Tom's Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why protect birches from fire?

When we started restoration work a dozen years ago, we were advised to let all the birches in our savanna burn up. Since they are fire sensitive, we were told, they were not part of the original savanna. However, Kathie likes birches and wanted to protect them, so each year before we burn we clear all the burnable material around them. This takes the better part of a day. Some people we know, who think saving birches is silly, call them "white buckthorn." Well!

I recently discovered that there is a movement afoot to save "snags" for the benefit of red-headed woodpeckers. Minneapolis Audubon Society has a special initiative, and it turns out snags are becoming popular all over the country. There is even a web site. Our birches constitute authentic snags.

Its not just woodpeckers who benefit. There are many cavity-nesting birds at Pleasant Valley Conservancy. This link also shows a typical area of snags with (yes!) some birches.

Richard King, a red-headed woodpecker researcher from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, did a survey at Pleasant Valley Conservancy a few years ago, and marked two trees that had confirmed nests. Both were birches.

Since his visit, we have enjoyed watching red-headed woodpeckers use those trees, and others near by. We have also seen them frequently in an aspen clone that we have girdled. We have recently learned that red-heads also like aspen, so Kathie and I have decided not to cut down every dead aspen in this clone, as intended, but leave a few for the birds.

We have had some people insist that leaving birches is artificial. However, restoring oak savanna is somewhat artificial, because if we walked away from Pleasant Valley Conservancy, quit burning and restoring, it would not be long before it would start to deteriorate. Not only birds would desert the property.


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