Quantification of the Distribution of Burned Areas, and Their Use by Birds, in a Boreal Mixedwood Forest, Immediately Following Fire
Weyerhaeuser Company Limited
Lead Researcher: 
F. Schmiegelow, PhD, University of Alberta, Edmonton
The landscapes resulting from the forest fires that burned in Alberta in spring 1998 provided an ideal opportunity to learn more about patterns of natural disturbance, and their affect on wildlife use. In particular, there was potential to examine the effects of post-fire salvage operations on wildlife use, and provide an empirical basis for management of residual material in harvested stands. The Chip Lake burn in the Weyerhaeuser Edson Forest Management Agreement area was a good candidate for this work. Birds were the primary study species for preliminary work given their suitability as indicators of forest conditions.

Study sites were grouped as deciduous-dominated or coniferous-dominated, and either burned or unburned. All sites contained stands of 1900s origin or earlier. For songbird surveys, 109 point count stations were established. The station surveys were conducted during June and early July 1998. Call playback stations were established at 12 sites in burned and unburned stands to carry out woodpecker surveys.

A total of 1,224 observations, representing 55 species, were recorded during point count surveys. The ten most common species accounted for 64% of all records, indicating a skewed abundance distribution, common to other boreal forest bird communities. Overall, 12 species were recorded in burned areas only, whereas only five were unique to unburned sites. With the exception of one Black Backed Woodpecker (BBWO), there were no responses to woodpecker playbacks. BBWO’s were observed and heard on several occasions during point counts. They are present and nesting in the area. Although there were no substantial differences in the bird community composition and structure at this early stage, it is expected that subsequent changes in the vegetation structure in these areas, due to delayed mortality, will lead to related changes in the bird community. The preliminary work conducted in the Chip Lake burn in 1998, immediately post-fire, provides an important baseline for future work in this area.