owltalk 2000


12 March 2000


The windstorm of July 4th, accomplished in a matter of minutes, what no amount of planning could: it introduced the concept of uneven-aged stand management to the forest. Nature can be an effective land manager.


Before arriving in the North Woods, I had read, seen pictures, and heard accounts of the destruction. Last night I saw with my own eyes. Great swaths of trees are gone. The old and infirm, the young and promising. Snapped and bent like reed grass. With the trees gone, even gentle winds are brazen. Streams and creeks shout instead of whisper. Lights from distant cabins and resorts appear where for years they had been obscured.


Now the salvage is underway. A mechanical scrubbing of the earth, a hurried effort to remove nature's detritus and create a bare-ground cloak of security from the fires that will come.


I ponder the storm's impacts. Water will flow cloudy with distant topsoil; nutrients will be redistributed. Competition for remaining cavity trees will be fierce; first come - first served. Edge and open-forest wildlife species will thrive; interior forest species will move elsewhere. Kestrels will flood the area in the spring and martens will be pushed to peripheral forest tracts.


Only with time, however, will the effects of the storm on owls become evident. The Gunflint Route is integral to my listening surveys. It stretches from the Tip of the Trail to the Mink Lake Road. It supports diverse habitats and an equally diverse owl community. For the better part of 13 years, I have dreaded its length and marveled at its output. Now, I am curious. It's a new night.


Deep down, I know the owls will be impacted. Even under a dim moon, I could see that there aren't a lot of places to call home. Three of my old boreal owl nest trees are on the ground. Stands that have supported noisy groups of barred owls are no longer stands, they are no longer forest. Saw-whets returning from the south will move to the area and continue moving. Great-horneds will think they have found owl heaven.


I am fortunate in that I get to make a biologist's enviable comparison - a before and after portrait of a landscape and its owls managed by nature. My eyes and ears are eager. I am also optimistic, perhaps not in the short-term, but in the long-term. Even in view of the current destruction, I saw promise. In an open, pie-shaped wedge that stretched from the eastern to western horizon, stands of aspen and pines stood. Twenty and 30 year-old trees, their genetics firm. In 50 years, the canopy will be thick.  There will be insects and fungus and woodpeckers. Then, there will be owls. Again.


Copyright W.H. Lane