YEAR OF THE BIRD
This May marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of the oldest wildlife protection laws in the United States, which prohibits the ‘taking’ of any migratory birds. Taking, under the MBTA is defined as “pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The MBTA protects over 1,000 species of birds and has saved the Wood Duck, Snowy Egret, and Sandhill Crane from extinction, primarily hunted for their feathers. We are always excited to find that occasional bird nest in a tree, generally in the winter when the leaves did not camouflage it from our view. They are truly marvels of construction. But many of our songbirds have evolved to live in the grassland habitat of the Great Plains, and with no trees, they nest on the ground. Prairie bird species, or ground nesters, are becoming increasingly rare as an Audubon Society report entitled Common Birds in Decline, reports 80 percent population decline for some species since 1967 and up to 50 percent decline for 19 other bird species. This study is mirrored in a 2009 report State of the Birds issued jointly by the Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups that has tracked a 40 percent decline in prairie bird populations over the last 40 years. The hazards facing prairie bird species are many including colliding with wind turbines or support wires (estimate 440,000 per year), cars and buildings (estimate millions), or predation by feral house cats (seriously estimated in the billions).
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the most prestigious studier of avian fauna in the world is concerned by another more overriding factor, and as Ken Rosenberg puts it “…the top three threats to birds overall is habitat loss, habitat loss, and habitat loss.” The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers to take land out of production and let it revert back to grassland, but since 2008, 23 million acres that were in the CRP have been converted back into production, mostly for corn ethanol. The only way to reverse this process of bird population decline, and really, in some instances, decimation, is, I hope as Ken would say, more habitat, more habitat, and more habitat. We know that thousands of seriously dedicated people across the country are saving native prairie remnants, rehabilitating compromised prairie remnants, or replanting new prairies and these actions are better than good. And we applaud each and every one of you. But we are really involved with a race against time and for migratory species saving an acre here and an acre there will just not solve the overriding problem of habitat loss for species that migrate.
So, we here at American Prairie Corridor believe a continuous migratory corridor spanning the Great Plains is part of the answer. We are devoting all our time and energy into creating this 1,471 mile long, 3-mile-wide, 2.7 million acre corridor through the Mixed Grass Plains from Mexico to Canada. Please join us and let’s truly devote this year of 2018 to the birds.