which was recently started to build awareness and support for Boreal Forest conservation in Canada.
EA: Here¿s the unfair question, which is very fair actually. Why do you care about any of this?
CW: Why do I care about the Boreal Forest? Well, I think as we¿ve seem over the last couple of days, it¿s an ecosystem that¿s full of magic so as somebody that¿s had the opportunity to walk the forests, canoe the rivers, eat the berries, meet with people talk to them in their homes in these communities throughout the Boreal, I feel really lucky to have experienced an ecosystem which is so healthy and is so magical and so that really drives me and leaves me with a feeling of responsibility that we have this unique opportunity and I have a responsibility to help conserve this ecosystem.
EA: Do you see this is an opportunity? I mean, that¿s a word a lot of people have been using.
CW: I see it as a huge opportunity. I think that so often we wait until we¿re down to the last of an ecosystem or of a species or of a region and then we wait and we try and do something about it after the fact. It¿s sort of equivalent to waiting until you have to go into the emergency ward to do something about your health and this is an ecosystem where we¿re not in the emergency ward. We are seeing signs of change and we¿re seeing signs of decline, but we¿re not yet at a point where there isn¿t an opportunity to do something different. So, I think that for us, we have this unique opportunity globally to conserve this ecosystem once and for all, both for us as Canadians and also for the world.
EA: We¿ve been looking for one very small patch or piece of this entire range and your working all across Canada. How does this stack up, Alberta, and what¿s going on here?
MC: Hold on, don¿t answer yet. Take off your coat first. You¿re making too much noise for me.
Ambi. Laughing about removing clothes.
EA: Can you put it a little bit in context? Where does Alberta fit into, what¿s going on, the stuff we¿ve seen over the last couple of days, where does that fit in terms of the whole?
CW: Well, Alberta¿s a really interesting example because it¿s one of the places in the Boreal where industrial development¿s been going on the longest and it¿s also the place that¿s experienced more industrial development than virtually any other part of the Boreal in Canada so in many ways, Alberta acts as a sentinel, or us a warning call, warning call, gives us a sense of what will happen in other parts of the Boreal if we don¿t take proactive measures to conserve it. So, I think that Alberta really does offer us an opportunity to look around and decide how we want to work as a whole.
EA: This is the place where the pressures are the greatest?
CW: Absolutely. Alberta¿s a province where we see not just industrial development, but many kinds of industrial development so we see forestry, we see oil and gas, we even see agriculture pushing into the Boreal so more and more the Boreal here in Alberta has become fragmented, it¿s become impacted by these different kinds of development. That¿s not the case in many other parts of the Boreal so it gives us a good sense of both what we can learn from Alberta and make different choices in those places where development decisions have not yet been made.
EA: Can you give us a sense of the size of the Boreal? I mean most Americans, first of all don¿t know what a hectare is and secondly just have no clue what we¿re talking about in terms of magnitude.
CW: Well, the Boreal as a whole in Canada is 1.3 billion acres in size and to put that in context I think that¿s roughly 12 times the size of California. So, here¿s an ecosystem that not only is 12 times the size of CA, but a huge percentage of that is intact, not yet roaded, so you can stand in the northern most part of the Boreal and you can look east and you will not see another road until you hit the Atlantic. That¿s extraordinary. That means that out of those 12 CAs seven or eight of them are in these huge intact blocks and that¿s a really extraordinary thing. Not only is it an enormous ecosystem, it¿s one that is largely intact. While we¿re seeing development, particularly in the south and in provinces like Alberta, that¿s not the case in the whole Boreal and it means that we do have this opportunity to think carefully about how we manage and develop it.
EA: Do you see, I¿m sure it¿s subtle, but do you see different Boreal types in your work? I mean, your going to, your doing it in Newfoundland or here and there¿
CW: Absolutely. The Boreal really largely breaks down into the western Boreal which is
the western sedimentary basin. So you see much more oil and gas for example here than you do in other parts. The eastern Boreal is the Boreal Shield, so you have the Canadian Shield which means we have far more lakes. It¿s much more conducive to say mining or hydroelectric development in terms of those industrial pressures. So, not only do you see differences in terms of the ecology of different places, you also see very different development pressures. One of the things we really believe is we have to take an overall holistic approach to the Boreal as a whole that reflects all these different pressures when we¿re making those decisions.
EA: Is this thing happening? Fiona was talking about people thinking about solutions and people starting to get it and things sort of bubbling up. Do you feel that?
CW: Absolutely. When I started working in the Boreal four years ago it was just after the research came out that stated tat Canada had 25% of the world¿s frontier or intact or undeveloped forest. That was something that we didn¿t know before so it was hugely important finding, but at that time there was not a lot of awareness of the Boreal. We did some research and found that very few people, even in Canada even knew exactly what the Boreal was or where it is, but since that time interest has really been growing, not just in Canada, but internationally. We¿ve seen reports from the United Nations, we¿ve seen reports from the Canadian Senate, and other organizations that have really given us a sense both important this place is ecologically, but also what an opportunity we have conserve it.
EA: That¿s key isn¿t it? Other countries being involved in this?
EA: Can Canada fix this by itself or¿that¿s a very unfair question¿What I means is, why should Americans give a damn, I guess is the question.
CW: I think there are two main reasons why Americans should care about Canada¿s Boreal Forest. The first is that we¿ve seen over the last couple of days is that there¿re birds who breed here are birds that spend part of their life cycle in the US and many of these birds have American names, so if you want to see the continuation of CT Warbler, TN Warblers, Philadelphia Vireos, you¿ve got to care about Canada¿s Boreal Forest. The second reason is that the US is the single largest consumer of products from the Canadian Boreal, so whether that¿s oil and gas products or forestry products, you have a really big impact on what happens in Canada¿s Boreal. So, I think from that perspective, again, there¿s both an opportunity and a responsibility for Americans to lend their voices to the voices of Canadians interested in conserving this ecosystem. You know, if every time you get junk mail or a catalogue, in many cases that¿s coming from the Canadian Boreal forest and to me it¿s a real shame that those kinds of products are coming out of an ecosystem which is so intact, that is so special, that is the home of so many of the birds that spend their time in the United States.
EA: So we could blindly take take take take take and wonder blithely one day why these birds aren¿t showing up at our feeders anymore.
CW: Absolutely. I think that so many of these birds are shared across our borders. They breed in Canada and then they come down and spend their time at feeders all along the continental US on both coasts and I think that what that tells us is birds in Canada spend a lot of their time in the US so really, if we want those birds to continue coming down to the United States, we need to make sure their habitats are secure up here in Canada.
EA: What¿s your favorite bird?
CW: My favorite bird is the White-throated Sparrow.
CW: Because it has a wonderful song and anyone who spends time canoeing in Canada¿s north knows its call. You know you¿re in the wild when you hear a White-throated sparrow. It¿s a sign of spring, it¿s a sign that winter is finally over in Canada, and it¿s a sign, most likely, that you¿re outside doing something that you love in a wonderful wild place.
EA: What does it say?
CW: It says ¿Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada¿¿
EA: Do you think Americans think that¿s what the song is?
CW: The American bird books call it ¿Oh Peabody, Peabody, Peabody¿ but we really think our version¿s better.
EA: It¿s not ¿Oh sweet America America America¿
CW: Not as far as I know.
EA: What strikes you the most as you¿re walking through the Boreal?
CW: Well one of the things that strikes me the most is the huge variation that we see in different parts of the Boreal, but also even within one ecosystem. We¿ve seen so many different birds just in the last couple of days in this one small part of Alberta alone, but the other thing that really strikes me about the Boreal is its abundance. There are very few places in the world that harbor three billion songbirds in the course of a spring,
where tens of thousands of caribou move as one across the tundra or across the barren grounds. This is a place of enormous richness and I think we¿re very lucky to have that. There are very few places left in the world that have those kind of abundant populations of different species.
EA: Do you feel like you¿re inching towards the solution stage yet?
CW: I think that there are certain important signs of progress that we can point to in Canada. We¿ve seen, for example, real efforts on the part of the Aboriginal communities and conservation groups to plan for conservation before development in key area. For example, there¿s a proposed pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territory, and conservation groups and Aboriginal communities in that area have been looking to identify key areas that need to be protected for all time before those development decisions are made. To me, that¿s the single most important thing we an do in the Boreal, is to, instead of waiting for development decisions to happen and then trying to figure out what we conserve and what we protect of what¿s left, that we actually do the conservation decisions first and we¿re starting to see signs of that in some parts of the Boreal. For me that¿s really exciting and for me that¿s the path forward. Certainly the Canadian Boreal Initiative is committed to working with all kinds of different groups to help make that happen. That¿s why we¿ve commissioned some of the scientific research that we¿ve seen over the last couple of days, that¿s why we¿re working directly with communities, conservation groups, Aboriginal communities, industry and others in different parts of the Boreal to really advance conservation projects on the ground and that¿s why we really believe we need to work with governments and with industry to agree on an overall conservation framework for the Boreal that¿s going to inform development decisions, again, before they happen.
EA: Is it inherently Canadian, but, you know I cover a lot of conservation issues in the states and it¿s, you know, whine whine whine, it¿s over, it¿s gone, you know, we can¿t fix it and yet this really strikes me in that there¿s a lot of optimism.
CW: well, I think it¿s actually one of the things that¿s wonderful about working on the Boreal. Even in Canada there¿ve been a lot of very protracted fights about particular conservation issues, whether it¿s Clayoquot Sound, the coastal rainforest of British Columbia, or some of the key old growth pine stands in Ontario. We have seen those kinds of fights were things get very polarized, there¿s a lot of debate between different polarized sides of the equation and I think we¿ve learned form that. We¿ve learned that that take a lot of time, it takes a lot of energy, it takes a long time to get to a solution and often times the solutions aren¿t as good as if you¿re working together, so in a place where we do have an opportunity to make decisions differently, I think there is this growing optimism that we can actually work together differently and avoid those kinds of confrontations, but that windows of opportunity really is closing. One of those things we¿ve really seen and one of the reasons the CBI is so concerned that we move quickly now is that we¿ve seen a rapid pace of development emerge over the last couple of years. Over the course of the last ten to twenty years, we¿ve seen over 30% of the Boreal become allocated for industrial development, whether that¿s clear cutting, mining, oil and gas. That suggests to us that the window of opportunity is closing and certainly some of the research that we¿ve commissioned suggests that there¿s signs of decline in parts of the Boreal, particularly those parts that are under industrial development. So, it suggests to us that while we have this unique opportunity, we can¿t take twenty years to get there. We¿ve really got to move now to make conservation decisions, to really effect conservation on the ground to make sure that we really don¿t wait until it¿s too late.
EA: What do you tell somebody when they say, What¿s Boreal? You know, when you walk into a room of funders or potential funders or just stupid Americans and they say, ¿What are you talking about?¿
CW: What I usually say is that the Boreal is a green cloak that surrounds the polar countries like an emerald cloak, that it¿s an ecosystem that does stretch around the pole and covers 53% of Canada from the Yukon all the way over to Labrador in the east. It¿s one of the unsung heroes in Canada. We never think about it. We think of north, but when we think of north we often think of ice and rock and cold and in fact we have this rich abundant ecosystem that actually, it is cold, but it¿s certainly not bereft of systems and species.
EA: So people say, ¿Oh go on!¿?
CW: They often do, they often do.
EA: Well, I mean, your average American thinks birds go somewhere, but has no clue where and maybe they think they go north at some point.
CW: Well, in fact, even within Canada we didn¿t appreciate how important the Boreal was for land birds until recently. The Canadian Boreal Initiative in partnership with the Boreal Songbird Initiative in the States released a report about a month ago that did look at how important the Boreal is for these songbirds. Before the research had been done, we actually didn¿t know how many songbirds were in the Boreal and we were staggered by the numbers. I mean, three billion warblers approximately, I mean, warblers and other songbirds, coming up to Canada in the spring? That¿s one out of every three in North America. That¿s an extraordinary number of birds that are reliant on the Canadian Boreal for their breeding. We didn¿t know what that number was before. It¿s two out of every three in Canada. So, the fact that we didn¿t know that means that not only is the Boreal under appreciated, but we don¿t know enough about it to make some of these development decisions which is again one of the reasons we¿ve been established and why we¿re anxious to keep working on Boreal Forest conservation.
EA: You know, it¿s kind of delightful when you think about it. When I was looking at the tiny, tiny Canada Warbler yesterday and I was thinking that this bird has the potential to at least tell a story to effect major change in terms of forest management. That¿s a very neat thing.
CW: It¿s a wonderful thing. I mean, I think that thee birds, there¿s many reasons to love birds. We love them because they¿re colorful; we love them because they mean they end of winter and the beginning of spring and summer and the things we love to do outside in the sunshine, but they¿re also really important ecological indicators. They tell us a lot about the health of our forests and I think that in many ways these warblers are telling a story. They¿re telling a story both of opportunity, but also of decline. Much as canaries were used in the coalmines to let us know how important it was to take safety precautions, these songbirds are sending us a similar message. They¿re saying to us that we have to be very cautions about how we make these development decisions and we need to make conservation decisions now.
EA: What do you want to say that I haven¿t asked you?
CW: Uuuuhhh, what a fabulous question that is.
EA: Is there anything I haven¿t hit on that you feel is very important to get out that I¿m not touching?
CW: That¿s a great question. I¿m not sure. No, you¿ve got from other people about sort of the intactness and those other statistics and we talked about what Americans can do. Was that clear?
EA: I think so.
CW: No, I think we good.
EA: Good. Ok, you¿re off the hook.
EA: We figured out what we want to call you, right? Want us to walk away?
MC: Unfortunately, yeah.
EA: We¿re going to walk away now.
MC: Walk Away! Realize I can hear you¿Ambience for the interview that we just did with Cathy and here we go.
Ambi. Louder forest
Ambi. Forest. Breathing sounds.
Ambi. Forest. Some movement
Ambi. Forest. Good birds.
Ambi. Forest. Some movement, some breathing.
Ambi. Loud mike sounds and breathing
Ambi. Forest. Birds.
Ambi. Forest. Faint mike sounds.