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Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

As the old adage goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Such is state of the current project on Bluebird Ranch where we are enhancing grassland habitat by removing some trees and brush.  Parts of the 200-acre property are already home to bobolinks, meadowlarks, upland sandpipers, common snipe and several species of sparrows. As a few of these birds are now listed as a Species at Risk (SAR) there is a real concern to provide the best possible nesting habitat for them. As an example, bobolinks need a minimum 200 metres of open space before they will nest (about 100 meters on either side of them); any visual obstructions that reduce this open area may cause the birds to avoid nesting.

We had already identified that one of the priorities for Bluebird Ranch was to remove small ‘satellite’ clumps of trees from the open grasslands and seed the area with little bluestem grass. This was done in 2012 and 2013.

Now an opportunity has arisen to participate in a program called Species at Risk Benefit Exchange (SARBEX). The program provides for developers to financially contribute to habitat enhancement if their project is impacting the habitat of certain SAR species; there have been three such situations where the Couchiching Conservancy will receive funding to monitor and enhance habitat for bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. These three projects have been clustered on Bluebird Ranch and will collectively provide 7.5 hectares of fenced grasslands and an additional 7.5 hectares of enhanced grassland habitat.

To meet these criteria we are removing small stands of cedar trees to provide the 200-meter sized openings; this is in addition to the small clumps removed earlier. What to do with the downed trees has become a project within itself. Some of the material will be chipped and used as trail covering; posts will be used in fencing; larger logs may be milled for lumber to build bird houses; and brush will be burned where wet soils prevent access by the chipper.

The trees being removed represent a very small percent of the total forested area of Bluebird Ranch. But there will be smoke at times, as volunteers help us clear away the branches od downed trees. Any burning will be done while there is snow on the ground (certainly not a problem this winter!).

We are looking at this project as ‘short term pain for long term gain’. The effort and minor trauma of removing scattered trees in the short term will make Bluebird Ranch a much better habitat for grassland birds in the future.

For further details talk with Dave Hawke or Ron Reid.

Written by Dave Hawke, Stewardship Program Manager