The white-breasted nuthatch depends on pine and oak woodlands in the Pacific Northwest, but its range is predicted to falter over time as climate change increases temperatures. The olive-sided flycatcher relies on large snags in burned landscapes, but it’s losing its habitat as wildfires burn hotter, leaving fewer retained snags.
By using science-based predictions about the effects of climate change, John Alexander, executive director of the Klamath Bird Observatory, said forest planning and management can help save these birds and other species.
“With climate science and bird conservation, we can plan for the future and make forest conservation work,” Alexander said. “We can put oak woodlands in places were they can exist into the future, and restore old growth habitat where it will exist into the future. Our climate science tells us that.”
In the early 1990s as the Northwest Forest Plan was first taking effect and the spotted owl was listed as endangered, Alexander was starting his career in applying bird conservation science to natural resource management in the Pacific Northwest, first as a U.S. Forest Service employee and then a research associate for Southern Oregon University. He went on to co-found the Klamath Bird Observatory, a nonprofit supporting bird conservation and research in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion of southern Oregon, including Douglas County, as well as northern California.
Alexander will be speaking about the affects of climate change on birds during the program Climate Change: A Bird’s Eye View, at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Holiday Inn Express Conference Room, 375 W. Harvard Blvd., Roseburg.
“I think its an important topic for us both on a personal level and also for the ecology that contributes to what we love most about Douglas County,” said Stuart Liebowitz, board member of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.
Diana Wales, president of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, said birds are both indicators and victims of climate change.
“They’re losing their habitat, their habitat is shifting and they’re dependent on plants and insects that are dependent on certain climatic conditions,” Wales said. “People think about birds as being mobile and able to move with climate change, and to a certain extent they can more than some species, but they’re dependent on food sources that are not as mobile so they can really get hammered with climate change.”
Alexander plans to talk about climate change effects in the region, based on the Observatory’s years of data and peer-reviewed studies, and discuss international, national and local bird conservation plans.
“We’re trying to create decision support tools for climate-smart forest management planning,” Alexander said. “One of the themes of my talk is that wildfires are a naturally occurring ecological process here, so what’s going to be critical when we consider climate change and forest management is how we’re going to restore our fire-adapted ecosystems, and fires are an important way to do that.”
Historically, he added, wildfires have burned in a mosaic of mixed severity, with patches of light, moderate and heavy burns. But according to Alexander, fire suppression management in the past century has created the potential for fires to burn hotter and more frequently — which is exacerbated by climate change.
“Fire’s out of whack. How can we get it back in whack to become our friend again?” he said.
Droughts, changing weather patterns and increased wildfires will impact forests as climate change tightens its grip in the Pacific Northwest, Liebowitz added.
“We’ve already seen animals have been migrating northward because of climate change, and as wildfires take hold and temperatures change, this will certainly impact our birds as well,” Liebowitz said.
The Umpqua Valley Audubon Society and Douglas County Global Warming Coalition are co-sponsoring the event, which is free and open to the public.