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State of the Birds Report

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Improving Conservation


Citizen Support and Involvement

The American people ultimately have a tremendous impact on the state of our nation's public lands. For example, each year, revenue from migratory bird hunting and conservation stamps (“Duck Stamps”) are used to acquire essential waterfowl habitat as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System or Waterfowl Production Areas. Organizations and people can play a vital role in gathering data, advocating for actions, and supporting policies that protect birds and their habitats.

Five ways to influence conservation on public lands:

• Provide public input on proposed management plans. Advocate for the conservation of birds and other wildlife on public lands and waters.

• Support initiatives and policies that help manage public lands and waters for the benefit of birds and their habitats.

• Participate in citizen-science programs, such as eBird, that help inventory birds on public lands.

• Support organizations that play a role in conservation efforts on public lands.

• All bird enthusiasts can purchase a “Duck Stamp” to support protection of habitats for birds.


  Top image: Hermit Warbler by Brian Sullivan   
Public lands and waters are essential to sustain our nation’s birdlife. But this alone is not enough. Success depends on improved wildlife and habitat management, increased protections, and coordination among agencies.

A defining pillar of our American heritage is the extensive network of public land that helps fulfill our nation’s passion for outdoor recreation, our economic need for energy and other natural resources, and our daily reliance on healthy ecosystems. This State of the Birds report demonstrates the overwhelming importance of public lands and waters for sustaining the diversity of our nation’s birdlife.

Simply having public land, however, is not enough. Improved management and increased protections for birds and other wildlife are more important than ever before, as demands for resources and recreation escalate. Balancing those demands can be a challenge. The many government agencies entrusted with management of these treasures must often strike a delicate balance between use and sustainability of our public lands and waters.

Stewardship Across Agencies

Thirty-six percent of the U.S. landscape is managed by more than one hundred state agencies and primarily eight federal agencies. These agencies have different missions that ultimately affect birds and their habitats. Although public lands have varying degrees of safeguards against loss of biodiversity, multiple-use management based on agency missions and objectives has the potential to conflict with long-term bird and habitat conservation. These conflicts present challenges to maintaining viable populations of birds on public lands and waters.

This report highlights the shared stewardship responsibility across multiple agencies for birds in every major U.S. habitat. Increased coordination and cooperation among agencies will be necessary to implement conservation policies and actions at broad scales to reverse species declines and to minimize management conflicts on adjacent lands.

The U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is a forum of government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives helping federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations across the continent to meet their common bird conservation objectives. NABCI fosters collaboration on key issues of concern, including bird monitoring, conservation design, private lands, international objectives, and state and federal agency support for integrated bird conservation.

Bird conservation plans by federal agencies and partners establish blueprints for sustaining bird populations, including the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, North American Waterfowl Management Plan, U.S. Shorebird Conservation
Plan, and Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan, as well as plans for individual bird species. Many of the plans have been incorporated into Joint Venture Implementation Plans and State Wildlife Action Plans.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also can play a key role in conserving birds on land managed by different agencies. For example, almost 1,400 publicly owned properties, including National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks and Forests, military installations, and state lands, have been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs). IBAs are nonregulatory designations and are an effective way to educate the public about areas that are vital to threatened or large concentrations of birds.

Another important tool for improved management of birds and habitats across agency boundaries is Executive Order 13186 (Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds), signed in 2001, which directs federal agencies that have or are likely to have measurable negative effects on migratory bird populations to develop and implement a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USFWS regarding bird conservation on their lands. Although federal agencies may have differing missions, these MOUs help strengthen bird conservation efforts among agencies.

Canada Geese at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, New York, by Marie Read 

Major Challenges on Public Lands

Although each agency faces unique challenges on the lands it manages, several major issues affecting birds present huge challenges across all public lands and agencies. Prominent among these is the increasing demand for natural resources, especially energy, from public lands and offshore waters.

Bird- and wildlife-friendly guidelines and safeguards for wind and solar energy, natural gas drilling, and other energy development are urgently needed to minimize large-scale degradation and fragmentation of habitats and to prevent direct mortality from structures, including transmission lines.

Other large-scale challenges that must be addressed by multiple agencies include the proliferation of invasive species, including predators, pests, and diseases that threaten entire ecosystems, the need to restore natural fire regimes across complex landscapes, and a burgeoning human population that puts increasing pressure on the expanding urban interface.

Meeting these challenges will require a coordinated approach, as well as greatly increased resources for effective land management. In addition, all agencies must address long-term effects of climate change, including implementation of adaptation strategies and creation of corridors to connect public lands that serve as refuge for
vulnerable species. The vulnerability of birds to climate change was detailed in the 2010 State of the Birds report.


Publicly owned forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas depend on the support and action of all Americans to protect this natural
heritage for future generations.


Increasing human populations put
pressures on public lands near urban
areas, especially in coastal zones.
Photo by Gerrit Vyn
Meeting Information Needs

Without strong science and associated decision-making protocols, these difficult issues will unnecessarily jeopardize the health of bird populations. Bird inventories, surveys, and monitoring programs provide baseline information essential for assessments of status and trends of bird populations. Understanding how birds are faring on public lands, and their responses to human activities, can help us be better stewards of public lands and waters.

 Many agencies conduct research and implement monitoring programs that are vital to their missions of managing public lands. The National Park System, National Wildlife Refuge System, and USFS have inventory and monitoring programs that inform land and wildlife management decisions.

Without a multi-agency integrated appraoch, however, agency-specific research and monitoring provide limited information on broad patterns and trends. Conservation of highly mobile and widely dispersed bird populations requires a cross-agency, landscape-based conservation approach. Landscape Conservation Cooperatives represent a new inter-agency initiative that provides coordinated science support for agencies to address climate change and other large-scale challenges. 

In addition, bird monitoring programs can be improved through closer alignment with manage-such as marsh birds and seabirds, and making all monitoring data available

through web-accessible data-management systems. NGOs and citizenscience participants play a key role in extensive monitoring programs such as the Breeding Bird Survey, Christmas Bird Count, and eBird, which are essential for State of the Birds analyses and other conservation assessments. 

For more than 50 years, USFWS pilot-
biologists have surveyed North America's
waterfowl breeding grounds.Those studies,
completed in cooperation with the Canadian
Wildlife Service, represent the largest and
most reliable wildlife survey in the world.
Photo courtesy of USFWS
Thinking Beyond Borders

All public lands exist in a larger landscape, and birds do not recognize our administrative and political boundaries. Conservation of birds on our public lands will not succeed without equivalent efforts to improve habitats on surrounding private lands. Numerous government programs, such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and provisions under the U.S. Farm  Bill offer incentives and support for private landowners to conserve birds and other wildlife. These important efforts will be the focus of the 2012 State of the Birds report. 

More than half of U.S. birds spend a large part of the year outside of the U.S. We spend millions of dollars on their conservation in the U.S., yet unless we work to stop the decline of habitats beyond our borders, we are jeopardizing our investments to protect migratory birds at home. International conservation efforts rely on partnerships and local programs that can implement bird conservation on the ground. Continued support for international programs that foster these partnerships is essential. These include the USFS International Programs, USFWS International Affairs Program, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Southern Wings Program that facilitates state agencies' bird conservation work internationally.



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