Forest Guidelines For Goshawks May Not Help

TThanks to an eagle-eyed (or hawk-eyed?) member of our circle…

Here’s the link

And here’s an excerpt:

“Our forest plans require it,” he said. “But that would be a pain” if the existing guidelines don’t actually help the goshawks successfully rear more chicks. “We do have different prescriptions for the goshawk areas. In those breeding areas we know they typically have a higher (tree) density. So we have prescriptions for that. We’re trying to manage the future forest. One of the big concerns is whether we’re going to have adequate canopy cover — so we’re really managing groups of trees and also providing for those interspaces and managing for their prey.”

#But the NAU study raises questions about whether biologists yet know enough to micro-manage the forest for the benefit of any individual species.

#The goshawk and the Mexican Spotted Owl for years have fluttered about at the center of the legal and political fight about the future of the forest. The agile, crazy-orange-eyed goshawk is nearly as large as a red tailed hawk, but can maneuver deftly through the thick forest. In open areas, they tend to lose out to the red tails — which circle overhead looking for prey rather than perching on tree branches for a quick swoop to the ground.

#The now nearly defunct timber industry in Arizona made most of its money on cutting the big, old growth trees associated with those species and others like the Kaibab squirrel and the Allen’s lappet-browed bat. With most of those trees reduced to two-by-fours, the timber industry had a hard time making money on the smaller trees that remained in dangerous profusion.

#The Centers for Biological Diversity has repeatedly sued to prevent timber sales that included a large number of old growth pines greater than 16 inches in diameter at about chest height. For instance, earlier this year the Centers for Biological Diversity successfully blocked a timber sale on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the grounds that the 25,000-acre sale would include about 8,000 old-growth trees — even though such trees account for only about 3 percent of the trees.

#The NAU study demonstrated that biologists still don’t really understand what species like goshawks need.

#None of the sites studied very closely matched the guidelines, which call for clusters of giant, old-growth trees and nearby areas with underbrush likely to result in high populations of 14 different prey species.

#Although little true old-growth ponderosa pine forest remains in Arizona, the researchers expected to find that the more closely the conditions around the nest area resembled that prescription — the more chicks the goshawks would produce. In fact, the more closely the forest matched the prescription the fewer chicks the hawks reared.

#That doesn’t mean the goshawks don’t prefer nesting in big, old growth trees. But it does mean that they’re not as sensitive to the prey populations in the area or the nearby forest conditions as biologists had expected.

But my favorite quotes are:

The NAU research now throws into question many key assumptions built in ponderous legal strictures of existing forest plans.

#“The results raise questions about the decision to implement the goshawk guidelines on most Forest Service lands in Arizona and New Mexico,” the researchers concluded.

#However, the Forest Service remains legally bound to the detailed guidelines now cast in the legal concrete of adopted forest plans.

“Ponderous legal strictures” and “legal concrete of adopted forest plans”, indeed. The old conundrum – while some people look for certainty of protection in plans, others look for flexibility to respond to changing conditions. Can both sides ever be happy?

8 thoughts on “Forest Guidelines For Goshawks May Not Help”

  1. Sounds terribly familiar. The “best science” turned out to be less than the best and became the tool of preservationists, with the compliance of the F.S. and the assistance of the courts, to prevent management of our public lands. In the southeast the “science-based” guideline for red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) management established the magic number of stems needed to maintain a colony. Compliance with this guidelines on the Apalachicola N.F. resulted in a virtual cessation of harvesting. Later research demonstrated that the RCW needed park-like open stands and the original guidelines were far to high. The sales program never recovered and we’re now cutting about 5% of the gross annual growth while 6 times that volume dies. For a look at what happened on this forest (and to the RCW population), visit my webpage

    Has it not finally become evident that land and its resources can never be rationally managed under the “ponderous legal strictures” of the existing system. For one proposed solution see

  2. Even the accepted survey protocols of setting up call points on a 300 foot grid are extremely ponderous, and rarely met, except on tiny projects. Forget about landscape-scale projects. Goshawk nesting habitats are the areas most rare and the most threatened by wildfire. Some people will defend the old rules and regs, even after the habitat is blackened and dead.

  3. This interesting post makes my point, a point that has been largely ignored for the past 30 years. The crucial need for meaningful, complete and on-going monitoring of effectiveness
    and thereby making needed adjustments in the plans. The detailed biology of many (if not most) forestland birds and animals is not complete. We just don’t know everything we should know about how large trees, small trees, undergrowth, canopy density, species composition, age-class, etc.etc. are integrated into the lives of resident species.

    We may know a “lot”, but obviously not enough. That is what monitoring for results and effectiveness was intended to accomplish. But we all know that the very first activity to be underfunded (or totally unfunded) after Forest Plans were finalized was monitoring. These plans contained very specific monitoring “requirements” , requirements that were almost totally ignored. Some funds were always found to continue timber harvest programs (even if severely slashed), but the “must do items” listed in Forest Plans were not funded.

  4. “Can both sides ever be happy?”

    Both sides “being happy” is and will continue to be a fiction — an adult fairy tale borne of the false promises of “collaboration”. As long as nothing can be learned from well-known causes of the “unhappiness” of threatened and endangered species — we can expect a continuation of the unhappiness of extinction.

    Myself and others recently had our appeals on the latest Tongass timber sale denied, (the Tonka Timber Sale 38mmbf of centuries-old, old growth). The sale area has been hammered by USFS clearcutting and roading for the last 30 years. Deer populations have crashed in the area. Not one of 5 known (Queen Charlotte subspecies) previously active goshawk nests in the sale area were found to be active this spring.

    Many find it strange these sales can continue as if the lessons of large scale removal of critical habitat adjacent to nest sites (buffers notwithstanding) had no bearing. Actually, it isn’t strange at all.

    It’s the abnormal norm, exemplified by an agency now poised to convince the public its regulatory and management functions can be safely outsourced to corporate front groups (like The Nature Conservancy) claiming to be conservationists. The USFS is even going so far as to do the corporate bidding themselves — establishing for the first time, a federal agency hawking the sales of carbon credits of the Carbon Capital Fund — derived from our national forests — PRECISELY what the corporations have been pining for.

    Are both sides happy now?

    Then, (speaking of hawks and hawking), there’s the “conservation success story” being advanced by corporate partners of the USFS, just to the south, in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. The public of both nations have been so inundated by the continuously spouted ad naseum media claims of a conservation “victory” we can practically recite the false claims by memory. (Those ads often come by funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation which orchestrated the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement of BC),. The Nature Conservancy of course, was a key funded player in the Great Bear “Agreement” and disseminator of Great Bear Collaboration Propaganda.

    Only one thing — those shiny collaboration celebrations neglect the detail that the Queen Charlotte subspecies of northern goshawk is now functionally extinct in BC — collaborative agreements notwithstanding. The scientific Coast Information Team, funded to ascertain recommendations of what needed to be set aside to preserve such species on the Great Bear — was summarily ignored by collaborationists. Are both sides happy now?

    BC is now resorting to live capture in an attempt to breed the Queen Charlotte subspecies of the northern goshawk in captivity. (Should this impending BC extinction matter to what happens on the Tongass? Normally, one might think so.)

    At the same time, BC so thoroughly destroyed the salmon spawning habitat of every single major watershed — exacerbated by collaborationists cutting deals to allow MORE clear cutting — that the provincial government resorted to buying out large portions of the BC commercial salmon fishing fleets. They shut down major portions of their fisheries and resorted to industrial scale (Atlantic salmon!) salmon farms instead. Are both sides happy now?

    The farmed salmon are constantly acquiring highly contagious, and deadly diseases which threaten migrating wild salmon. Accidental, but routine, releases of farmed Atlantic salmon pose significant risks by interbreeding with Pacific wild salmon, etc. These consequences of industrial fish farming now threaten southeast Alaska’s wild salmon and the rest of all our west coast wild salmon which transit BC’s Inside Passage where massive salmon farms are sited. Are both sides happy now?

    Last fall brown bear numbers in the Great Bear Rainforest crashed. The few emaciated bears actually found were starving in the creeks due to the fall chum salmon crash. Are both sides happy now?

    Will such well-known cause/effect relationships become lessons learned on the Tongass and elsewhere?

    Absolutely not. Are both sides happy now?

    Instead, we get to argue over “Ponderous legal strictures” and “legal concrete of adopted forest plans.”

    How tragically absurd we get to haggle over lost causes in forums such as this, instead of admitting the necessity to avoid the WELL KNOWN CAUSES of what destroys old growth-dependent populations of salmon and goshawk, and deer, and marten, and murrelet and flying squirrel, and Canis lupus ligoni, and on and on, and on — in the first place.

    NCFP demonstrates one cannot have a “new century” unless the lessons of cause and effect in the previous century have been learned and incorporated into resource management.

    Crucial lessons, most certainly, have not been learned. This will ensure both sides will not be happy.

  5. About two weeks ago, I mentioned identifying a juvenile goshawk in the cutting unit we were working in. A wildlife guy was sent in to verify, and maybe find a nest. However, on the day he showed up, the goshawk was curiously absent. We heard it the previous five days straight. Now, I find that yesterday, the crew actually found the now-abandoned nest, inside another cutting unit, nearby. This is one we didn’t already know about, obviously. Certainly, there will be an exclusion of the nest buffer but, since there are already sizable “PACs” in the area, another PAC may not be needed. Actually, this area is perfect for goshawks, with plantations scattered between overstocked stands. There is more prey in a more open canopy. They can dart into an opening and be right back under cover in a hurry, if predators are about. I was even able to hear the goshawk’s alarm call, when a red-tail hawk was high overhead. I was also able to get it to reply to a noise I made with a piece of flagging. The rest of the crew looked at me kind of strangely, amazed that I knew so much about these birds.

  6. This is the kind of debate that needs to be informed by more than a news story. I don’t find information in the article to inform a debate about what’s wrong with the guidelines and how they could be made better.

    I have seen science indicating that goshawks prefer structure-rich forests. Greenwald, Crocker-Bedford, Broberg, Suckling, and Tibbitts. 2005. A review of Northern goshawk habitat selection in the home range and implications for forest management in the western United States. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(1):120-129.

    And evidence is lacking to support the often-touted claim by those trying to justify logging, that thinning opens the canopy to allow easier flight and access to prey.

    And Larry, the conflict between fire hazard and goshawks (and the implied harmony between logging and fire hazard reduction and therefore goshawks) is in your head, not so much in the real world. Goshawks prefer dense forests, They are likely harmed by density reduction. The extent to which forests would have to be logged to reduce fire hazard across the landscape would have far greater adverse impact on goshawks then would fire.

    See by analogy Mitchell, Harmon, O’Connell. 2009. Forest fuel reduction alters fire severity and long-term carbon storage in three Pacific Northwest ecosystems. Ecological Applications. 19(3), 2009, pp. 643–655

    • And yes, it IS a certainty that goshawks will be harmed when wildfire destroys their multiple nests, too! And, your lack of knowledge about the difference between nesting habitat, and foraging habitat, is quite glaring. No nesting habitat, no goshawks! Of course, the preservationist’s “Party Line” is that any damage due to wildfires (regardless of the cause) is minimal and benign.

  7. Someone told me the same thing about the goshawk guidelines about five years ago. Glad to see the researchers have done their due diligence with a ten year study- I wonder about a lot of the one-three year studies.


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