Helping to Conserve Birds - National Level

Participation in bird conservation on the national level generally involves group political activities. As a member of the Audubon Society, which disseminates information on bird conservation through its magazines, Audubon and FieldNotes, or other conservation-oriented groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the National Wildlife Federation, you can remain informed about issues of importance. You can support the activities of The Nature Conservancy, which raises money to purchase habitats that are important for conserving various species. You can also become an associate of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University, which is a major center for documenting the conservation status of North American birds. It needs your financial support, and in return will send you its interesting publication, The Living Bird Quarterly.

Participation in bird conservation on the national level can, however, also involve individual contributions such as those offered in exchange for the annual duck stamp which is available through most U. S. post offices. Although its purchase is required by waterfowl hunters over the age of 15, popularity of the stamps is increasing as nonhunters begin to collect them. As of 1984 some 3.5 million acres of wetland had been purchased with the $285 million revenue from stamp sales. The program happily weds the harvesting of a living resource and the preservation of its habitat, helping to assure that the resource will be available to future generations.

The conservation of birds can hardly be separated from the broader problem of conserving Earth's organic diversity as a whole. The Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University has a mission somewhat different from other conservation groups. It is concerned with providing current scientific thinking on conservation issues to those involved in the design and management of nature preserves. It holds workshops for preserve managers on strategies of conservation for organisms as diverse as Spotted Owls and grizzly bears. Center scientists also carry out research projects. For instance, they have used the array of isolated mountain range "islands" of moist habitat in Utah and Nevada as a model to identify the essential characteristics (size, shape, habitat diversity) for preserves for birds, mammals, and butterflies. Another of the center's research programs is aimed at developing projections of the rates of bird species extinctions in tropical rain forests by applying island biogeographic theory to a computer data base of bird distributions and rates of forest destruction.

Some conservation organizations help to coordinate national political action (letter writing, lobbying, reporting on the activities of congressmen and of members of Parliament, etc.) needed to encourage our leaders to take the steps necessary to preserve the biological riches of the United States and Canada. These steps include legislation such as the United States' Endangered Species Act and laws protecting migratory birds, as well as more general environmental legislation. It is important, for example, that you support legal abatement of acid precipitation, which is damaging freshwater and forest habitats. Many avian populations ranging from those of aquatic birds, such as loons, which depend on freshwater fishes, to those of woodland species are threatened.

Too many American and Canadian decision-makers seem unaware that, to a large degree, humans compete with birds (and most other animals) for both habitat and food resources. Pressing for steps to limit (and then gradually reduce) the scale of human activities on our continent is perhaps the most basic action we can take to ensure a future for its nonhuman residents.

SEE: The Decline of Eastern Songbirds; Wintering and Conservation; Island Biogeography; Birds and the Law; Helping to Conserve Birds -- Local Level.

Copyright ® 1988 by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye.