Federal land managers are increasingly implementing fuels-reduction treatments throughout the western United States with objectives of ecological restoration and fire hazard reduction in pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.) woodlands. The pinyon-juniper woodland ecosystem complex is highly variable across the western landscape, as is bird community composition. We investigated relations between breeding birds and vegetation characteristics in modified pinyon-juniper woodlands at three sites (BLM, USFS, NPS) on the Colorado Plateau. During the breeding seasons of 2005 and 2006, we surveyed birds and measured vegetation in 74 study plots. These plots were each 3.1 hectares (ha; 7.6 acres), located across the range of natural variation, with 41 control sites and 33 plots in areas previously thinned by hand-cutting or chaining. We found that relations of avian pinyon-juniper specialists and priority species to vegetation characteristics were generally in agreement with the findings of previous studies and known nesting and feeding habits of those birds. Relatively high density of pinyon pines was important to species richness and abundance in 6 of 14 species. Abundance of all species was related to treatment method, and we found no difference in bird communities at chaining and hand-cut sites.
We also studied responses of breeding birds to mechanical reduction of pinyon-juniper woodlands scattered across sagebrush steppe in 11 control and 9 treatment plots at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, in 2005 and 2006. We surveyed birds in 3.1-ha (7.6-acre) plots during the breeding season before and following treatment. Thinning in April 2006 removed a mean of 92 percent (standard error = 6.4 percent) of the live trees from treatment plots. Two of 14 species, Gray Vireo (Vireo vicinior) and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), were not detected after thinning. Shrub-nesting birds, including sagebrush specialist Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri), increased in relative abundance in treatment areas compared to controls. However, some species may exhibit a time lag in response, and further changes in community composition and abundance could result. Our findings lend support to the concept that multiple small-scale fuels-reduction treatments, applied over the landscape, may provide the variety of successional stages needed to support a full assemblage of avian species in pinyon-juniper woodlands on the Colorado Plateau. Limiting scale and increasing precision of fuels-reduction projects in pinyon-juniper vegetation communities may maximize the benefits of management to both the pinyon-juniper and sagebrush steppe avian communities. We conclude that small-scale fuels-reduction treatments can benefit many bird species while reducing fire risk and restoring an ecological balance.
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USGS Numbered Series
Avian community responses to juniper woodland structure and thinning treatments on the Colorado Plateau