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Birds and Burns Network

January, 1990

Logo for Birds and Burns NetworkThe Rocky Mountain Research Station is leading the effort to examine fire effects on populations and habitats of wildlife in dry mixed conifer forests in eight states across the western United States, including locations on National Forests, National Parks, and state and private lands. The goal of the Birds and Burns Network is to understand the ecological consequences of wildland fire, bark beetle disturbance, and forest management for wildlife in dry mixed conifer forests.

The target wildlife species are primarily cavity-nesting birds and songbirds, with the addition of small mammals at selected locations. Cavity-nesting birds are a focus of this research because many of them depend on fire-maintained habitats for their dispersal and movements. Many state and federal agencies have designated cavity-nesting birds as Management Indicator Species and Sensitive Species because they are responsive to timber and fire management activities.

Learn more about Birds and Burns: Objectives and Questions            Design and Methods


Objectives and Questions

Forest Restoration Objectives

  • Conduct effectiveness monitoring of forest restoration activities to quantify reductions in fuel and changes to wildlife habitat.

  • Evaluate effectiveness of silvicultural activities in meeting both forest restoration and wildlife conservation goals.

  • Estimate distribution and population trends of white-headed woodpecker throughout the Inland Northwest Region.

  • Develop silvicultural prescriptions for dry conifer forests that incorporate habitat suitability for woodpeckers.

Fire-related Objectives

  • Determine the most productive habitats for cavity-nesting birds among three fire conditions (fire exclusion, prescribed fire, and wildfire).

  • Develop design criteria for post-fire salvage logging that maintains habitat for MIS and sensitive species of birds.

  • Develop remote-sensing methods to predict bird distributions in different habitat conditions created by fire.

Beetle Outbreak Objectives

  • Examine changes in occupancy by avian communities in relation to beetle outbreaks.

  • Evaluate changes in woodpecker nest survival over the course of a mountain pine beetle outbreak.

  • Develop habitat suitability models for woodpeckers based on insect population trends, vegetation change and projected fire behavior after a mountain pine beetle outbreak.

Some questions that we are addressing include:

  • What are the sizes and composition of fuels after prescribed fire?

  • What are the population responses by birds to vegetation changes after prescribed fire?

  • Which fire conditions (exclusion, prescribed, and wildfire) provide source habitats for MIS and Sensitive Species of woodpeckers?

  • Can we use remote sensing before fires to predict cavity-nesting bird and snag distributions after fire?

  • Will selected species of noxious weeds increase after prescribed fire?

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Design and Methods

Birds and Burns Network study area.
Birds and Burns Network study area.
We used a Before, After, Control, Impact (BACI) design with replication at nine locations in eight western states for the prescribed fire studies, which began in 2002. At each location, sampling units were 250-400 ha with at least two replicate units for each treatment and control and a minimum of 20 point count stations in each unit.

We conducted point count surveys to quantify population densities of songbirds; monitored nests of target species (woodpeckers, bluebirds, and nuthatches) to determine nesting densities, success, and productivity; and measured vegetation (fine fuels; ground, log, and overstory cover; densities of logs, shrubs, trees and snags) at nest and point count locations.

Point count and vegetation sampling were stratified by crown closure; nest surveys and monitoring were conducted throughout each unit. Point count, vegetation, and nest data were collected at least two years before prescribed fire treatments and at least two years after fire treatment.

Results from ongoing wildfire research that began in the 1990s are being used to compare habitat and bird populations with those monitored before and after prescribed fire treatments.

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Principal Investigators:
Kaibab National Forest
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests
Payette National Forest
San Juan National Forest
Sycan Marsh Preserve
Jay Rotella - University of Montana
USFS Pacific Northwest Region
USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station
The Nature Conservancy
Boise National Forest
Coconino National Forest
Fremont-Winema National Forests
Gila National Forest
Apache/Sitgreaves National Forests
Helena National Forest

Funding Contributors:
Joint Fire Sciences Program
National Fire Plan
Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program