Black-Backed Woodpecker Nest Density Study, Sierra Nevada

The Black-backed Woodpecker is a very rare bird that depends heavily upon dense, mature conifer forest that has recently experienced higher-intensity fire (in large patches) and has not been subjected to post-fire logging. In fact, the published scientific evidence indicates that this species is more restricted to recent higher-severity fire areas than any other bird species.

On rare occasions, however, Black-backed Woodpeckers are seen in unburned forest, leading some in the U.S. Forest Service to assume that there may be many of them nesting in the much more common unburned forests of the Sierra Nevada. The Forest Service has used this assumption to justify huge post-fire clearcut logging projects on our National Forests, suggesting that Black-backed Woodpeckers can continue to live in unburned forests so there is no harm.

This was also the justification that the California Commission of Fish and Game used to improperly deny the Petition to list the Black-backed as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

In order to put this question¬†to bed once and for all, Chad Hanson, Ph.D., JMP’s director, is working with a team of scientists and field surveyors, and is conducting the largest-ever field study of Black-backed Woodpecker nest density in burned and unburned forests of the Sierra Nevada.

The second field season will occur in 2015. This study will give us the most definitive, non-speculative information to date about the true population size of this species.


This scientific study is the subject of documentary being filmed and directed by Maya Khosla and produced by Dusty Foot Productions.

A rough-cut summary of the project is below for your viewing.