Filling the gap area preserve target of survey

TRAUNIK – The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy is trying to “fill in the gaps” with one of its nature preserves.

The eighth annual Debelak Bird Survey took place Sunday so the organization can monitor its management efforts at the 320-acre site.

Chris Burnett, PhD, UPLC program manager, said the preserve had become a monoculture. So, trees were removed, but in a careful, selected way.

“The forest is almost all sugar maple, which is not a good thing ecologically because it’s vulnerable to insects and diseases, having just one species – (a) monoculture idea,” Burnett said. “Also it’s not the greatest habitat, especially for birds, having just solid maple, so we wanted to diversity the species.”

Biodiversity, according to Burnett, is ultimate reason for doing the timber harvest, encouraging more tree and bird species.

“The old forestry term for that is group selection, so we cut groups,” he said. “We call it expanding gaps, because we cut these little patches, and the next time, 10 years later or so, we’re going to make those patches a little bigger.”

It’s a technique that was used a lot in Europe, Burnett said.

UPLC Treasurer Bruce Ventura said the middle will grow as the outer part gets cut.

“What you’re doing is letting more light in for those tree species that need more light,” Burnett said.

That alters the landscape, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Ventura said if someone were to fly over the area in 50 years, a gap would resemble a bull’s-eye with the big trees in the middle and the little or smaller trees next to them, with the mature forest around those species.

The preserve is dedicated to John Joseph Debelak (1922-78), Patricia Bresnahan Debelak (1923-2006) and their son Johnny (1967-95). The elder Debelak, according to a preserve sign, had respect for timber as a renewable resource.

Burnett said a project focus is increasing the percentage of species such as black cherry and basswood.

The project has generated money for the conservancy in that the timber harvest resulted in a $70,000 profit. However, biodiversity is the main focus, he stressed.

The preserve is home to unusual topography, one being fluted ground moraine, which Burnett explained was formed when glaciers interacted with limestone.

There also is a multitude of plant species on site, including blue cohosh, ostrich ferns, oak ferns, sarsaparilla, trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpit.

Birds were the focus Sunday, however, with the survey performed to look at the avian species the group is hoping to diversity by having the forest gaps, which were started about six years ago, Ventura said.

“We’ve been doing these bird surveys actually before that,” Ventura said. “We started just so we knew how to baseline, what’s there.”

Volunteers helped the UPLC Sunday, using a transect listening-stop method (wet areas and copious amounts of mosquitoes notwithstanding). Five point-counts lasting five minutes were conducted in the same locations as previous years, with all birds seen or heard recorded.

Sunday species included: black-throated green warbler, ovenbird, hermit thrush, mourning warbler, red-eyed vireo, blue jay, Eastern wood pewee, northern waterthrush and scarlet tanager.

Eighteen species were observed, down from 27 in 2013 and 25 in 2012. There also has been a downward trend in the number of individual birds seen in recent years. However, it was noted in the survey summary, written by Ventura, that because the data set from 2009 has been small, a real decline might not be occurring.

Instead, it might be due to varying weather conditions or a decline taking place not just in the Debelak Preserve but in other areas as well. Also, one of the points located far north of the others in an area not affected by the cutting of trees shows just as pronounced a decline, suggesting the habitat change caused by logging isn’t a factor.

As with many habitat projects, a wait-and-see approach probably is needed to determine long-term success.

“Our groups will get bigger over time, so they may have an effect,” Burnett said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is