Whiteface Unit Management Plan Protects Rare Songbird

By AlpineZone News |
Sep 22 2006 - 02:23 PM

RAY BROOK, New York — In 2003, during planning for additional ski trails (Tree Island Pod) in the high elevation zone of Whiteface Mountain Ski Area, the Bicknell’s thrush, a species of special concern in New York State, was introduced to many people in the North Country for the first time. This bird is a neo-tropical migrant, spending the winter almost exclusively in mountain forests in the Dominican Republic and spending the summer breeding season here in the mountain regions of northeastern United States. The Adirondacks and White Mountains of New Hampshire contain the majority of the breeding habitat for this species.

Bicknell’s thrushes live in the thick spruce-fir forests above 2,800 feet on Adirondack mountainsides. This bird especially prefers “fir waves,” which can be seen on Whiteface and Esther Mountains. Fir waves are a natural phenomenon of patterned forest disturbance, and they work such that the tallest trees are the first in line to be exposed to prevailing winds and rime ice. The tall trees die and shorter trees grow up in their place, but these trees eventually get exposed to the elements and die. This cyclical pattern continues and appears as a moving “wave” of dead and regenerating trees across the mountainside. Fir waves make hiking very challenging, as anyone who has ever climbed Esther Mountain can attest. But this environment is just what a Bicknell’s Thrush likes.

As part of the unit management planning efforts for the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area, a working group was formed that included representatives from the Adirondack Park Agency, Olympic Regional Development Authority, Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Adirondack Council, Audubon New York, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. This extraordinary partnership has resulted in an ongoing study of Bicknell’s Thrush and its habitat on Whiteface Mountain. Recommendations from the working group were incorporated by ORDA into the final unit management plan for the ski area and included the relocation of trail development away from areas on the mountain deemed sensitive.

Ted Blazer, Chief Executive Officer for the Olympic Regional Development Authority stated, “ORDA is a willing partner and proud to be included in this joint stewardship effort. It is our goal to educate our residents and guests that as we enjoy the mountain environment and the modern amenities within, there is a sensitivity that we are all mandated to exhibit toward the wildlife, including Bicknell’s Thrush at Whiteface. I am happy that we will enhance this process not only with words, but also with deeds.”

The members of the partnership signed a Cooperative Agreement on August 11 during the regular monthly meeting of the Adirondack Park Agency Board in Ray Brook. A very important component of this agreement is the establishment of a Bicknell’s Thrush Mitigation Fund, a unique international effort, which recognizes that conservation and scientific initiatives are important both in the bird’s North American habitat as well as in its Caribbean wintering grounds.

Adirondack Park Agency Chairman Ross Whaley said, “This is an excellent example of working cooperatively with the best interests of the Adirondacks at heart. Whiteface Mountain is a world-class ski destination that happens to be located on Forest Preserve. ORDA has kept that in the forefront during this planning process. We have a unit management plan before us that reflects the underlying theme of the state land master plan “to protect the natural resources of the Park” and will result in improvements that enhance Whiteface Mountain’s appeal to local skiers and tourists alike.”

“This agreement demonstrates a far-reaching commitment to conserve habitat for this species of special concern,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan. “DEC and our partners are safeguarding the Bicknell’s Thrush nesting habitat on Whiteface Mountain, and with other initiatives like the Bird Conservation Area program, open space preservation successes and ongoing habitat improvements in the Adirondacks and throughout the State and we look forward to building upon these conservation efforts.”

Michael Glennon, ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Communities and Conservation Program, said, “As a science-based organization, we have been pleased to help ensure that good research and good science have been informing the Whiteface planning process on Bicknell’s Thrush breeding grounds. We are pleased that this initiative expands our reach as a coalition of organizations and agencies to the thrush’s wintering grounds, which are critical for the protection of the species.”