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State of the Birds Report

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When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation.
Aldo Leopold, The Farmer as a Conservationist

Northern Harrier by Melissa Groo 


Legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold began his career in the U.S. Forest Service in the Southwest, where he learned about resource management on public lands. But as he returned to the Midwest where he was raised—and observed the tragedy of the Dust Bowl and a raft of New Deal programs aiming to restore farmlands—he came to understand how conservation of complete ecosystems is inextricably linked to conservation on private lands. Leopold wrote, “All the regulations in the world will not save our game unless the farmer sees fit to leave his land in a habitable condition for game.”

Today Leopold’s words could be adapted more broadly to all private landowners
and all wildlife, especially for birds. Half of the more than 200 American bird species analyzed in this report have 50% or more of their distributions on private lands. About 90% of the Prairie Pothole Region (our nation’s most productive waterfowl breeding grounds) is in private ownership. The story is similar for grasslands and eastern forest lands—both 85% privately owned, with greater than 80% of bird distributions on private lands.

This fourth State of the Birds report is the nation’s first review of bird distribution and conservation opportunities on private lands. In this report, you’ll read about threatened bird populations supported almost entirely by private landowners, like the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler of central Texas. You’ll also read about new models of win-win conservation on working lands, such as the Sage Grouse Initiative, where more than 700 landowners have joined an effort to manage ranchlands across 2 million acres in ways that conserve habitat—and create more nutritious forage for livestock in the process.

This report celebrates the many landowners across our nation who are exemplary stewards of habitat for birds, as well as clean air and water for their fellow Americans. Our report comes at a time when private lands conservation policy and funding is being considered for the future, and we hope our information and analysis will contribute to those efforts.

Private lands conservation takes many forms, such as incentives from government
programs, technical assistance from university extension services, and easements brokered by nonprofit groups. In all cases, though, the most crucial component is the eager, conservation-minded landowner. Thankfully, private landowners are volunteering to protect and restore the habitat functions of their lands. The demand from landowners willing to partner in conservation efforts is so great, in fact, it far outstrips the current availability of programs and initiatives. Government budgets may be tight, but this report demonstrates that private lands conservation is cost-efficient. Indeed, when government resources are paired with local and private resources in partnership with landowners, the result on the ground is often magnified—that ideal outcome where 1+1=3.

This report appeals to America’s land ethic. “The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself,” wrote Leopold. This report shows that private lands have critical conservation value, and that landowners can measure their yield not only in bushels and head and cords, but also in bluebirds, hawks, and canvasbacks.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee

American Bird Conservancy

Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Ducks Unlimited

Klamath Bird Observatory

National Audubon Society

National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc.

The Nature Conservancy

Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory

University of Idaho

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

USDA Forest Service

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

U.S. Geological Survey



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