Fewer birds grace our skies. Once so numerous that their cries and beating wings created a deafening sound over California’s Great Central Valley, migrating flocks are disappearing. They have fallen to habitat destruction, water and food shortages and climate change. As the silence grows, so do the ominous implications.
California forms a critical part of the Pacific Flyway, a grand route of avian migration that spans from Alaska to South America. Birds traveling this pathway come to California to feed, rest and winter in the state’s wetlands and forests. They carry nutrients that enrich our soils—including agricultural lands—and play a vital role in the ecosystem as both predators and prey. Shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds and raptors also generate billions of dollars in revenue from birdwatchers and hunters.
California’s wetlands once supported 40 to 80 million waterfowl each winter. As more people moved into California, 95 percent of the wetlands were converted to farmland, cities and other uses. Despite the habitat losses, California still supports some of the largest concentrations of wintering waterfowl and shorebirds found anywhere in the world. The majority of these birds rely upon a quilt of managed wetlands and bird-friendly agricultural lands. But with California continuing to grow, these lands, and the water that supports them, are under constant threat.
The Nature Conservancy has worked for more than 50 years on projects that help protect migratory birds in California. Despite our success in watersheds such as the Cosumnes and Sacramento Rivers, migratory species continue to decline—not just in California, but globally.
Under these urgent circumstances, we have devised solutions for safeguarding migratory birds that can be implemented on a broad scale. Our plan is threefold:
With partners Audubon California and PRBO Conservation Science, we have formed the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership. Together, we will build on techniques we have developed over decades of work with California watersheds. We will expand our conservation reach by creating incentives for landowners to participate in restoration and for farmers to use bird-compatible field-management practices. We will also use rigorous science to pinpoint the amount, timing and quality of water needed to sustain migratory species and formulate efficient water-management plans that make sense for both birds and people.
If we are successful, our conservation models and policy solutions for migratory birds will not only help save the Pacific Flyway, they will assist conservation practitioners across America, and around the globe.March 07, 2013