Report: Waterbirds thrive while other populations decrease
RENO — A newly released report tracking bird populations in the United States finds that more than half of U.S. bird species are declining, including 70 newly identified “Tipping Point” species that have lost 50% or more of their populations in the past 50 years.
The State of the Birds, published by 33 leading science and conservation agencies, reports a steep drop in bird populations across all habitats (forests, grasslands, deserts, and oceans) with one notable exception. Waterbirds and ducks in the U.S. have increased by 18% and 34% respectively during the same period during which time sustained and significant investments in wetland conservation improved conditions for both birds and people.
“While the results in this report are alarming, it also gives us a blueprint for reversing this trend wherever needed,” said Tony Wasley, director for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “The increase in waterbirds and ducks is a direct result of coordinated and consistent funding that has included grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, sportsmen’s dollars, conservation partners like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, and money from the Federal Duck Stamp Program. The success speaks for itself. The challenge now is to replicate these efforts across all habitats to help reverse the declines in other bird populations.”
Wasley points to the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act as a possible option to provide sustained funding for future projects. RAWA is a federal bill that would provide state wildlife agencies nationally with up to $1.4 billion each year to implement State Wildlife Action Plans. These State Wildlife Action Plans identify species of greatest conservation need and their priority habitats, as well as the actions needed to manage and conserve them for current and future generations. If passed, Nevada would receive an additional $24 million annually. Combined with required state-provided match, NDOW would have more than $32 million each year specifically to conserve and manage the state’s natural resources.
The report points to proactive conservation as the most efficient and effective conservation strategy. Once bird species are endangered, they are at greatest risk of extinction and require additional funding, protections, and decades of work to bring them back. A strategic road to recovery will advance science-based conservation solutions and voluntary partnerships needed to tip the balance, to reverse steep declines before birds become endangered.
Habitat loss from agricultural conversion, industrial development, resource extraction, and other uses is the biggest overall driver of bird declines. Habitat degradation, where the habitat is less able to support birds due to invasive plants, poor water quality, and other factors, is a second biggest cause of losses.
“I think this report is a huge wake up call to everyone, but also shows what we are able to do with consistent and sustained funding when combined with appropriate conservation actions” said Jen Newmark, Wildlife Diversity Division Administrator for NDOW. “We need to take real action to bring the declining bird populations back. We have already seen what success looks like with the restoration efforts of our wetlands. Bringing back the other habitat types benefits everyone and clearly needs to be the current focus.”
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