Laws in place

Canada Warbler [photo: Donna Martin]
Canada Warbler [photo: Donna Martin]

There has been a lot of talk about Prince Edward Island forests post-Fiona, including the impacts on wildlife populations. The full-day Forest Resiliency workshop in Tracadie in early March was an excellent gathering of people concerned about how to protect and enhance forests.

Speaking with people during breaks, it occurred to me that one of the things we all need to know about is the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Nobody willingly tries to wade through a Federal Act unless they have a good reason, but this particular one is of great importance to those who love healthy forests and their wildlife.

In order to understand forests, we need to know what lives there. Just as humans are part of a forest, so are the almost infinite number of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, fungi, lichens… you get the picture. This complex community is extremely interdependent. The trees provide shade and food and nesting habitat, while the small mammals are busy planting acorns or spreading beneficial fungi. Insects are busy pollinating flowers that will eventually become food that is eaten by a variety of other creatures.

The purpose of this Act is to protect and conserve migratory birds and their nests. It does so by prohibiting the intentional or unintentional harming, disturbance or killing of migratory birds, including nests and eggs. Clearcutting woodland in the prime breeding season (mid-May to mid-July in this region) will always be having a negative impact on birds breeding in the area. This Act recognizes that migratory birds that breed in Canada deserve, and indeed must have protection, yet enforcement is almost non-existent.

Birds such as the Canada Warbler (pictured) winter in Venezuela and Peru, and then fly over 4500 km (2800 miles) to come to our region to nest and raise their young. That can be risky business for a tiny bird.

It is important to note that songbird decline is a very real thing. The world-renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently published the first-ever comprehensive assessment of net population changes in the U.S. and Canada. The study revealed that “the North American bird population is down by 2.9 billion breeding adults, with devastating losses among birds in every biome. Forests alone have lost 1 billion birds. Grassland bird populations collectively have declined by 53%, or another 720 million birds.”

There are many reasons for the decline, including habitat loss, pesticide usage, window strikes and cats. Staying with the Canada Warbler, the population of this beautiful and relatively uncommon migratory bird declined by 62 per cent between 1970 and 2014. It nests at the base of shrubs and fallen trees. In all my years of birding and looking for nests, I’ve never found one. You can imagine how difficult they would be to spot from the cab of a harvester. The federal government report found that, “The primary threats to Canada Warbler include land conversion of breeding and nonbreeding habitat, forest harvesting and silviculture, removal of shrubs, energy and mining exploration and extraction, overbrowsing, reduced availability of insect prey, and collisions with windows.”

At Macphail Woods, we have had a “silent season” since we started in 1991. Our agreement with the provincial government to manage 800 hectares (2000 acres) of Public Forest Land spells this out—wood harvest is prohibited during the sensitive wildlife nesting and denning season, from May 15 to July 15.

Enforcing existing legislation that protects wildlife populations already in serious decline is just one step towards creating healthy forests that would benefit all Islanders, including future generations.