By Bob Duchesne

Let’s say for a moment that we all leave the planet. It wouldn’t be long before the forces of nature reasserted control over the forest. Tall trees would shade out small ones, creating a towering canopy. But fire, beavers, and infestations would open up this canopy. The woods would become the patchwork quilt of habitat that it once was.

Granted, that kind of forest would not grow trees as fast or efficiently as a managed forest. Human intervention can make the wood basket more productive, but sometimes with the loss of habitat diversity for wildlife. Fortunately, we figured that out years ago. Most woodland owners recognize the value of managing for diversity.

There are over two dozen species of warbler that nest in Maine. Nine species of flycatcher, nine woodpeckers, seven thrushes, and seven finch species breed here. Each and every one of these birds occupies its own niche in the woods. Over the years I’ve been penning this column, I’ve used birds as the example of how rich in wildlife Maine’s woods really are. I could make the same point using examples of bear, deer, and moose. Or fishers, weasels, and martens. How we manage the land determines what critters live on it.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that every point I’ve been trying to make is already contained in one little booklet: “A Woodland Owner’s Guide to Forestry for Maine Birds.” It’s the result of a collaborative effort between Maine Audubon, the Forest Stewards Guild, the Maine Forest Service, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Perhaps you’ve seen it. I hadn’t.

A wealth of information is packed into its 15 pages. It spells out the differences between hardwood, softwood, and mixed-woods as they determine bird habitat preferences. It describes threats to forest songbirds. It uses 16 priority birds as bellwethers for the rest of the avian world. If these 16 birds are doing well, chances are the other birds are doing OK, too. And here’s the most interesting thing: A woodland with sufficient diversity to promote a variety of birds is also likely to be healthy for all the other creatures of the woods.

I was most fascinated by pages 12 and 13, which use your 10 fingers to illustrate how a bird looks at your woods. None of this is really new. Foresters, loggers, and landowners have been aware of these landscape benefits for years. I had just never seen it all consolidated into such a simple-to-understand diagram as this.

Maine Audubon informs me that MFS district foresters have hardcopies of the guidebook. It can also be downloaded  by clicking here. Indeed, the website, additionally, offers a much more extensive guidebook for foresters – and a new guide for loggers is expected to hit print this winter.

While you’re online, check out the resources provided at My Maine Woods, a collaboration between Maine Audubon and the American Forest Foundation.  Besides accessing the printed and online resources provided by the group, you can even arrange a free visit by a woodlot professional. Funding is available to help landowners write wildlife-friendly management plans.

Action speaks louder than words. The concepts outlined in all of these resources are being put into practice in the Lower Kennebec River watershed, a region that has a double challenge. Besides all the terrestrial habitat for birds and critters, the area has been identified as critical for restoration of Atlantic salmon and preserving brook trout. It’s no wonder the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation stepped up with funding to support collaboration and workshops in this watershed region.

All these partnerships stem from recognition of a simple fact. To quote the booklet, “Eighty-six thousand families in Maine own more than five million acres (almost a third of Maine’s total woodland acreage), in parcels as small as 10 acres.” The power to make a difference is in our own hands.

And what a difference we can make. There are bird-watching enthusiasts all over the southern states of our country. They will see our songbirds as they quietly migrate through. But they will never hear the dawn chorus as those birds take up nesting residence in our woods for the summer. Because Maine is the most forested state in the nation, it has a richness that other states can only admire. Those states have forests. But Maine’s forest is loud, and it’s up to us to keep it that way.

Posted in: Wildlife
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