Despite lockdowns and how it seems as if the world has literally stopped spinning, bird conservationists have been working on plans for the upcoming years to help save birds across the country.
Facing significant challenges, The National Audubon Society, the nation’s largest bird conservation organization, had numerous victories in 2020 that are vital to the conservation of birds and their habitats. Whether at the local, state, or federal level, the Audubon Society worked at all levels to create changes that will influence 2021 and beyond.
The Most Crucial Victory: Migratory Bird Treaty (MBTA)
One of the Audubon Society's most crucial efforts was their work on the Migratory Bird Treaty. Many people are not aware that this treaty has been around for over one hundred years. It is the foundation for today’s bird conservation movement.
After the Department of Interior (DOI) moved to gut the MBTA in July amidst outcries from birdwatchers, environmentalists, and conservationists, the Audubon Society and its partners moved swiftly. After a tremendous fight against this rollback in federal court (National Audubon Society vs. Department of Interior), the Audubon Society was victorious in August. A notice was filed by the DOI on October 8 stating they intended to appeal the decision. Following this, California and Vermont both passed and enacted bills to reinstate bird protections to backstop federal rollbacks. Virginia announced its intentions to follow suit, issuing regulations to protect birds as well as creating a new permitting program.
Atlantic Puffin off the coast of Maine
Food Sources for Atlantic Seabirds and the BFI
In August, the Audubon Society gave Atlantic seabirds a desperately needed boost when they helped create the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission will coordinate and manage fishery resources. Healthier fisheries up and down the Atlantic coast will better support birds like the Atlantic Puffin and the Least Tern. Conservationists were vital in providing knowledge of how fishery practices affect birds as well as the health of the ecosystem.
A major breakthrough made by conservationists through the Audubon Society was the publication of a peer-reviewed article establishing a Bird Friendly Index or BFI. The index will monitor the impact of the society’s Conservation Ranching Initiative. This tool is the first of its kind to allow conservationists to assess how management actions and the context of surrounding landscape are influencing bird habitats. So far, findings have discovered that managing grassland habitats will increase bird species such as the Bobolink and the American Gold Plover. Management will also boost the resilience of these species, contributing to the conservation and protection of future generations.
See also: The Benefits of Bird Feeding
Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River in Nebraska
Protecting the Platte River
The passing of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Extension Act was a tremendous victory for conservationists in 2020. The Platte River in Nebraska is one of the most vitally important stopover sites for migratory birds of the Central Flyway. This is particularly true for hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes. The act governs water use and development along the Platte in three states and was set to expire in 2019. Because of steadfast efforts to get this act passed, the river as well as the habitats it provides for birds will be protected for years to come.
Protection for Shorebirds and California’s Nesting Birds
In another crucial victory, conservationists helped start phase two of the Tidal Marsh Restoration in the Bay Area this past fall. The goal of this ambitious project is to revive 400 acres of tidal marsh land in the San Francisco Bay area for wading birds. Plans for wider additional channels in the marshes will provide much needed resting habitats for shorebirds. These resting habitats provide a safe haven for shorebirds during high tide events and storm surges, events that have surged in recent years due to climate change.
In a win that would not be possible without the tireless efforts between Audubon and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, tri-colored blackbirds, California’s nesting birds, were saved from disruption by farmers. A total of 177,000 individual birds were saved.
2020 Youth Environmental Summit
Finally, in a move that will ensure bird protections and conservation for decades to come, the American Conservation Coalition and the Audubon Society teamed up for the 2020 Youth Environmental Summit. The groups brought nearly 100 young climate advocates together online for a two-day event with climate activists and scientists. Despite campus closings across the country due to COVID-19, attendees were given tools and training to advocate for environmental protections now and for the future. These young climate advocates will help keep the foundation of conservation strong as they continue the fight for birds and their habitats.
How Birdwatchers Can Be Conservationists
As birdwatchers, we are not just interested in checking off birds on our lists. Many birdwatchers, whether in their own backyard or traveling great distances, are concerned about the future of birds. Anyone can get involved in bird conservation at a level that is comfortable and convenient for them.
Joining organizations like the National Audubon Society is a start. There are chapters in every state that make attending conservation programs possible. Local chapters are a vital part of the society as they work at the state level on acts that protect species native to that state. In addition, members can get involved nationwide in conservation acts.
Additionally, birdwatchers can join the American Bird Conservancy, an organization that is dedicated to birds and their habitats through the Americas. The ABC encourages people to get involved in the fight to protect birds.
Despite the challenges and obstacles COVID-19 tossed in front of conservationists across the country, there were dozens of victories for birds in 2020. Many of these accomplishments will live on in the upcoming years, continuing to protect birds and their habitats. Still there is always work to do in the fight to protect birds and we can all step up to help. Working together, birdwatchers can impact the future of the birds they love to see, preserving and protecting them for generations to come.