State of the Birds: Successes of Protecting Bird Habitat on Private Lands
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released of the 2013 State of the Birds Report on Private Lands that shows how private land conservation incentives positively impact bird habitat.
“Our nation’s most effective conservation efforts are partnerships in which federal, state, and local governments work hand-in-hand with private landowners and other stakeholders,” said Secretary Jewell. “The programs highlighted in this report help build these voluntary partnerships to conserve the vital habitat of our many bird species. Many of these partnerships provide direct benefits to people such as improving water quality and supporting jobs and economic growth.”
Individuals, families, organizations, and corporations, including two million ranchers and farmers and about 10 million woodland owners, own and manage 1.43 billion acres, roughly 60 percent of the land area of the United States. Private lands are used by virtually all of the terrestrial and coastal birds of the United States, 251 of which are federally threatened, endangered, or of conservation concern. Many privately owned working lands that produce a bounty of food, timber, and other resources for society also provide valuable habitat for birds.
“Sixty percent of U.S. land is in private hands, making the efforts of farmers, ranchers, and landowners critical when it comes to creating, restoring, and protecting bird habitat,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Today’s report highlights the positive impact of voluntary conservation measures for birds, including those made possible by Farm Bill programs. The need for a long-term commitment to conservation is just one more good reason why we need Congressional passage of a multi-year Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.”
According to ABC’s George Wallace, who wrote the report’s chapter on islands, “To reach our ambitious bird conservation goals, we will need all possible partners, and that means private land owners have to be in the mix. In Hawai’i, approximately half of the land area is in private ownership, including important tracts of high elevation forest and nearly half of the state’s wetlands.”
The success stories highlighted in this report demonstrate that these voluntary efforts on private lands are resulting in meaningful bird conservation results:
· Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): Henslow’s Sparrow populations, which have declined more than 95 percent since the mid-1960s, have rebounded in areas through CRP. In Illinois, regional Henslow’s Sparrow spring bird counts are now about 25 times greater than 30 years ago, prior to CRP. The Illinois counties with the highest percentage of CRP acreage also have the highest Henslow’s Sparrow population gains. A recent study in the Dakotas suggested that if CRP acres were put back into annual crop production, populations of several species of grassland birds (including Sedge Wren, Grasshopper Sparrow, Bobolink, and Western Meadowlark) would experience significant population declines, ranging up to 56 percent.
· Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP): The Wetland Reserve Program has restored 2.6 million acres of private wetlands across the nation. WRP-conserved wetlands provide essential breeding habitat for waterbirds such as Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser, wintering habitat for 3.5 to 4.5 million waterfowl every winter; and migratory stopover habitat for shorebirds such as Black-necked Stilt and Greater Yellowlegs.
· Natural Resources Conservation Service Landscape Conservation Initiatives: The Sage Grouse Initiative has targeted Farm Bill conservation funding to enroll more than 700 ranchers and implement sustainable grazing systems that improve habitat on more than 2 million acres in 11 western states. The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, delivered through various Farm Bill conservation programs, is providing inland habitats for migratory waterbirds on more than 470,000 acres of private lands in eight states from Florida and Georgia to Texas and Missouri.
· Chippewa Flowage Forest Conservation Easement: This Forest Legacy project—a partnership of the Forest Legacy Program, Wisconsin Bureau of Forest Management and Trust for Public Land—created an 18,000 acre conservation easement of forest, wetlands, and exceptional wildlife habitat especially important for forest birds like Wood Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Black-throated Green warbler, and water birds like the Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Common Loon.
Fate of Critical Farm Bill Programs Uncertain Following House Votes
U.S. House of Representatives leaders unexpectedly witnessed the defeat a five-year Farm Bill that included major cuts to federal nutrition programs. After regrouping, a farm-only Farm Bill narrowly passed the House, setting the stage for a possible conference committee with the Senate-passed bill. Continued political wrangling over nutrition programs may still prevent the Farm Bill from moving forward.
Deborah Stabenow, Senate Chair of the Agriculture Committee, has vowed to get a complete Farm Bill passed that includes the Senate-approved funding level for nutrition programs. Here’s a report from July 2013 Bird Community E-bulletin:
|Farm Bill Disappointment
The U.S. Senate acted responsibly when it passed a Farm Bill on 10 June, setting some of the nation’s most important agriculture, food, and related conservation priorities. The multi-year bill would cost nearly $955 billion, however. Not surprisingly, the need for bipartisan agreement produced an awkward package that included, among other things, a $3.5 billion cut in conservation programs designed to help protect farmland and freshwaters. In the process, 23 existing conservation programs were also consolidated into 13 programs. Still, the bill included a conservation compliance provision re-linking crop insurance premium support to specific conservation practices, and it also included a national “Sodsaver” program to help safeguard native prairies.
The important conservation compliance provision, something not applied to federal crop insurance since 1996, came out of a vital agreement between commodity groups and the conservation community to sustain responsible farming practices – an action that would benefit soil, water, birds, and other wildlife.
A national Sodsaver provision in the Senate bill would “conserve native prairies, one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America,” said Bridget Collins, agriculture policy coordinator with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
But ten days later, in a move that shocked most observers, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass their own five-year, $940-billion Farm Bill. Their bill imploded on the floor in a struggle over Food Stamps, spending prospects, agribusiness subsidies, and other issues that caused conservation concerns to get trampled in the process. As it was, the House failed to consider an amendment that would have reflected the historic agreement between the conservation and agriculture communities to re-couple conservation compliance with crop insurance. And the House’s version only contained a regional Sodsaver program, one that would have applied to only the Prairie Pothole Region states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota.
In the meantime, enrollment authority for the bird-friendly Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Grassland Reserve Program is continuing through September up to the existing caps for these programs. But the 2008 Farm Bill expires on 30 September. “If we are left to another one-year extension, it is very likely the conservation programs will continue to be stripped down,” warned Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited.
This Year’s Migratory Bird Stamp Released – It’s not “Just Ducks”
From Paul Baicich’s “Great Birding Projects”: The 2013-2014 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (often called the Duck Stamp, and increasingly called the Migratory Bird Stamp) shows a Common Goldeneye painted by Robert Steiner. The stamp, of course, was originally created in the 1930s as a federal license for hunting migratory waterfowl, but “Ducks Stamps” have a broader purpose.
But waterfowl are certainly not the only wildlife to benefit from the sale of these stamps. Other birds, mammal, fish, and herps have benefited too! And people have also reaped the rewards. See http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/stamps.htm to purchase a stamp today.
Minnesota and Oakland, Calif. Adopt Bird-Friendly Building Requirements
The state of Minnesota and the city of Oakland, Calif., are the latest local or state governments to approve bird-friendly building design requirements. Oakland has adopted requirements similar to those established in neighboring San Francisco, Calif. in 2011, while Minnesota followed LEED’s (Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design) “Reducing Bird Collisions” program. In Illinois, several jurisdictions—Cook County, Highland Park, Lake County, and Evansville—have existing or pending guidelines while national legislation has been proposed in Congress.
“There is a growing awareness of and alarm about the very significant bird mortality that is occurring across the United States as a result of bird collisions with buildings,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager at American Bird Conservancy. “Studies suggest that as many as one billion birds die from such collisions each year.
Dr. Sheppard worked extensively with officials in San Francisco, along with Noreen Weedon from Golden Gate Audubon, to develop the city’s bird-friendly requirements. Sheppard has been presenting continuing education classes on the issue to architecture firms across the country upon request, and authored the only national publication on the issue: American Bird Conservancy’s Bird-Friendly Building Design.
Minnesota’s bird-safe building guidelines address eight major areas, including: pre-design site selection; schematic design; design development; construction documents; construction administration; construction; correction period; and ongoing occupancy. The guidelines specifically recommend such things as planning deterrent facades for areas that are bird attractants; reducing bird collision “traps”; monitoring of bird impacts during the building’s first year; and incorporating Lights Out program concepts.
For more details see http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/130626.html.
Senior Policy Advisor
American Bird Conservancy & Director, Bird Conservation Alliance