Ski resorts not harming thrush species, study shows

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(Host) A new report by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science concludes that existing ski area development has had little impact on a rare bird species.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Bicknell’s Thrush is an unusual bird that nests in the northeast at elevations above 3,000 feet. Researchers at VINS wanted to know what impact ski area have on the birds, so they did parallel studies on developed and undeveloped areas. The results show that Bicknell’s Thrush seems unperturbed by existing ski areas.

Chris Rimmer is the lead author of the report.

(Rimmer) “These ski areas actually provide some habitat that is very positive for Bicknell’s Thrushes and other birds. The dense edges of the ski trails often develop into a habitat that these birds relish.”

(Zind) The study focused on ski areas on Mount Mansfield and Stratton. Rimmer cautions that because these developments have been around for more than 40 years and since little is known about the history of Bicknell Thrush in Vermont, it’s difficult to know how new development would affect the bird.

(Rimmer) “What we don’t know is what happens when you take an undeveloped piece of mountain forest and develop it for skiing. Nobody has done the kind of before and after studies that you would need.”

(Zind) The study’s findings are included in a report prepared for the Olympic Regional Development Authority in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The authority plans to expand an existing ski area on Whiteface Mountain. The report suggests a number of ways the ski area can improve habitat and avoid disturbing nesting birds. Rimmer says they’re good guidelines for all high elevation development.

VINS has been working with Stratton Mountain Resort which has made a number of changes to accommodate Bicknell’s Thrush. Myra Foster is with Stratton. Foster says the resort has timed ski lift construction to avoid the nesting season. She says they’ve also discontinued lift runs to the summit for mountain bikers.

(Foster) “In response to the Bicknell Thrush results we have stopped offering that program to protect nesting and the birds in the summer.”

(Zind) Chris Rimmer says VINS plans to study how proposed high elevation wind power projects might affect the Bicknell Thrush.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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