A controversial timber sale in north central Minnesota has been delayed while two University fish and wildlife scientists conduct research that may help mediate the controversy. This postponement marks the fourth time in two years environmentalists have stopped or postponed sales of federal land to logging companies in Minnesota.
Associate professor David Andersen and doctoral research fellow Clint Boal are researching the foraging habits of the northern goshawks, a pair of which is nesting in the 400-acre stand of trees slated to be logged. Their research has revealed the birds use a much larger area than the sale had set aside to protect the birds.
The birds are listed as a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Chippewa National Forest where the logging was slated to occur, but are not on the endangered species list, so there is no law protecting them.
The goshawk is a black and gray crow-sized raptor with red eyes. It feeds on animals such as mice and rabbits and is one of the few raptors adept at taking grouse.
The forest service sale allowed logging of the 400-acre site while providing a “no-cut” buffer zone around the goshawk nest. Environmentalists and paper companies disagreed on how much protection was needed for the goshawk nest.
Paper company officials argue that the forest service plan was too restrictive, while environmentalists believe the plan did not offer enough protection for the raptors. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy filed an administrative appeal to the sale and it was postponed for a two-year environmental assessment.
Andersen was sought by a coalition of paper companies, environmental groups and the U.S. Forest Service, which needed an independent third party to conduct research on the northern goshawk.
The researchers are now in the middle of a two-year project aimed at providing the coalition with information on the goshawks’ breeding and foraging habits in Minnesota.
“A breeding couple requires a foraging area in the thousands of hectares,” Andersen said. One thousand hectares are equal to 2,470 acres.
Both sides of the coalition are providing funding and assistance for the research. The parties include the National Council of Paper Industry for Air and Stream Improvement, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Audubon Society and the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa, whose reservation overlaps the Chippewa National Forest.
The band is concerned about the possibility of the goshawk being designated an endangered species, in which case the band’s access to the Chippewa National Forest would be restricted.
But Andersen said there are more questions about the bird than there are answers.
“There is no evidence that shows the goshawk is declining in population in the United States, but the bird’s behavior is relatively unknown,” he said.
The goshawk has never been studied extensively in Minnesota and rarely nests in the state. Since the research began last summer, only 16 nest sites have been located.
Currently six birds are being studied in and around the Chippewa National Forest. The researchers use radio-telemetry to pinpoint the birds’ movements. The goshawks are affixed with a half-ounce, thumb-sized radio beacon just above their wings. The tiny beacon signals where the bird is and whether it is sitting or flying. It is then tracked on foot or by plane.