|No. 195||BATON ROUGE, LA||September 2001|
LOS Fall Meeting (+)
Minutes of Spring Meeting
Audubon Country Bird Fest
New Big Day Record
ABC Non-Game Birds Comm.
Eye-lined Vireo ID
Vireo ID Figures
Controversy at Sherburne
Kites at Sherburne
Species of Special Concern
Moore on Logging
Who to Contact
Fontenot's New Book
Membership Form (+)
LOS Officers (+)
LOS Sales (+)
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LOS NEWS: Page   
|Controversy at Sherburne Wildlife Management Area|
This spring, as a part of their General Forest Management Plan, LDWF carried out some selective and clear cutting in compartment 8 of Sherburne Wildife Management Area. This, and a new road that was cut into the Atchafalaya National Wildlife refuge from LA 975 to allow an oil and gas company access to their facilities was first pointed out to the birding community after a visit there by Donna Dittman and Steve Cardiff. As the result of public and private objections raised to this disturbance of prime neotropical migrant breeding habitat, a meeting was called by Randy Lanctot of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation to bring together managers of the various entities in the Sherburne complex, state foresters, various government non-game biologists and a few interested birders and conservationists. I was invited because of my role as editor of the LOS News. I summarized this meeting on Labird, and my report, modified according to information that I received from interested parties, became part of the public record of the meeting of the Atchafalaya Basin Commission, Non-game Bird Committee meeting of September 13. This is my report:
The meeting was held at Sherburne WMA Headquarters August 14. There was an amazing turn out by various government officials concerned with the Atchafalaya Basin and how it is managed and developed (5 USFWS, 6 LDWF, including Phil Bowman, Asst Secretary, 2 USCOE, and Bobby Wilkinson from the DNR Atchafalaya Basin Project). Invited to represent birding and conservation concerns were Miriam Davey and Doris Falkenheiner from Baton Rouge Audubon Society & LA Audubon Council, myself as LOS News Editor, Jay Huner & Mike Musmeche from LWF, Jennifer Coulson from Orleans Audubon, and Bill Fontenot from Acadiana Park Nature Center.
Kenny Ribbeck, Chief Forester of LDWF and person in charge of the recent cutting that was done at Sherburne, provided an informative overview stating that LDWF lands were largely acquired in a degraded state owing to generations of poor logging practices. He further added that the General Forest Management Plan included the recent cutting at Sherburne, which is designed to restore diversity of species and structure within the forested holdings of the state.
Under the management plan, there are prescriptions set out for cutting various compartments at Sherburne that are based on analysis of the forest structure within the compartment. Each prescription is reviewed at several levels before implementation, including, importantly, review by personnel from the Natural Heritage Program. This latter step appeared to this attendee to be the breakdown point that allowed cutting of kite nesting trees and cutting at the height of Neotropical migrant breeding season. The Natural Heritage Program is bogged down with permit reviews and their data entry is behind. This is apparently the result of inadequate funding that would otherwise provide personnel necessary to review forestry prescriptions adequately. All parties concerned expressed regret at the process breakdown that caused this natural and public relations disaster. However, plans for Sherburne will continue to involve forestry management that attempts to improve the 'quality' of these woodlands. If I might be so bold as to paraphrase their philosophy, these managers are "land stewards," who believe that active management is a necessary tool to provide diversity in the habitat, which thereby benefits certain species of management concern. Putting the Sherburne prescriptions into perspective was a presentation about the total land-holdings in the Sherburne Complex and the Basin in general: Between levees and south of 190 there are 595,000 acres in State, Federal and private forested holdings. Of the private holdings, 340,000 acres are private easement holdings protected from conversion to any use other than forestry (eg development as ag lands). The Sherburne complex itself is managed by COE - 14,000 acres, USFWS - 15,220 acres, and LDWF - 11,780 acres. There is also a 4,000 acre Natural Area designated held by COE within the Indian Bayou Area, centered around Lake Fordoche. This area was selected as Natural Area, to be left unmanaged with input from The Nature Conservancy. Other parts of the LDWF 50,000 acre holdings are in Indian Bayou and in Atakapa. LDWF Forestry will be evaluating the health of the forest in those holdings to improve 'degraded stands."
The LDWF holdings have been extensively evaluated. Much of it, in forestry terms, has been shown to have high "site productivity," meaning fast generation times for forest plants. This has been the rationale for a particularly aggressive forestry management plan, the object of which is not logging yield, but wildlife habitat improvement. We heard from several USFWS and LDWF non-game species biologists who were there to assure us that the culture was no longer focused on only game species and that everyone was interested in hearing from all constituencies and users of the state and US forested holdings as their management plans evolve.
I did come away from the meeting impressed that all concerned were operating with the best of intentions, that they are open to hearing from non-game constituencies, open to getting help from the birding community in understanding the richness of the ecosystem they are managing. However, locally, in large part, they seem fairly ignorant about the species composition of the Neotropical migrants that breed at Sherburne. That wildlife managers are not all very familiar with songbirds is perhaps understandable, but one would hope that this will be changing and would expect that the department as as a whole would have a good handle on at least the Species of Special Concern within our borders. The Louisiana Natural Heritage Program needs our help and support so that better communication is possible with habitat managers.
We will be hearing lots more about habitat management, access and usage patterns as the Atchafalaya Basin Commission activities start to come on line. We were also informed of a plan with the Department of Transportation to improve and stabilize the Whisky Bay Road by reclaiming the drainage ditch that runs along the east side of the road. This would involve cutting about 25' back from that side of the road and clearing the old ditch that is largely grown up in understory. In correcting my rerport, Kenny Ribbeck says, "However, recognizing the utilization by kites of the mature cottonwood along some distance of this Hwy right-of-way, we addressed the issue of reclaiming the landward side ditch while leaving certain clusters of the encroaching cottonwoods. Our intent is to help DOTD improve the safety conditions of this State Highway while maintaining important habitat components being utilized by Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites."
Bill Fontenot was also in attendance at the meeting at Sherburne and here are some quotes from a subsequent posting on Labird [capitalizations added by the editor], " In a bottomland hardwood forest situation, if you've got nesting Hooded Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, chickadee, titmouse, woodpeckers, etc. in per-unit-area concentrations which are nothing short of astonishing to even the most seasoned breeding bird survey/breeding bird atlas observers, then obviously there is something good happening in that particular forest. I'm using breeding bird species as an example here; but I'd be willing to bet that prior to the most recent clearcuts [technically, most of this was not ‘clearcut' at Sherburne, -Ed.]there, both the density and diversity of the reptile and amphibian populations in those affected forests were exceedingly high as well.
"What I'm saying is that 1) it is apparent to me that there is a specific age at which these second growth forests peak in their abilities to hold the highest degree of wildlife diversity AND density. regarding the Sherburne Complex, I have no idea what that age might be, but I'd sure like to know -- and I'd like the WILDLIFE managers there to know and understand, too. basically, I'd like them to allow animal diversity and density to dictate how the lands will be managed. After all, if animal diversity and density are awesomely high, then the quality of habitat must be pretty high as well, regardless of whether we humans can comprehend just why that is. 2) For sheer reference purposes, if for nothing else, every effort should be made to preserve a core of any natural area in a quasi-pristine condition. In other words, leave it alone. at the Sherburne complex, I'd like to see 20-30% of the system un-manipulated in perpetuity. Those riparian areas immediately adjacent to the various bayous and coulees are perfect candidates for a perpetual non-molestation policy. [At present 5% of the Sherburne WMA is designated a ‘Natural Area' and is left un-managed. That is a little more than 300 acres surrounding the Nature Trail at the north end of the WMA. -Ed]
"The managing personnel present at the meeting were very professional in their comments and very cordial in their responses to guests who had questions or comments. Basically, the response to my comments was that LDWF takes an ecosystem management approach which focuses on habitat management rather than management decisions based on individual species. By the same token, when these managers were asked whether they were aware of the pre-cut over diversity and density of nesting neotrops in the lands that were most recently cut over, the answer was "No." This may constitute a literal example of not seeing the forest for the trees.
"I'm not pointing an evil finger at anyone. I do believe, however, that there are some honest and genuine philosophical differences here that should at least be considered by LDWF, USACOE, and USF&WS management staffs. These guys are real pros in every sense of the word. I know and have worked with many of them, and have supported them and their agencies against all comers."
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has made several responses to the controversy that surrounds their forestry management prescriptions at Sherburne. Kenny Ribbeck has conducted several private tours of the forest with area birders (one that I was taking with Miriam Davey, Donna Dittman and Joe Kleiman was sadly cut short by the tragic events of September 11). At the ABC commission meeting on September 14, Tommy Prickett, the State's top Wildlife Management Biologist, also stated that all further prescriptions for Sherburne will be submitted for public review and comment prior to their implementation. (It should be noted that the General Forestry Plan went through extensive public review and comment 10 years ago, before it was accepted.) The mechanism for assuring that interested parties have this opportunity will be through Randy Lanctot of the LWF. Randy will utilize several outlets, including Labird, to invite public commentary and will compile comments and questions to forward to LDWF. Furthermore, Mr. Prickett has instituted a policy that there will be no further implementation of forestry prescriptions during the breeding season. They also plan to keep up better communication between the department and researchers like Jennifer Coulson.
LOS News Editor
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The Swallow-tailed Kite is a stunningly beautiful raptorial bird that nests on the Sherburne WMA and is a tourist attraction there. This rare species is of intense conservation concern both locally and nationwide. It is on the National Audubon Society's WatchList and the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, Partners In Flight, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Biological Resources Division of the U. S. Geological Survey all give high priority to this as a species of special conservation concern. Between November 2000 and April 2001, LDWF unknowingly logged an area that a colony of Swallow-tailed Kites historically used for nesting. The Swallow-tailed Kite colony relocated to an area on Sherburne north of where the logging was taking place. Many of the relocated nests were in zones of compartment 8 scheduled for harvest. When a Tulane University researcher Jennifer Coulson pointed the nests out to Mr. Ribbeck, he agreed to cease logging activity in those areas until the kites finished nesting. He also agreed to spare the nest trees and said he would consider sparing a few of the surrounding overstory trees. Sparing the trees used for nesting and saving a few additional tall cottonwoods in the middle of clearcuts and selective cuts will not preserve suitable nesting habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites. The kites select for groves of overstory trees. Even if kites return to use the isolated, spared nest trees, the increased exposure of the tree (created by logging the surrounding forest) will make the nests much more susceptible to failure due to weather and nest predators.
The Plan may not leave enough dead, dying and diseased timber on the WMA and it may underestimate the value of such timber to non-game wildlife. While the Plan claims to leave snags and deadwood, in practice, too much standing dead and dying wood is being removed. Snags provide important perching sites for many birds of prey, including Swallow-tailed Kites and Mississippi Kites. Snags are important to roost and nest site selection for these and other raptors. Woodpeckers rely heavily on dead, dying and diseased wood for foraging, nesting and mate attraction. A wide variety of other non-game birds also use dead and dying timber for cavity nesting, roosting and or foraging including: Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Wood Duck, Screech Owl and Barred Owl. While some trees are felled and left on site to provide nutrients, a lot of timber is exported for sale. What is the long-term impact of removing timber (i.e., nutrient export)? Is this issue being addressed in the ongoing forestry studies?
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New Non-Game Biologist at Louisiana Natural Heritage Program
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to the birding community. Many of you were familiar with Bill Vermillion and I have taken his place as the Nongame Biologist for the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. I received my B.S. degree in wildlife biology from LSU in 1994 and my M.S. degree in wildlife management from LSU in 1996. My master's thesis was on migratory neotropical and resident landbird bird usage of man-made levees in southwestern Louisiana. Since graduation, I have worked for LDWF in the Wildlife Division as the Upland Game Biologist, so I am in the process of "re-immersing" myself in the nongame bird arena.
The Natural Heritage Program is charged with keeping a database of all rare, threatened and endangered species. We try to keep track of all species of special concern in Louisiana. Because Natural Heritage is so woefully understaffed, we seek good information from reliable observers. Therefore, I am asking that the birding community help me gather all the information we can on the species of special concern to update our database. This database can then be used to help make decisions concerning management practices and all sorts of development projects. Specifically, the information used in the database is (1) breeding data (or reasonable assumption of breeding) for species that would breed in Louisiana, (2) wintering concentrations (for those species that would winter in Louisiana. For migrants, we are interested in exceptionally high numbers of individuals or species at a given location and time.
Minimally we would like a date, precise location and details of the sighting such as numbers of indivduals, sexes, young present, etc. Without your assistance in tracking these species of special concern, The Natural Heritage Program may miss important information that could affect future management practices. Please contact me, Nancy Higginbotham, with any of the requested data at (225) 765-2976 or by e-mail at higginbotham_ne @wlf.state.la.us and thank you in advance for all your help.
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|by Kenneth Moore|
Logging, or thinning of a forest by selectively removing a certain number of trees, is a common forest management practice for many forest ecosystems. Although in the US the logging of timber dates back to the establishment of our civilization, it is often viewed as a destructive practice that jeopardizes the forest plant and animal communities. Many people incorrectly assume that forests left unmanaged will return back to pre-settlement conditions and wildlife will flourish. While clear-cutting, or removing all the trees is detrimental to the forest community, logging to thin improves forests composition and allows wildlife species to thrive. In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to justify the need for logging in the management of longleaf pine forest ecosystem in central Louisiana.
The longleaf forest on public lands in central Louisiana were cut over during the 1920's and 30's and replanted in the 40's and 50's. Trees were planted in a high density to provide wood products over a long period of time, requiring frequent thinnings, about every ten years. Up until clearcutting was restricted on public lands, all clearcut areas were planted in a density that would require frequent thinnings. Now environmental groups are suing the government over any type of logging, believing they are protecting the environment and wildlife. In some cases, they are protecting the environment, but in other cases they are not. Today, many longleaf areas do not resemble the forest before 1900 and not the prime habitat that is preferred by wildlife associated with longleaf pine forests, such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman's Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, Southeastern Kestrel, and Louisiana Pine Snake. Biologists believe that the virgin longleaf pine forest had a low density of trees and a diverse carpet of grasses and forbes, a grassland with trees. Early explorers like Cabeza de Vaca noted open woods with large trees, perhaps 5 trees per acre, averaging four feet in diameter. Nearly everyone knows that dense shade and needle accumulation has a negative effect on ground cover. A rich ground cover (grasses, forbes, etc.) is very important to many species of wildlife associated with longleaf pine forests, but ground cover is negatively affected by dense shade and needle accumulation. To maintain the ground cover you need a low density of trees. I believe we should manage the forests to resemble as much as possible the forest found by de Vaca, this can be achieved by regular thinnings over a long period of time and frequent burning.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the Louisiana Pine Snake are two species that are negatively affected by high tree density. During the last five years, the population of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCW) has declined in both the Kisatchie and Vernon units of the National Forests. Some RCW experts believe that high tree density could be one factor contributing to the decline. Fort Polk is located between both units and logging occurs on a regular basis. There, the RCW population has increased and remained stable during the last eight years. Both forest service units have substantially more acreage of longleaf pine forest, but the tree density is much higher.
The Louisiana pine snake occurs in a few Louisiana Parishes and Texas counties. It is probably one of the rarest animals in North America. The adults spend most of their life in pocket gopher tunnels, their main prey. Pocket gophers prefer areas containing a rich ground cover; they feed on tubers and roots. When trees shade out the ground cover or shrubs take over an area, gophers will abandon that area and the snake will do the same. In the past ten years seven Louisiana pine snakes have been captured in Vernon Parish, all on Fort Polk. No snakes have been captured on the Vernon Unit that is not part of Fort Polk. The part of the Vernon Unit that is part of Fort Polk has a substantially lower tree density then the area that is not.
Although factors such as not enough burning are involved in the decline of species associated with the longleaf pine ecosystem, tree density is a major factor. If logging is completely stopped, over time, say 100 or 200 years, the forest may resemble the forest that the pine snake and Red-cockaded woodpecker inhabited a hundred years ago, due to natural tree mortality and prescribed burning. However, the precarious RCW and snake can not wait that long. I am not advocating giving the Forest Service a free hand, considering what they have done in the past. People need to monitor and, at times, probably take them to court, but to automatically sue every time a timber sale occurs is a waste of time, money, and could be harmful to wildlife. The Forest Service should be spending their time managing the forests and wildlife, not drowned in needless paper work. The environmental groups and the forest service should not consider each other as adversaries. Nature needs a helping hand to set things right. If you are against all logging, I hope that you will reconsider your position. Time is running out for the woodpecker and snake.
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LOS members who would like to express their concerns or opinions about foresrtry management pracrtices on our Wildlife Management Areas have been urged to consider mentioning the following points:
State forester - Kenny Ribbeck, Forester, Wildlife Division
James Jenkins, Jr., Secretary, Office of Secretary
Tommy Prickett, Administrator, Wildlife Division
Gary Lester, Coordinator, Louisiana Natural Heritage Program
Janice Collins, Louisiana Conservationist
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
P. O. Box 98000
Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000
Members of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission:
Bill A. Busbice, Jr., 116-C Jean Baptiste, Lafayette, LA 70503
Terry D. Denmon, 281 Richland Place, Monroe, LA 71203
Lee Felterman, 147 McGee Drive, Patterson, LA 70392
Thomas M. Gattle, Jr., Route 2, Box 424, Lake province, LA 71254
Thomas E. Kelly, 104 Bracy Street, Jeanerette, LA 70544
Norman McCall, 1171 Marshall Street, Cameron, LA 70631
Henry J. Stone, 1922 Rosale, Baton Rouge, LA 70806
Sandra Thompson Decoteau, Executive Director, Atchafalaya Basin Program
State of Louisiana
Department of Natural Resources
P. O. Box 94396
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9396
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Bill Fontenont of Lafayette has teamed up with Baton Rouge photographer Brian Miller and written a new book Birds of the Gulf Coast. Published by LSU Press, it will hit the bookstores in mid-October, 2001. With over 170 photos by Brian and accompanying essays by Bill, it should be outstanding. If you've read Bill's wonderful natural history articles in the Lafayette Advertiser or LOS News, you already have experienced how he can make nature come alive. Divided into seasons on the Gulf coast, the book features birds of the coast common to each season and uses Bill's essays to introduce the birds and birding conditions specific to each season. LOS should have copies of the book available for purchase at the Fall Meeing in Cameron on October 26-28th.
Gleanings from LABIRD-L:
LOS: Bill Fontenot has been prertty busy with his new book, so in place of one of our fav columns in the News, The Botanical Birder, I snatched this posting from Bill:
shame shame shame on me for not mentioning pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) in the book. as you can already see, LABIRD-L has a number of pokeweed-as-bird-food fans; and of course they are absolutely correct. and yes, pokeweed is a gorgeous garden plant. in sun or shade, its stems gradually transform into a bright "rhubarb-crimson" color as summer wears on. it belongs to one of the relatively few plant families whose members ROUTINELY exhibit both blooms and fruits on a simultaneous basis. very handsome.
pokeweed is an annual species; which means that 1) it is all but impossible to find even in native plant nurseries, but 2) is very very common throughout its range (which includes every louisiana parish), and (likeelderberry and several other bird-loved/bird-dispersed species) OFTEN turns up in garden settings.
by the way, another member of the pokeweed family which makes an excellent bird plant is Rivinia humilis, called rouge plant or pigeon berry. this species has gradually made its way northward up the gulf rim into (primarily) the coastal woodlands of louisiana. it is a groundcover-type plant, never exceeding 12" (in louisiana, anyway). it possesses spiked cream-colored blooms and small red berries (simultaneously, of course). i've seen it put to excellent use beneath a live oak in a new orleans garden. dr. wylie barrow, bird ecologist w/the natnl wetland research center, has told me of a paper which cites the red-eyed vireo as the primary seed disperser for this plant.
acadiana park nature station
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