The unprecedented "State of the Birds" Report 2009 caused a small stir in some circles during a week otherwise devoted to stories of unprecedented extortion by finance, insurance and real estate representatives in and out of the Obama administration.
The Wall Street Journal, in an apparent lapse of syntactical clarity, offered this line:
Among the more than 800 bird species in the U.S., 67 are listed as endangered or threatened by the federal government, the report says.
Certainly under the Bush administration, including the former president's parting shot at gutting the Endangered Species Administration (see last posting by Badlands), a wide variety of wildlife species in the US have been endangered or threatened by the actions and especially the non-actions of federal government agencies charged with their protection. As the collected works of former Department of Interior Inspector General, Earl E. Devaney, documented, these agencies were frequently in the pockets of the extortionists now destroying the national human habitat and economy. The most outrageous case Devaney investigated, involved oil and gas leases in Colorado, home state of Obama's Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar.
The Wall Street Journal continues:
Oil and gas development in the West, meanwhile, is affecting birds such as the Greater Sage-Grouse by fragmenting big blocks of their breeding grounds, the report says...The Obama administration has signaled it plans to take a more critical look at projects funded by the government that could threaten wildlife. It said earlier this month that it would put on hold a regulation issued by the Bush administration last December that would have allowed federal agencies to bypass consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when deciding whether new projects such as dams and roads could harm wildlife.
As the Center for Biological Diversity alert in our last posting indicates, there is a difference between a "signal" and a deed. Salazar is a known friend of oil and gas developers in the West, and the Obama administration has not yet closed the door on Bush's regulation changes. According to the bill, Salazar is only authorized to roll back Bush's ESA-gutting regulations for 60 days and the clock is ticking. What are Obama and Salazar waiting for? Blue Dog approval?
Abuse of that ESA, especially here in the foreclosure-rate capital of the nation, and in Florida, during the entire Bush regime, was an integral part of the national strategy of finance, insurance and real estate special interests -- with the greedy, witless aid of local, state and federal politicians in their pay and resource agencies -- that destroyed the global economy with toxic securities based on sliced and diced subprime mortgages. These are the same special interests, "too large to fail," now extorting trillions from taxpayers in bailouts.
Unemployment is almost 20 percent in Merced. State and local government here, as in many other places in the country, badly need relief funds (called "stimulus"), but if we can't find the imagination to make public work without suspending environmental law and regulation, it will be the result a hangover from a decade of ignoring the global environmental crisis. Earlier this month, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, our local Blue Dog big shot who has moved to Maryland, called on President Obama and the governor to declare his rotten borough "an economic disaster area." The 18th congressional district contains three cities, Stockton, Modesto and Merced, with the highest foreclosure rates in the nation for most of the last two years. Nor, according to the local press, is there any end in sight as housing prices continue to plummet and foreclosure rates to rise.
Efforts to gut the ESA during the Bush administration started with the three legislative attempts made by our famous local duo, the Pomboza -- former Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and Cardoza. In the midterm elections of 2006, environmentalists conducted a successful campaign to unseat Pombo, then chair of the former House Resources Committee (restored to its earlier title, Natural Resources Committee, in 2007 by Democratic Speaker Pelosi, D-SF).
The bird report is a fine piece of work. We urge readers to go to the website and read it and appreciate, particularly, the fine photography. The Interior department sponsored this collaboration of federal and state agencies, national environmental groups and universities. Fourteen scientists and 36 communicators, web designers and videographers produced it. Although rational people of good will may differ regarding the state of grasslands, wetlands and their associated species, the bird report is a compelling art work, complete with statistics and a whole section devoted to Hawaii, one of the president's home states.
All Salazar has to do is sign his name once or twice to restore the old Endangered Species Act. In a period that promises New Deal-like public works projects, it would be absurd if federal resource agencies that oversee the ESA were to receive larger budgets to administer a law that removes their important authority of consultation on environmental impacts with other federal agencies building those public works projects.
But this is no time to believe in bad dreams.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Wall Street Journal
Nearly One-Third of U.S. Bird Species Seen at Risk...STEPHEN POWER
WASHINGTON -- Nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in "significant decline" because of habitat loss, invasive species and other threats, according to a report released Thursday by the Obama administration that could ultimately lay a foundation for more regulation of development in certain areas.
The report cites among the threats to bird species energy development, suburban sprawl and agricultural practices.
For example, the report says high commodity prices for corn and other grain caused by growing demand for food and bio-fuels have put pressure on farmers to convert grasslands to crops, threatening birds' habitat. Oil and gas development in the West, meanwhile, is affecting birds such as the Greater Sage-Grouse by fragmenting big blocks of their breeding grounds, the report says.
The Obama administration has signaled it plans to take a more critical look at projects funded by the government that could threaten wildlife. It said earlier this month that it would put on hold a regulation issued by the Bush administration last December that would have allowed federal agencies to bypass consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when deciding whether new projects such as dams and roads could harm wildlife.
"We're hoping there will be greater heed to the science and just a greater consideration of wildlife" under the new administration, said Steve Holmer, a spokesman for the American Bird Conservancy. Mr. Holmer said actions to protect birds have tangible benefits, in the form of insect control and economic activity generated by bird watching.
A study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that wildlife watching generates $122 billion in economic output annually.
Among the more than 800 bird species in the U.S., 67 are listed as endangered or threatened by the federal government, the report says. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of "conservation concern," the report says.
The report says the birds of Hawaii -- home to more than a third of all the bird species listed as endangered or threatened in the U.S. -- are in greatest peril. Since humans colonized the islands in 300 A.D., according to the report, 71 Hawaiian bird species have gone extinct, and 10 haven't been seen in as long as 40 years.
The report is based on 40 years of data analyzed by the wildlife service, U.S. Geological Survey, state wildlife agencies and nonprofit groups, including the American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society.
For full report, see State of Birds, 2009 Report, http://www.stateofthebirds.org/
2009 News Release
Secretary Salazar Releases Study Showing Widespread Declines in Bird Populations, Highlights Role of Partnerships in Conservation
Washington, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.
At the same time, the report highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, offering hope that it is not too late to take action to save declining populations.
“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”
The report, The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.
In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. In addition, the report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline in birds of arid-lands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.
However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.
“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”
“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”
“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to healthy, thriving bird populations,” said Dave Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy.
Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.
“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”
Birds are beautiful, as well as economically important and a priceless part of America's natural heritage. Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.
The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Key Findings Summary
The State of the Birds
United States of America 2009
Many of our nation’s birds are sending us an important and troubling message about the state of our environment, according to an unprecedented report based on 40 years of data analyzed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. The report also shows that investment in conservation works, exemplified by the remarkable recoveries of waterfowl after more than 30 million acres of wetlands were restored and managed. Birds are beautiful, economically important, and a priceless part of America's natural heritage--and they are critical indicators of the health of the environment upon which we all depend.
The U.S. State of the Birds report offers heartening evidence that strategic land management and conservation action can reverse declines of birds.
Wetlands: Although many wetland birds show troubling declines, conservation programs have protected millions of acres and contributed to thriving populations of hunted waterfowl, herons, egrets, and other birds. Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, and several sea ducks are showing troubling declines, but most geese are increasing dramatically and many ducks have held steady.
Waterfowl: On the whole, 39 species of hunted waterfowl have increased by more than 100% during the past 40 years. Successful waterfowl conservation is a model for widespread habitat protection.
The report also reveals sobering declines of bird populations during the past 40 years--a warning signal of the failing health of our ecosystems. For example;
Hawaiian Islands: Threatened by habitat destruction, invasive species, and disease, nearly all native Hawaiian bird species are in danger of extinction if urgent conservation measures are not implemented immediately. Since humans colonized the islands in 300 AD, 71 Hawaiian bird species have gone extinct; 10 others have not been seen in as long as 40 years.
Oceans: At least 39% of U.S. bird species restricted to ocean habitats are declining and almost half are of conservation concern, indicating deteriorating ocean conditions. Management policies and sustainable fishing regulations are essential to ensure the health of our oceans.
Coasts: Half of all coastally migrating shorebirds have declined, indicating stress in coastal habitats besieged by development, disturbance, and dwindling food supplies.
Aridlands: The aridland birds indicator shows a 30% decline over the past 40 years. Unplanned urban sprawl is by far the greatest threat to aridland birds. A regional system of protected areas can enhance quality of life for people and enable birds to survive.
Grasslands: The grassland bird indicator shows nearly a 40% decline in the past 40 years, based on birds that breed exclusively in grasslands. Farm conservation programs provide millions of acres of protected grasslands that are essential for the birds in a landscape where little native prairie remains.
Forests: Representing eastern, western, boreal, and subtropical forests, the forest birds indicator dropped by roughly 10% from 1968 through 1980, then increased slightly. In eastern forests, the indicator dropped by nearly 25%. Sustainable forestry, landowner incentives for forest preservation, and urban greenspace initiatives can protect natural resources and help ensure the long-term viability of many forest birds.
Arctic: Because the Arctic is so remote, we lack quantitative information for most species. Arctic-nesting geese are increasing dramatically, but 38% of species that breed in arctic and alpine regions are of conservation concern. The future of arctic habitats and birds depends on our ability to curb global climate change and to explore energy resources with minimal impact to wildlife.
Game Birds: Of 19 resident game bird species, 47% of species of conservation concern. Cooperative partnerships have implemented landscape-level management benefiting both game and non-game bird species.
Marsh Birds: Secretive marsh birds are not well covered by current surveys, but the data we do have suggest relatively stable populations that fluctuate with wet and dry conditions. Marsh birds respond quickly to management and restoration efforts, and even small marshes can support large numbers of birds.
Urban Birds: More than 100 species of native birds inhabit urban or suburban environments. The indicator for these birds shows an increase of 20% over the past 40 years, driven primarily by a small number of very successful species such as gulls and doves. Creating greenspace for birds in cities can help adaptable urban birds as well as migrants stopping over during their long journeys.
Endangered Species: Four American bird species have gone extinct since the birth of our nation, including the Passenger Pigeon, once the world’s most abundant bird. The possibility of extinction is still a cold reality for many birds: 13 species may no longer exist in the wild (10 birds from Hawaii, plus Bachman’s Warbler, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and Eskimo Curlew). Several species face unprecedented conflict with humans from development, for example, in peninsular Florida, mid-continental prairies, coastal California, Texas hill country, and the Pacific Northwest.
•The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are federally listed as endangered or threatened. Additionally, more than 184 are species of conservation concern because of their small distribution, high threats, or declining populations.
•Habitat availability and quality is the key to healthy, thriving bird populations. That is why the report explores different habitat types and the threats they and the birds that depend on them face--and offers recommendations to protect and restore them.
•The U.S. State of the Birds report is the result of an unprecedented partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), state wildlife agencies, American Bird Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and other conservation organizations.
•Using new statistical techniques developed by U.S. Geological Survey and Audubon scientists, the report integrates long-term trend data from three bird population surveys: the North American Breeding Bird Survey administered by the USGS and the Canadian Wildlife Service, National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, and the USFWS and Canadian Wildlife Service Spring Waterfowl Survey.
•Each year, thousands of citizen-science participants from across the United States contribute data to these important surveys. However, little is known about the population trends of birds in many habitats, hampering our ability to help them. Greater monitoring efforts are needed to ensure that we can identify where birds need help--while we still have time to make a difference.
Suggested Citation for this Report:
North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee, 2009. The State of the Birds, United States of America, 2009. U.S. Department of Interior: Washington, DC. 36 pages.
A Special Thank You to Volunteers
Our understanding of the long-term health of birds depends largely on the thousands of bird watchers and biologists who volunteer each year for the Breeding Bird Survey, Christmas Bird Count, or many other monitoring programs. The dedication and skill of these citizen scientists reflects their love of birds and the natural world, as well as their concern for the health of habitats and our environment. Without the continued involvement of this army of volunteer observers, this and any future State of the Birds reports would simply not be possible. For more on how to participate in bird-monitoring programs see our Resources section.
Project Leads: Bob Ford, Paul Schmidt
Science Team: Brad Andres, Laurel Barnhill, Bob Blohm, Brad Bortner, Greg Butcher, Jorge Coppen, Charles Francis, Debbie Hahn, Mark Koneff, David Mehlman, David Pashley, Kenneth V. Rosenberg, John R. Sauer, Jennifer Wheeler
Lead Analyst: John R. Sauer
Communications Team: John Bowman, Connie Bruce, Miyoko Chu, Ashley Dayer, Steve Holmer, Alicia King, Sabina Lee, Pat Leonard, Ellen Marcus, Gemma Radko, Nicholas Throckmorton, Blythe Thomas, Nancy Severance, Joshua Winchell
Web team: Pat Leonard, Greg Delisle, Miyoko Chu, Gemma Radko, Susan Steiner Spear
Video team: John Bowman, Jason Kates van Staveren, Cameron Rognan, Union Green (Tony Marchesani, Douglas Kagan, Nelson Martinez, Nancy Hreha, Ellen Mineau), The Station (Jose Maria Norton, Hugh Broder), John Benjamin Hickey-Narrator. Videographers: Timothy Barksdale, David O. Brown, Eric Liner, Larry Arbanas, James Goetz, Benjamin Clock.
We thank the following people for reviewing or contributing to the development of this report:
John Alexander, Eleanora Babij, Breck Carmichael, Tom Cooper, Martha Desmond, Dan Dessecker, George Fenwick, John Fitzpatrick, Krishna Gifford, Richard Gregory, Catherine Hickey, Dave Howell, Dave Krueper, Marcia Maslonek, Larry Neel, Daniel K. Niven, Mike Parr, Melissa Pitkin, Terry Rich, Diane Tessaglia-Hymes, Scott Yaich, Emily Silverman, George Wallace, Jeff Wells, Roger Wells.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the lead in creating this report through an unprecedented partnership involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State wildlife agencies, and nongovernmental organizations as a subcommittee of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI).
The website, video, and printed report were produced for the partnership by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.