The Wild Nature Institute's goal is to ensure that research on forest fire, insect outbreaks, and wildlife is translated into improved forest-protection policies and effective forest-management activities that conserve snag forests, also called complex early seral forest: a critical, scarce, and misunderstood wildlife habitat.
A disconnect exists between the science and public opinion about impacts of high-severity fire and insect epidemics, with the public mistakenly believing that these disturbances destroy wildlife habitat. This false assumption that fire and insects are destructive to wildlife is providing the underlying basis for increased logging. Yet logging—including thinning in the name of fire reduction, and salvage logging of burned trees—is actually the greatest threat to the forest ecosystem.
Forest fires, insect outbreaks, and other disturbances are natural elements of healthy, dynamic forest ecosystems in the western United States, and have been for millennia. Exciting scientific research has demonstrated that many species of plants and animals increase in abundance following high-severity forest fire and insect infestations. Research conducted by Wild Nature Institute scientists and The Institute for Bird Populations found that California Spotted Owls--a species that was previously assumed to be harmed by high-severity fire--prefer to forage for their small-mammal prey in intensely burned forests when that habitat is available. Predatory woodpeckers are strongly dependent upon disturbances: Black-backed Woodpeckers are the most specialized of all birds to eat wood-boring beetle larvae in intensely burned forests and are rarely encountered in unburned areas, and American Three-toed Woodpeckers are far more abundant in forests with spruce beetle epidemics than other areas. In turn, beetle populations can be regulated by these predatory woodpeckers. Far from being a threat, high-severity fire and insect outbreaks actually provide great benefits to forests and many wildlife species.
Western forests have evolved to naturally thin their trees when the forest becomes thick, through forest fires, insects, or disease. These processes cull the weak and make room for the continued growth of stronger trees. Fallen dead trees are recycled in the forest nutrient cycle to feed the soil. After forest fire or beetle outbreaks, green forest naturally regenerates without the need for human intervention. Tree seedlings sprout and grow, and nitrogen-fixing shrubs and forbs replenish the soil and curb erosion. In the meantime, standing dead trees (snags) and logs provide critical shelter for many types of animals, from woodpeckers and bluebirds to flying squirrels and Pacific fishers.
Wild Nature Institute scientists conduct targeted studies of forest fire and insect effects on Spotted Owls, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and other forest wildlife. These studies contribute to our understanding of the important role of natural disturbance in forests and counter false reasons for increased logging. Our scientists have extensive experience with outreach to the public, media, policymakers, conservation organizations, and other scientists. We apply this experience to ensure that the results of our research and related studies on the ecological importance of natural disturbances reach a broader audience.
Here are some of Wild Nature Institute's Science about Sang Forests
Wild Nature Institute's Monica Bond and Colleagues Call For a New Forest Fire Paradigm That Embraces the Ecological Values of High-Severity Fires
· Bond et al. 2016. Foraging habitat selection by California spotted owls after fire.
· Lee and Bond 2015. Occupancy of California Spotted Owl sites following a large fire in the Sierra Nevada, California.
· Lee and Bond 2015. Previous year's reproductive state affects Spotted Owl site occupancy and reproduction responses to natural and anthropogenic disturbances.
· DellaSala et al. 2014. Complex early seral forests of the Sierra Nevada.
· Odion et al. 2014. Effects of fire and commercial thinning on future habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl.
· Lee et al. 2013. Influence of fire and salvage logging on site occupancy of spotted owls in the mountains of Southern California.
· Bond et al. 2013. Diet and home-range size of California Spotted Owls in a burned forest.
· Lee et al. 2012. Dynamics of California Spotted Owl breeding-season site occupancy in burned forests.
· Bond et al. 2010. Winter movements by California Spotted Owls in a burned landscape.
· Bond et al. 2009. Habitat selection and use by California Spotted Owls in a post-fire landscape.
· Bond et al. 2009. Influence of pre-fire tree mortality on fire severity in conifer forests of the San Bernardino Mountains, California.
· Bond et al. 2002. Short-term effects of wildfires on spotted owl survival, site fidelity, mate fidelity, and reproduction.
Wild Nature Institute just completed our 30th survey for giraffes and other ungulates in the Tarangire Ecosystem, giving us a total of 5 years of demographic data. We are monitoring the survival, reproduction, and movements of more than 2,100 individually identified giraffes using photographs of their unique spot patterns. We also are monitoring the seasonal distribution and density of 22 species of hoofed mammals throughout the ecosystem. We use this information to understand population dynamics and develop effective conservation measures for these magnificent animals in this coupled human-natural landscape. Check out some of the scientific publications that have come out of these data here.
We are very grateful to our donors and supporters who have enabled us to do this critical work, including the Sacramento Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Safari West, Rufford Foundation, ERM Group Foundation, Dartmouth College Cramer Fund, PAMS Foundation, Craigslist Foundation, Greater Sacramento Association of Zookeepers, One Today, Zoos and Aquariums Committed to Conservation, Earth Sticker LLC, Asilia Africa Oliver's Camp - and our many wonderful individual donors.
Wild Nature Institute is excited to be rolling out our new giraffe-themed environmental education materials here in Tanzania. We are distributing a Swahili-English version of our Juma the Giraffe children’s book, a beautiful poster about giraffe physiology (made by David Brown and Chris Barela), an activity book in Swahili (made by Megan Strauss), and more copies of The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest books. Several schools have been using the materials, including the Burunge, Mbwiba and Maswa areas. Thank you to PAMS Foundation and Friedkin Conservation Fund for distributing the materials to these areas, and for these wonderful photos.
We also thanked Oliver’s and Little Oliver’s camps in Tarangire National Park for providing long-term logistical support for our giraffe work, by giving Juma the Giraffe to all 42 of their Tanzanian staff members! They can take the books back to their families and communities throughout the country to share the message. Thank you to Asilia Africa, especially Oliver's and Little Oliver's camps.
By: Dominick DellaSala
Original Post at Elsevier SciTech Connect on September 26, 2016
As a newly minted biologist in the 1980s, I cut my intellectual teeth capturing spotted owls for radio telemetry studies and investigating owl prey needs in dense temperate rainforests of the HJ Andrews Experimental Station just east of Eugene, Oregon. At the time, the owl was considered the quintessential canary in the coal-mine. Widespread destruction of its old-growth haunts led to unprecedented reforms in forest management across nearly 25 million acres of federal lands within its northern range.
We learned this – as goes the spotted owl, so too does a larger community of mature forest specialists and the prodigious ecosystem benefits that these forests provide. That remains the case today but we know more about owl biology, the most intensively studied threatened raptor in the world, because of painstaking investigative work of biologists like Monica Bond. Bond recently synthesized new field data in several locations revealing that spotted owls actually use burned forests and are not harmed by fire.
There are three subspecies of spotted owls that range from temperate rainforests of southern British Columbia (although nearly extinct there) and the Pacific Northwest to dry forests along the eastern Cascade Crest, Sierra-Nevada, southwest, and Mexico. That’s a lot of forest area to cover. As one traverses the expansiveness of the drier forests, the chance of encountering a wildfire increases dramatically.
In a Darwinian sense, specialists win when habitat remains fairly constant as in rainforests where fire is the exception. But this flips in dynamic systems – being flexible (or adaptable) wins where fire is the rule. As it turns out, spotted owls can do both, otherwise how could they have existed over such a wide range?
Think kitchen and bedroom.
Large fires in dry forests produce mixed effects on vegetation along a fire severity continuum: Some areas untouched (fire refugia) or lightly burned (low severity), others torched (high severity), and most in between the extremes (moderate severity). In nature, variety is the spice of life and mixed-severity fires are nature’s architects of “pyrodiversity,” which, in turn, begets biodiversity.
A resilient owl sees the forest for more than just the green trees. Fire-free areas with big trees still provide the familiar bedroom environment; nearby, scorched areas with standing dead perch trees, fallen logs, newly established shrubs, and scores of seedlings become fully stocked with recolonizing small mammals, especially gophers, a preferred food item in burned landscapes.
After a fire, owls may shift their territories around, as Bond discovered, to take advantage of newly created foraging “hot spots” while continuing to roost and nest nearby. But this kitchen-bedroom juxtaposition works only if owl territories are not logged after fire. Logging repossesses the bedroom furniture and turns the kitchen into a wasteland. As Bond’s research aptly notes, it is often difficult to separate cause from effect when owl sites are abandoned after fire since logging is the raison d’etre of the Forest Service in post-fire areas. Unlogged, productive nest sites are almost never vacated if burned foraging habitat is left standing.But the spotted owl continues to amaze. Just when biologists think they had it all figured out as to what constitutes a “forest” for owls, we have to recalibrate our ecological understandings. As it turns out, both blackened and green forests are equally valuable to owls and have intrinsic beauty for those that can see the forest the way the owl does.
The owl’s true nature remains old-growth dependent in relatively fire-free wet areas but is more of a mixed bag in dry forests as this raptor is just one of the many occupants of nature’s fire “phoenix.” Mixed-severity fires will continue to replenish habitat for all species – fire colonizers/fire avoiders – along the post-fire continuum, if we let them.
Climate change could upset this push-pull between burned and unburned periods by making fires more intense or frequent, and possibly both in places. But logging forests to prevent fires or save owls from climate change induced fires, as often proposed, will do neither. Logging to reduce flammable vegetation is known to degrade owl prey habitat and can lead to more intense fires if logging slash is left on site. It also typically produces more emissions than the largest forest fires given that for logging to influence fire behavior, which is not even possible in extreme-fire weather, huge swaths of forests need to be cleared, leading to expansive damages and substantial emissions.
If there is one thing that I have learned over the years is that nature is full of surprises, paradigms are for smashing by investigative biologists like Monica Bond, and always, always, get out in the field. Check your perceptions and pre-conceived notions at the door or test them as hypotheses to be refuted. That’s the power of investigative science.
To learn more read Monica Bond’s article The Heat Is On: Spotted Owls and Wildfire recently published in the Reference Module in Earth and Environmental Sciences. Hosted on ScienceDirect, the Reference Module combines thousands of comprehensive and encyclopedic articles into one interdisciplinary database. Every Month the content is reviewed, updated and new articles are commissioned where needed to ensure the latest developments and discoveries are included. Achieve more with this empowering resource, learn more here.
About the Author
Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala is President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute (www.geosinstitute.org) in Ashland, Oregon and was President of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America Section (http://www.conbio.org) from 2008-2014. He is an internationally renowned author of over 200 technical papers on forest and fire ecology, conservation biology, endangered species management, and landscape ecology. Dominick has given plenary and keynote talks ranging from academic conferences to the United Nations Earth Summit.
He has appeared in National Geographic, Science Digest, Science Magazine, Scientific American, Time Magazine, Audubon Magazine, National Wildlife Magazine, High Country News, Terrain Magazine, NY Times, LA Times, USA Today, Jim Lehrer News Hour, CNN, MSNBC, “Living on Earth (NPR),” several PBS documentaries and even Fox News! Dominick is currently on Oregon’s Global Warming Commission Subcommittee on Forest Carbon and is Editor of numerous scientific journals and publications.
His book Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation received an academic excellence award in 2012 from Choice magazine, one of the nation’s premier book review journals. His recent co-authored book– The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix – presents groundbreaking science on the ecological importance of large fires. Dominick co-founded the Geos Institute in July 2006. He is motivated by his work to leave a living planet for his daughter and all those that follow.
The release of a new study today suggesting there are four species of giraffes is the latest piece of scientific evidence indicating giraffes belong to more than one species. Fennessy et al. (2016) sampled natural giraffe populations from across their range in Africa and performed genetic analyses that indicated four species should be recognized. Previous work by Brown et al. (2007) did similar analyses and suggested six species for giraffes, although there was evidence for more or fewer species within the data (see figure below). The genetic definition of species does not yet have a universal criteria, but work in coalescent species delimitation shows promise, and additional data will surely refine the species structure for giraffes and other organisms. Whatever the final number of giraffe species, the fact that giraffes as a whole are declining, with some populations numbering only in the hundreds of individuals, should ring alarm bells around the world and inspire action to conserve the world's tallest animal. There are likely more surprises hidden in the genome of giraffes, and we are also still learning about wild giraffe population biology and ecology. All these knowledge products are necessary to conserve giraffes, and Wild Nature Institute is proud of our partners and peers in the field and throughout the conservation community who are working to save the giraffes.
Wild Nature Institute Scientist Dr. Derek Lee publication on "Giraffe Demography and Population Ecology"
Wild Nature Institute scientist Dr. Derek Lee has co-authored with Dr. Megan Strauss a publication on "Giraffe Demography and Population Ecology" that was published this week by Elsevier Press as a Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences.
Population ecology studies the processes that cause the number of organisms in a population to increase or decrease. Population size through time reflects the combined outcome of three demographic processes: reproduction (births), survival (or its inverse, mortality), and movement (the combination of immigration and emigration). This article summarizes current knowledge of demography and population ecology of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) and provides a framework for using population models when developing and evaluating conservation and management efforts for giraffes (or other large herbivore species). For conservation to succeed, it is critical that we are able to detect changes in population size and the demographic processes in the population, and also we must learn how to effect change in population size by managing specific demographic components. Learn more about how Wild Nature Institute's giraffe research is helping protect these amazing animals.
The paper is available from Science Direct, or by request from the author
Wildlife Clubs around Tarangire recently had a lesson about Giraffes, the national animal of Tanzania, using the giraffe-themed environmental education materials developed by Wild Nature Institute and PAMS Foundation. These high school students appreciate that wildlife conservation is important to Tanzania's ecology, economy, and culture. Giraffes are becoming endangered throughout Africa, the only continent where they live, due to habitat loss and illegal killing called poaching. Wildlife-based tourism is the largest sector in Tanzania's economy and as a result, Tanzania has 32% of it's land in protected areas. The students are participating in Wildlife Clubs as an extra-curricular activity because they want to learn more. The core of our giraffe-themed conservation education project is Juma the Giraffe, and we developed some great teaching resources to go along with the book. We also printed an awesome poster explaining how wonderfully weird giraffes are that was designed by David Brown and Chris Barela. Wild Nature Institute's giraffe research is helping current and future conservationists like these students to understand how people and giraffes can live together for the benefit of all.
New research from Wild Nature Institute scientists published today in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases documented 'Soil correlates and mortality from giraffe skin disease (GSD) in Tanzania.' Giraffe skin disease is a disorder of the skin that is characterized by crusty lesions on the posterior forelimbs of adult Masai giraffe. Monica Bond, lead author of the study, said, "Identifying ecological correlates of a pathogen helps wildlife veterinarians and managers understand risk factors, and data from individually identified animals reveal whether the disease affects survival. This is the most recent step in our ongoing investigations into this emerging disease." The disease was first reported in 2000 in Ruaha National Park in central Tanzania. Previous work by Wild Nature Institute scientists found an interesting spatial pattern in the prevalence of the disease.
The latest results built on that earlier finding and found giraffe skin disease was most prevalent on low fertility soils (as measured by cation exchange capacity or CEC, a common measurement of soil fertility). If parasites such as nematodes or tsetse flies are involved in giraffe skin disease, differences in soil may influence ground-dwelling life stages. Soil characteristics may also impact the nutritional status of giraffes through vegetation quality, thus affecting their susceptibility to the disease.
"We found no mortality effect of giraffe skin disease in Tarangire National Park," said Bond, "indicating that currently giraffe skin disease is unlikely to warrant immediate veterinary intervention in this park." Movement of infected giraffe remains an unexplored aspect of GSD effects, but limited mobility could lead to lower survival or reproduction if climate, habitat, or predation factors change from current conditions in Tarangire. Monitoring in Tarangire will continue to ensure early detection if GSD-afflicted animals begin to show signs of increased mortality or other negative effects.
Learn more about Wild Nature Institute's Masai giraffe research and conservation work at www.wildnatureinstitute.org/giraffe.html
Monica Bond has spent the past 15 years studying spotted owls and forest fire. This week, Bond published an article summarizing existing science about what happens to spotted owls when forests burn, in the hope of averting a major US forest management policy disaster.
US Forest Service (USFS) manages 11 million acres of public forest land in California's Sierra Nevada. The USFS has a new California spotted owl conservation strategy and is revising its forest management plans for Sierra Nevada national forests. These documents will guide how national forests are managed for the coming decades, and they are deeply misinformed about fire.
The status of spotted owls tells the USFS how its management activities affect old-growth species. Since 1993 when the USFS began managing for California spotted owl habitat, populations of spotted owls have crashed on USFS lands. In contrast, spotted owl populations are stable in National Parks Service (NPS) lands. Both USFS and NPS lands have wildfires, but NPS lands are not logged. Logging on 1.2 million acres of USFS land in the Sierra Nevada between 1994 and 2014 is driving spotted owl declines.
In Bond's summary paper, published by Elsevier Press as a Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, she presents a data-driven narrative describing how forest fires, including big, severe megafires, have no strong negative effects on spotted owl populations. For example, in the largest and most comprehensive Sierra Nevada study to date, burned and unburned owl territories had the same probability of being occupied—even when about a third of the territories' area burned at high severity. "The lack of effect was remarkable because we found it repeatedly," said Bond. "We kept investigating different aspects and the story didn't change. Owls were harmed by logging, not by fire."
These results make perfect sense in light of the history of the Sierra Nevada. Forest fire in the Sierra is typically mixed severity, meaning it includes some large patches of high severity fire, and is as natural and necessary to forest health as rain or sunshine. "The increased abundance and diversity of plants and animals in high severity burns tells us the Sierra Nevada's flora and fauna evolved with regular high severity fires." said Dr. Richard Hutto of University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation.
However, Bond's results are troubling to the USFS and scientists on the USFS payroll. The new California spotted owl conservation strategy was written entirely without consulting Bond. A forest oversight organization asked the USFS to include her, but those requests were ignored. The USFS gets billions of dollars each year to fight fires, and millions more to administer sales of public lands trees to timber companies under the pretence of reducing fire risk.
The three studies that examined spotted owl responses to logging all showed negative impacts from fuels reduction thinning. Thirteen scientific papers found no strong negative effects of high-severity fire on owl populations. Yet the USFS plans promote logging under the pretence that logging will save the owls from fire.
Bond concluded, "There is a US forest policy train, about to leave the California station, which aims to promote widespread logging on public forests. The logging will be expensive, ineffective at stopping wildfire, and ecologically damaging, and it will be paid for by the taxpaying citizens of the USA. We must change the track."
More information:  Bond ML (2016) The Heat Is On: Spotted Owls and Wildfire. Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.10014-4
 11 years of occupancy data from 41 burned breeding sites before and after 6 large fires, were compared with 145 long-unburned control sites during the same period (Lee et al. 2012).
Read at: http://phys.org/news/2016-08-degrading-national-forests.html#jCp
Juma the Giraffe is our wonderful children's book, and we offer free teaching resources to help guide discussion about the story and educate children and adults about giraffes.
Get a poster, matching game, mask-making pattern, and much more at
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