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Shrubland Success in Clinton County

Freshly Cut High Density Clearing waiting on spring regeneration
Freshly Cut High Density Clearing waiting on spring regeneration. Full screen view
Bruce guiding NRCS staff through a Selective Tree Felling area
Bruce guiding NRCS staff through a Selective Tree Felling area. Full screen view
Three year old clearing area and corridor between two openings
Three year old clearing area and corridor between two openings. Full screen view

Early successional bird species - those that breed in young, disturbed, often shrubby forests - are consistently declining across the eastern United States due to loss of habitat. Over the past 50 years, various factors including fire suppression, farm abandonment, land development, and recolonization by second-growth forests, have shrunk the area of early successional habitat, squeezing out the species that rely on it.

By opening gaps, timber harvesting creates favorable conditions for bird species that prefer early successional habitat. In the past, clearcutting served as the primary method for regenerating forests, and previous research shows that clearcutting provides excellent habitat for early successional, shrub-adapted birds. Long term studies have confirmed that clearcutting may still be the best option for maximizing densities of many early successional bird species. Together, landowner Bruce Bennett, and NRCS have created hundreds of acres of this quickly declining habitat.

No matter the program, Bruce has been improving habitat on his property in northern New York with NRCS for nearly a decade now. With a total of 995 acres, he has in some way enhanced 331 of those acres through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Bruce is an avid bird hunter and a retired conservation officer who takes great pride in his land and the improvements he has made to the quality of habitat in northwest corner Clinton County.

Starting out small in 2007 with NRCS, he created a small opening, or as NRCS refers to it, a Heavy Density Clearing and a tree release with pruning. These practices allow the early successional habitat to get a jump start by leaving snags and smaller mast producing trees in planned amounts throughout the openings. After that successful contract completion it seemed he caught the conservation and habitat improvement bug.

When Bruce first came into the NRCS office he had a couple hundred acres of land and had been working with a forester to manage his timber stands, but not in the typical woo-land owner way. His main goal was habitat. Through the years Bruce has kept acquiring land and always comes to our office first to see if he can make suitable bird habitat on the property. He has secured ten separate Farm Bill contracts with NRCS and has all but two of them completed.

In the remote northwest corner of Clinton County one landowner is making a huge impact on shrubland bird populations and has been recognized by the Pheasants Forever organization as a showcase property. He is also planning a field day to his property with NRCS support, for educational and training purposes, and for other landowners and professionals to attend. The event is planned for September 5th, 2014.

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