Avian Response to Mechanical Aspen Restoration in Sierra Nevada Coniferous Forest
Using mechanical treatments to mimic natural disturbances is becoming a standard management and restoration approach. In the Sierra Nevada, as throughout much of western North America, much of aspen habitat is in poor health. Because of the high ecological value of healthy aspen, and its limited extent on the landscape, restoration to reverse the decline and improve stand health has become a management priority in the region. To evaluate the ecological effects of mechanically removing competing conifers to restore aspen in the Sierra Nevada, we compared vegetation characteristics and bird abundance in treated and untreated aspen stands on the Lassen National Forest before and up to 13 years after mechanical conifer removal. Treatments reduced total canopy cover and increased herbaceous cover and the number of aspen stems, while shrub and overstory aspen covers were unchanged. Of 10 aspen focal bird species, 7 increased in abundance following treatment relative to controls, including all species associated with early seral aspen habitat and cavity nesting species; none declined. In contrast, of the six conifer focal species, the four associated with denser conifer habitat declined as a result of the treatments. The two species associated with conifer edges and understory cover increased. Our results demonstrate mechanical conifer removal treatments can provide ecologically meaningful changes in habitat for the avian community and are an effective tool for restoring ecological values of degraded aspen habitat for birds in the Sierra Nevada.
Fairweather, M.L., E.A. Rokala, and K.E. Mock. 2014. Aspen seedling establishment and growth after wildfire in central Arizona: an instructive case history. Forest Science 60:703-712.