Goshawk management nets award

Efforts to research and protect northern goshawks on the North Kaibab Forest were recognized last week by the Forest Service's Wings Across the Americas program.

Employees of the Forest Service Southwestern Region Office, Rocky Mountain Research Station and Kaibab National Forest received the Research and Management Partnership Award for their project, "Ecology and Management of the Northern Goshawk in the American Southwest."

It was given at the 71st North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Columbus, Ohio.

For nearly 25 years, the northern goshawk has been considered an indicator species ­ that is, as goes the health of the goshawk population, so goes the health of the forest.

In 1990, the Southwestern region's regional forester established the Northern Goshawk Scientific Committee with support from the Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station to develop a credible management strategy. They released their first report in August of 1992. Titled "Management Recommendations for the Northern Goshawk in the Southwestern United States," it sets out a management strategy based on what the committee observed in the first two years.

Since it was established in 1990, the committee has done four multi-year studies. The longest running, started in 1991 and still ongoing, is "Distribution, Territory Occupancy, Demography, Dispersal and Habitat Quality of Northern Goshawks on the Kaibab Plateau, Arizona."

The work has been unprecedented in that it has occurred over the entire Kaibab Plateau ­ more than 800 square miles ­ and has involved more than 120 goshawk territories. 

"They studied the goshawk in an almost unprecedented duration and scope over the past 14 or 15 years," said North Kaibab District spokesman Scott Clemens.

The goshawk recommendations form the basis of the Forest Service's plan to manage forests in the southwest. By creating the kind of diverse habitat they believe the goshawk needs, not only for itself but to bring the forest back into balance.

Environmental groups disagree, saying that because goshawk prefers old-growth forest, trees over 12 inches in diameter should not be harvested.

According to Jonathan Beck of the North Kaibab Forest, part of the forest management plan is to create habitat for these prey species.

Conservation groups have sought limiting timber harvesting to trees no larger than 12 inches in diameter. But Beck said leaving just big trees don't create the best conditions for the goshawk.

"The goshawk needs high-canopy, mature old growth forests," he said. "But they need a mosaic of structural stages for diverse habitat for themselves and their prey. Properly managed it should not just benefit the goshawk but its prey."

Both point at a rise in the number of nest failures as a reason to take action. But they disagree as to the cause.

Environmental groups argue that forest management practices are responsible for the drop in reproduction and have filed suit to stop thinning initiatives.

The Forest Service, citing research by Dr. Richard Reynolds of the Rocky Mountain Research Station, says that the decline has more to do with drought and prey availability than it does with tree cutting.

The partnership's efforts helped determine the distribution and density of goshawk nests, diets, demography, habitat uses, mate and territory fidelity, home range characteristics, and the effects of forest management practices on goshawk populations.

Using a 1998 landscape assessment, the Forest Service presented its proposal in 2001 to treat an area known as the Jacob Ryan project. It called for removal of more than 260,000 trees ranging in diameter from below an inch to more than 28 in the district's north, including the Jacob Lake wildland-urban interface.

For more information on the Wings Across the Americas program, pleasevisit www.fs.fed.us/global/wings.

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