I love watching birds. Sometimes I even get a bit obsessed with them... I love the amount of birdsong one can hear even in the Midtown region of Kansas City. It's nice to know they're out helping with pollination and spreading plant seeds, as well as keeping insect populations down.
A coalition of conservation organizations recently released the 2011 State of the Birds report. In it, our national public lands and the bird species living on them are examined for ecological successes or challenges.
The report had this to say about the general state of birds on American public lands:
Today, more than 850 million acres of land and 3.5 million square miles of ocean are publicly owned, including more than 245 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, 6,000 State Park units, 1,600 Marine Protected Areas, 550 National Wildlife Refuges, 350 military installations, 150 National Forests, and nearly 400 National Park Service units. These areas support our native bird species, many of which are declining...The report goes on to describe issues by where birds live: Aridlands, Grasslands, Wetlands, Arctic and Alpine, Forests, Coasts, Islands and Oceans. Because I live in the Midwest, I'd like to point out a few items regarding the Grasslands:
More than 300 bird species have 50% or more of their U.S. distribution on public lands and waters. Public agencies therefore have a major influence on the success of conservation efforts to restore declining species and keep common birds common.
Although birds benefit in part because most public lands are protected from residential and commercial development, increased protections and more effective management of habitats and bird populations are essential. Natural processes must be restored to ensure functional and resilient ecosystems through management actions such as control of nonnative species and diseases, prescribed cuts and burns to reinvigorate forests and grasslands, and water delivery and management to sustain wetlands. Many of these needs are expected to intensify because of climate change.
More than 97% of the native grasslands of the U.S. have been lost, mostly because of conversion to agriculture. As a result, grassland bird populations have declined from historic levels far more than any other group of birds.For more information, see the 2011 State of the Birds report.
Although only 13% of remaining grassland is publicly owned, public lands support 17% of the U.S. distribution of breeding and 20% of wintering grassland-dependent birds, indicating the value of public grasslands to birds.
More public grasslands specifically protected for birds and other wildlife are needed. Grassland bird conservation should be a higher priority on public grasslands with multiple uses.
Grassland birds are among the most consistently declining species in the United States. Forty-eight percent of grassland-breeding bird species are of conservation concern, including four with endangered populations.
Fortunately, grassland birds can coexist with other uses, such as livestock grazing, if habitat is managed with birds in mind. For example, grazing animals and grassland birds are both threatened by invasive plants that diminish the quality of grassland, so livestock owners and conservationists share an interest in combating invasive plants. Management practices such as burning, grazing, and mechanical intervention to resist invasion by woody plants can benefit both livestock and birds.
If you want to do something to help birds, I suggest the following:
- create a wildlife sanctuary in your yard
- volunteer with Kansas City WildLands locally to preserve indigenous plants and ecosystems
- donate to the Audubon Society, which works to restore ecosystems for birds and other wildlife
- ask your representatives to support funding for migratory birds
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