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Habitat suitability models for white-headed woodpecker in recently burned forest

Date: August 11, 2020

Quantifying and mapping suitable habitat for woodpeckers to inform post-fire management activities compatible with wildlife.

A closeup of the side of a tree with a white-headed woodpecker's head sticking out.
An adult female white-headed woodpecker poking its head out of the entrance to a nest cavity. Photo by Tom Kogut.
Many animal species colonize recently burned forests, where resources generated by wildfire allow populations to proliferate. In particular, woodpeckers benefit from trees that are killed (i.e. snags) or weakened by fire for nesting and foraging.

Salvage logging in recently burned forests provides timber and improves human safety. However, it also removes relatively large snags, a key resource for fire-associated species like white-headed woodpeckers (Dryobates albolarvatus), a species of conservation concern.

Forest managers often seek to balance the socio-economic benefits of salvage logging with the need to maintain post-fire habitat for wildlife. Increased size and severity of wildfire with warming temperatures may further increase opportunities for salvage logging, making this balancing act even more important.

Habitat suitability index (HSI) models can inform forest management activities to help meet multiple objectives. Informing post-fire forest management, however, involves model application at new locations as wildfires occur, requiring evaluation of how well the model can predict nesting sites across locations (predictive performance).

We developed HSI models for white-headed woodpeckers using nest sites from two burned-forest locations in Oregon. We developed and evaluated models based on remotely sensed environmental metrics to support habitat mapping, and models that combined remotely sensed and field-collected metrics to inform management prescriptions. We measured predictive performance by developing one model at each of the two locations and quantifying how well the model distinguished nest sites from reference sites at two other wildfire locations where the model had not been developed.

A forest with some trees marked with orange paint.
Marked trees for retention of white-headed woodpecker habitat on the 2015 Canyon Creek Complex Fire, Malheur National Forest, Oregon. Photo by Victoria Saab.

Key Findings

  • Models characterized suitable nesting habitat as having:
    • Severely burned or open sites for nest placement.
    • Adjacent lower severity and closed canopy sites for foraging.
  • The models transferred well between the two locations where models were developed, showing applicability to locations with similar conditions (i.e. moderate pre-fire canopy openings, relatively large diameter trees, dominated by ponderosa pine).
  • However, they did not perform well at a third location with different conditions, indicating some limitations.


Featured Publications

Latif, Quresh ; Saab, Victoria A. ; Dudley, Jonathan G. ; Markus, Amy ; Mellen-McLean, Kim , 2020
Latif, Quresh ; Ellis, Martha ; Saab, Victoria A. ; Mellen-McLean, Kim , 2017
Latif, Quresh ; Saab, Victoria A. ; Mellen-Mclean, Kim ; Dudley, Jonathan G. , 2015
Latif, Quresh ; Saab, Victoria A. ; Dudley, Jonathan G. ; Hollenbeck, Jeff P. , 2013

Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
Quresh Latif - Bird Conservancy of the Rockies
Forest Service Partners: 
Amy Markus, Fremont-Winema National Forest