Choate vegetation management project

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Project Design Criteria: The following measures will contribute to maintenance of black-backed woodpecker habitat components:

Do not mark for removal any active wildlife den trees.

Cumulative Effects
The cumulative effect for the black-backed woodpecker are assessed at the project area scale. This scale is large enough to encompss the territory of a black-backed woodpecker.Cumulatively the past, proposed, and future activities have and will continue to focus on the aspen component in the project area. The aspen stands are not primary habitat. Harvestof these stands would have removed some potential feeding sites and may have had some small negative cumulative effect on potential black-backed woodpecker habitat in the project area. The proposed aspen harvests will also remove some decadent aspen that may have been potential feeding habitat, and this will be a small negative cumulative effect. The distribution of these treatments across the landscape has been concentrated in the upland stands. Lowland conifer has not been managed, and therefore, has been improving in quality. This trend will likely continue in the foreseeable future.

Potential negative effects to black-backed woodpeckers from this alternative are direct and indirect, but are relatively minimal. The best quality habitats (the white cedar and mixed lowland conifer swamps) would not be treated. These 1,073 acres are not scheduled for any harvest treatments. They will continue to provide the core of the potential black-backed woodpecker habitat in the project area. The maintenance of this conifer habitat will out weigh the aspen harvesting and as a result no long term negative cumulative effects to the black-backed woodpecker are expected.

Strix nebulosa (Great Gray Owl) Regional Forester's Sensitive Species

The great gray owl is the largest owl (L 27”) in North America. It is dusky gray with lengthwise stripes on the underparts, prominent facial discs, yellow eyes, and no ear tufts. It is found from central Alaska to the Canadian/United States border and southeast to south-central Ontario and the Great Lakes (Evers 1991 539in the Michigan Breeding bird atlas.); NatureServe, 2000). Movements to the south occur in years of food fluctuations. Breeding great gray owls have been reported in Chippewa, Mackinac, Marquette, and Gogebic Counties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Hayward and Verner, 1994c). The breeding effort for Gogebic County was reported in 1984, and the nesting occurred the spring following a very large winter invasion of great gray owls in 1983-84. There has been no indication or record that breeding has occurred in Gogebic County since that time. The exact location of the Gogebic County report is unknown, but parts of Gogebic County are within the proclamation boundary of the Ottawa National Forest.

The great gray owl is normally a boreal species, preferring spruce and tamarack bogs in the far north and coniferous forest with open meadows in the south. They will also use dense mixed coniferous and hardwood forests and are more likely to be found near water. Nests are in the top of broken off tree-trunks, large snags or in old nests of other birds. Hunting is done over open, grassy areas or open woodlands; they are occasionally seen hunting during the day (Evers, 1991; Duncan and Hayward and Verner, 1994c; NatureServe, 2000; 10/11/2000). Prey consists of small mammals, especially small rodents (Hayward and Verner, 1994d). Management needs include providing suitable habitat including large snags and protection of nesting areas from excessive activity during nesting season (Hayward and Verner, 1994c; NatureServe, 2000).
There are no observations or sightings of great gray owls in the Choate VMP. This project area is far south of the great gray owls usual range, and the habitat in the project area is probably not optimum based on habitat for this species reported in the literature. The project area does provide some potential lowland conifer habitats and upland openings for foraging areas. The effects discussions for the great gray owl are similar to the black-backed woodpecker.

Alternative 1 (No Action)

Since no additional management would occur under this alternative, potential great gray owl habitat would be changed by natural succession. Most areas currently providing potential habitat would continue to do so. Generally, natural succession in the suitable forest types would increase habitat quality through recruitment of large snags and dead trees for nesting sites. Large natural disturbance events such as wind or fire would also create an abundance of snags and damaged trees. Potential impacts to great gray owl would be indirect and largely positive through natural succession or natural disturbances. There would be no opening maintenance in this alternative and these are the habitats that great gray owls would be foraging in. Over time the increase in shrubs and trees would reduce the foraging potential of these sites and lower the potential quality of these areas. This would be a long-term negative effect on potential habitat for great gray owls.

Cumulative Effects

The Project Area was used as the cumulative effects area for this species; past, present and reasonably foreseeable future events have been summarized previously in this BE. Acreage figures by ownership, by forest types, and other parameters have also been summarized previously in this BE.

Past harvesting of some of the mature aspen may have had a minor effect on reducing some potential nesting trees and nesting sites. The effect is minor because a large amount of mature aspen remained in the project area to provide potential nesting sites. Generally, the Ottawa does only limited forest management in the boreal forest types that are considered the best habitat for this species.
Relative to future actions, there is no future harvest scheduled at this time.
Other activities, such as recreation and road maintenance, would continue and effects on great gray owls, which are thought to be minimal, would not change from the current condition.
The potential impacts to great gray owls from this alternative are indirect, and spread over the long-term. There would plenty of potential nesting areas in aspen stands. The boreal forest and lowland conifer forest types would remain intact changing very slowly due to succession. Without maintenance the openings would slowly convert to shrubs and trees reducing the amount of potential foraging habitat. Without a resident population these changes in the condition of the potential nesting and foraging habitat cannot be regarded as cumulative to great gray owls.

Alternative 2 (Modified Proposed Action)

The modified clear cuts on 1,027 acres would remove the mature aspen, which would remove the canopy to stimulate growth aspen suckers and regenerate a new stand. This treatment might remove some stands of mature aspen that would have potential as nesting sites for great gray owls. The recent clear cuts will provide some short term (1 to 4 years) potential foraging habitats, until the regeneration grows to several feet in height. There will still be stands of mature aspen remaining in the project area that can provide some potential nesting sites.

Under Alternative 2, about 256 acres would receive management treatment. Individual tree selection harvest in northern hardwood stands would not affect potential great gray owls or potential habitat because these forest types are great gray owl habitat. Treatmentof these stands would not have any direct or indirect effects on potential great gray owls..

Thinnings in 309 acres in in northern hardwood stands, and red pine plantations would open the canopy considerably, which would result in increased understory growth of trees, shrubs, and forbs. For the same reasons listed in the preceeding paragraph the 309 acres of thinning harvest cuts should not have any direct or indirect effects on potential great gray owls or potential habitat in the project area.

Although there is some chance of minor indirect effects upon potential individual great gray owls due to the proposed harvest treatments, these effects are not expected to impact any potential population. The actions in the modified proposed action do not include any treatments in forest stands predominately comprised of boreal forest species (i.e. black spruce, white spruce, balsam fir, and cedar), therefore the 1,073 acres of potential great gray owl habitat in the project area will not be impacted. This alternative is not expected to produce any direct effects on the potential great gray owl habitat in the project area.

The maintenance of 362 acres of upland openings will be a positive direct effect on potential great gray owl foraging habitat in the project area. The removal of woody vegetation will maintain the open condition and provide habitat for prey species.

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