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The Good and Bad of the 2011 ‘State of the Birds’

The good news: In this year’s annual State of the Birds report put out by the Department of the Interior, we get the first ever assessment of birds on public lands and water.

The bad news: The report indicates things are looking pretty troubling for the nation’s birds.

The report, which was a collaboration between government agencies and a number of conservationist groups, was conducted as a part of President Obama’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative in an effort to underscore the importance of conservationism.

This report certainly underlines the need for conserving public lands since “publicly owned habitats support at least half of the entire U.S. distributions of more than 300 bird species,” and of the more than 1,000 bird species in the United States, 251 have some sort of conservation status, such as threatened or endangered.

The report broke down the alarming key findings in small tidbits:

– More than 75 percent of species in aridlands are declining and 27 percent are of conservation concern.

– The news from Hawaii is particularly disturbing. More birds are in danger of extinction there than in any other state.

– There are signs of “severe stress” in ocean ecosystems as 39 percent of birds dependent on ocean habitats are declining and about half are of conservation concern.

– Grassland birds are among the nation’s fastest declining because there hasn’t been much focus of conservation in those areas.

The positive aspect the report clings to is the fact that many birds depend on publicly owned habitats, so there is a lot of potential for federally sanctioned conservation of public lands.

In fact, the government sees this report as an indication for the need to protect federal lands. Not only will doing that protect birds, but it will also protect water supplies and recreational opportunities.

One thing many people don’t look at is the sheer monetary importance birds have on our economy. I wrote a post a few months ago about the economic value of birds, and it’s worth noting how important it is to protect birds.

Many people recognize the major issue now is getting funding:

“The State of the Birds Report describing the importance of public lands to our birds comes at a time of tremendous budgetary challenges and underscores the importance of maintaining support for the management of our precious public lands,” said George Wallace, Vice President of American Bird Conservancy.

As the country debates over funding issues with things like health care and public radio, it doesn’t seem likely, at least immediately, there will be a concerted push to finance significant conservation efforts.

However, with the Obama Administration’s commitment to funding America’s outdoors, there may an opportunity with federal funding to stop bird populations from declining because we should never until it’s too late for a species.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

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  1. […] you can raise awareness of the issues facing birds in the U.S. this Saturday by simply going birding in the morning, participating in field trips like the one at […]

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