In “the golden hours” over the past few days, I have been impressed with the influx of birds.
Aside form the typical midwinter presence of a few white-crown sparrows, western bluebirds, scrub jays and the occasional spotted towhee rummaging under the roses, the American robins are a sight to see.
Throngs of them have been streaming in from the north, resting in the valley oak by our back fence and feasting on the berries (more correctly, “drupes”) in our neighbor’s glossy privet tree. Perched in the oak, they face the setting sun, reflecting a red-orange glow.
It is a wonderful reminder: we share the world with beautiful, wild creatures. Birds rely on trees and when we do tree work we put them at risk. Appreciating this, and seeing a vacuum in knowledge, a trio of professionals — Kara Donohue of Southern California Edison, Ryan Gilpin of Hort Science, and Corey Bassett of West Coast Arborists — have researched and written a set of Best Management Practices for California: “Tree Care for Birds and Other Wildlife”.
In arboriculture, we have best management practices for pruning, safety, risk assessment and so forth, published by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and designed to help professionals implement Standards from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This new best management practice is recognized by ISA but not yet officially adopted and there is no ANSI Standard for it.
The Tree Care for Birds and Other Wildlife best management practice is not regulatory but it fills a gap in resources available for people working in proximity to wildlife. It is intended to help those of us in the tree care industry follow current laws including:
- The Migratory Bird Treaty Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
State of California:
- Primary fish and game code: Several sections protect various animal species, birds and their nests and riparian habitat.
- California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA): Where tree work is part of “a project” tree services may be required to undergo a CEQA review and follow mitigation measures.
- State of California Public Resource Code with respect to Electric Utilities: Line clearance: tree removals and pruning.
Tree care ordinances: Tree care is often regulated by local ordinances and policies.
Tree workers, tree service owners, and property owners all have responsibility to know and follow the law, so this new effort is a big help.
The best management practice is available online: BMP-Tree-Care-for-Birds-Other -Wildlife-2.26-18.2-pdf
The Tree Care for Birds and Other Wildlife committee participants represent professional tree care and wildlife advocates from California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii. They have not developed a wildlife awareness training program for arborists but the website treecareforbirds.com offers some resources.
One is a video titled “Awareness Training (Draft 2).” Narrated by Ryan Gilpin, its main points are: If you find a nest with eggs or young wildlife in it, stop working near it. Ultimately, the person who harms the nest is responsible. You might find an active nest any time and anywhere, though certain places and times are more likely.
The video explains how tree workers can evaluate a site for its habitat value and seasonal timing. The likelihood of work impacting wildlife is greatest in riparian and wooded settings and during the breeding season, primarily February through August here in northern California, though some breeding occurs during every month of the year.
Following the best management practice, the arborist categorizes the risk to wildlife. The Category suggests what level of training is needed in the situation, ranging from simple “wwareness training” to “wildlife trained arborist” and, in extreme cases, a “wildlife biologist”.
A pre-work inspection is critical to the process, taking time to look carefully at the site and the trees to be pruned or removed. Nests can be hard to find. They might be high in a canopy, inside a hollow limb, in the trunk, in the ground under roots or in a nearby tree.
Then there is the question: What constitutes a violation of wildlife laws? Removing a tree or limb with an active nest is a clear violation. Removing a different branch or nearby tree is a possible violation, whereas removing a distant tree is unlikely to violate wildlife laws.
It may take some planning to avoid harming wildlife and violating the law. When a nest is accidentally disturbed tree services should have handy the contact information for a wildlife rehabilitator. In Napa, we have Napa Wildlife Rescue (napawildliferescue.org, 707-224-4295).
In addition to following the law, respecting birds and other wildlife is good public relations for tree services and it is simply the right thing to do.