VT Expert: Pipeline Clearcutting Threatens Virginia Bird Population Breeding and Habitat

Photo Credit: Bob Schamerhorn

Virginia migrating bird species still face significant threats to breeding and loss of habitat, despite a temporary halt to clearcutting for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, says a Virginia Tech avian ecologist.

“Habitat loss is the biggest problem facing bird populations, particularly those species that have already been in decline,” said Ashley Peele, a research associate in the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech . “When habitats are impacted by clearcutting, the effects aren’t limited to the area where trees have been actually removed.  The quality of surrounding habitats are also negatively impacted for a number of migratory species, especially those that require forest interior habitat to breed.”

For migratory birds specifically, the spring breeding season is the time ornithologists are most concerned about. Peele believes it’s extremely important that this time-of-year clearcutting restriction is upheld.

Quoting Ashley Peele

  • “Everything from owls to warblers to orioles and tanagers – the brightly colored songbirds that we get excited about seeing return in spring – will come back and use the same nest site year after year.  So it is an important factor to consider when we think about altering breeding habitats.”
  • “There are few birds that would not be disturbed or impacted by this type of activity. Everything from a raptor species – a hawk – to a small songbird is may be very disturbed by clearcutting, especially if it’s near the nesting site.”
  • “We get into some tough conversations about the value of wildlife, but at the end of the day I think that there’s something to be said for maintaining the eco-systems that evolved in these spaces that we now occupy. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are able to maintain themselves and to remain healthy in the long term.”

Ashley Peele is a research associate in the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech. She coordinates the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas, a statewide effort to document population distribution and status of all species of birds that breed throughout Virginia, a five year project which is now starting its third field season.

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