Study raises alarm on Vt. forest bird populations - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Study raises alarm on Vt. forest bird populations

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A one-of-a kind study has raised some red flags when it comes to Vermont's bird population, and forest health, and it could eventually have an economic impact on the state.  

The study of Vermont Forest Birds started in 1989 with the goal being to track their population trends at 31 sites across the state. "This was started because we really didn't have information on interior forest habitat," said Steve Faccio, a conservation biologist for the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. He says other surveys count birds along roadways in rural and suburban areas, but there was no data on what's happening in Vermont's deep forests.

The new study tracks what has been happening in the woods in the 25 years from 1989 to 2013, and the trends trouble him. "Overall -- for all of our study sites, for all the birds we detected -- if you combine all those and look at the relative abundance over the period -- it declined by about 14-percent. So just the number of birds we were detecting declined by about 14-percent over the 25 year period,"  Faccio said.

Of the 34 most common species tracked, data revealed 13 species saw significant declines in population, while eight saw an increase. But the reasons for these changes are not clear cut. "That's harder to tease out because monitoring doesn't provide those kinds of answers, right? it just gives us information about how the populations are doing," Faccio said. Theories include climate change, or he says threats to the birds wintering grounds.

A small army of volunteers helped gather data for the survey, some for the entire quarter-century. And Faccio says while it is clear the birds need the forest, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the forest needs birds. "They provide all kinds of ecosystem services, from predator control to seed dispersal, so knowing how our forest birds are doing can give us a better understanding of the forest ecology and improve our forest management," he said.

Which is important because according to the Vermont Department of Forests Parks and Recreation, our forests support more than 47,000 jobs in the state, not to mention the state's forest products industry.  

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