It Takes a Flock

Why collaboration is the way forward.

This article was written by Audubon Vermont's 2021 Forest Conservation Intern, Asha DiMatteo-LePape. The perspectives and voices of today's young professionals are critical to addressing the environmental challenges of the future.

As Audubon Vermont’s summer 2021 Forest Conservation Intern, I’ve learned a lot about how forests and birds support each other. I’ve also learned a lot about how people play in instrumental role in the health of both forests and birds in Vermont. My internship is what you’d expected a forestry internship to be: lots of time in the woods at the Green Mountain Audubon Center measuring trees and taking down habitat data. It’s also not what you’d expect: I’ve contemplated economics, met forest landowners, done forest assessments for sugarbushes, and had long conversations with maple syrup producers. These experiences have solidified my belief that collaboration is the future of conservation.

Healthy forests are essential for many of the birds that migrate to Vermont and these forests play many roles in the state. Vermont’s forests range from privately owned parcels to conserved land to National Forest. The trees in these forests provide wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, and forest products, among many other benefits. Forest harvesting is a mechanism for developing healthy forests that can benefit tree growth, birds, and people all at once. Audubon’s Healthy Forest Initiative was created to encourage a positive relationship between forest landowners, forest health, and bird habitat in Vermont by outlining forest harvesting practices that encourage diverse forest structure and composition.

The Healthy Forest Initiative recognizes that all forests in Vermont are resources for birds, and that collaborating with landowners is essential to creating a network of bird habitat throughout the state. Landowners and forest planners have the ability to influence forest structure and composition to benefit birds, while also meeting other needs and objectives. This is also true of maple syrup producers who manage sugarbushes for sap collection. Collaborating with people who aren’t conservationists by profession accelerates the translation of science to action.

Collaboration facilitates conservation by involving a wide range of stakeholders and connecting research with planning and management. We need all-hands-on-deck to address forest and bird conservation in a rapidly changing world. Research and rigorous scientific inquiry are essential pieces of the puzzle that contribute to our understanding of bird habitat, forest dynamics, and the impacts of climate change. This research is not enough though, to enact change. When it comes to supporting healthy birds and forests in Vermont, it takes everyone: private landowners, state park planners, national forest managers, land conservation professionals, and local residents.

Collaboration can take many forms. Audubon Vermont works directly with private landowners and sugarbush managers to discuss and encourage forest harvesting practices that benefit birds and forest growth. Volunteers work with Audubon Vermont to gather data about bird populations. Programming is developed to educate children and the public about birds and their habitat. From planting native plants and trees, to monitoring nest sites, to employing certain forest harvesting practices, the support of a wide range of stakeholders makes bird and forest conservation possible in Vermont.

There are strong ties between the environment, natural resource dependent communities, and nature-based outdoor recreation. This is especially true in Vermont, where diverse landscapes, especially forests, and wildlife populations contribute to a complex ecological system, foster nature appreciation and opportunities for outdoor recreation, and support many livelihoods both directly and indirectly. Birds are an especially important part of this relationship. Many birds rely on Vermont’s forests for breeding and raising their young, and people in Vermont are benefited by the pest control, seed dispersal, and nature-based tourism opportunities that birds provide.

Climate change introduces new challenges and opportunities to the interconnected relationship between birds, forests, and people in Vermont. The impacts of climate change are becoming a major concern in New England: changes in natural processes can alter forest health and composition, negatively impact bird habitat, and change where favorable conditions for bird survival exist. The impacts of climate change on bird health and migration dynamics have the potential to negatively influence Vermont's ecological systems, as well as outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism. 

Collaboration is necessary to address the challenges that birds in Vermont face due to climate change. Birds aren’t bound by the physical and political boundaries that we see as people; birds nest, forage for food, and defend their territories throughout the diverse Vermont landscape regardless of land ownership. This means that bird habitat exists on private property and conserved lands, in state parks and national forests, and even on man-made structures! With all these different types of land, supporting birds in Vermont relies not only on bird conservation specialists, but everyone.

Conserving the network of connected habitat that birds need takes the whole flock: scientists, landowners, farmers, forest managers, and residents. Acting on climate change is one of the biggest things we can do for birds in the long-term: reducing the negative impacts of a warming climate on birds and their habitat will have direct impacts on bird health and survival. Forest management that supports healthy forests with diverse structure, agricultural practices that consider impacts to birds, and growing native plants and trees are key parts of managing Vermont’s landscape with birds in mind. This management relies on residents, landowners, forest planners, and farmers, as well as the scientists and researchers who are working to better understand the impacts of climate change on birds and their habitat.

Locally relevant planning and management are crucial when it comes to addressing the impacts of climate change on birds in Vermont and are dependent on the integration of relevant research, boundary-spanning planning, and local action. Effective planning and management will rely on accurate information on how climate change is impacting birds, how bird habitat in Vermont is changing due to climate change, and how individuals can support birds. Effective communication between residents, landowners, forest planners, and farmers, and scientists is essential to incorporating science with planning, and planning with implementation. Collaboration is key to supporting Vermont’s intertwined social and ecological systems, especially the relationship between birds, lands, and people.

For more on what you can do about climate change, check out Audubon’s Guide to Climate Action:

For more information on native plants, check out Audubon’s native plant guide:

To learn more about Audubon Vermont’s work with private landowners:

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