Nov 21 2019
by Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA)
The report “Decline of North American avifauna” published in the journal Science highlighted serious, ongoing concerns about the sustainability of bird populations in North America. As members of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, we work with each other, as well as leaders of state and federal agencies, to conserve critical habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife across North America.
The findings of the report indicate that America’s bird populations have declined 29% (3 billion birds) since 1970. These are concerning numbers, especially for future generations of wildlife enthusiasts. Although the report does not examine the causes of declining bird populations, we know that loss of habitat is a critical factor.
At the same time, the report is not all bad news and provides us with a path to recovering declining species and delivering conservation for birds and other wildlife.
For many years, groups such as Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the National Audubon Society and the California Waterfowl Association have worked to build public support for waterfowl habitat conservation, raising funds and partnering with federal, state and local governments to restore and conserve wetlands and other waterfowl habitat. As a result of their work, the report found that waterfowl populations, despite continuing threats, have thrived in recent decades and are stable at a time when many other species are in decline.
This partnership-based approach to conservation provides a road map for success, and programs like the Federal Duck Stamp provide us with the tools we need to ensure the enjoyment of migratory birds for future generations. The Duck Stamp provides funds for the Department of the Interior to conserve and enhance habitat through voluntary and perpetual conservation easements. In fact, these voluntary easements are some of the most important and impactful conservation tools landowners can use to protect habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife for generations.
Our farmers and ranchers are some of the greatest stewards of our land and water, and voluntary conservation programs for private and working lands help producers implement more environmentally friendly agricultural practices. Programs, like those funded through the Farm Bill, provide private landowners with the tools they need to implement more sustainable practices on their land. These practices improve the sustainability of their operations and protect and enhance habitat for wildlife while improving their bottom lines.
Congress can take an important step to restore and promote even more habitat for birds by reauthorizing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. The measure provides grants to increase bird populations and wetland habitat, while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, family farming and ranching. These easements also provide all Americans with other benefits, such as flood mitigation, cleaner water and cleaner air.
Conservationists and policymakers concerned about the most recent report on our declining bird populations can look to the gains made in waterfowl and wetlands conservation as an example of the good we can do. By working together with farmers, ranchers, conservationists and other stakeholders, we will ensure the enjoyment of all birds for future generations of outdoor enthusiasts — just like we have with waterfowl.
Sen. John Boozman is a Republican from Arkansas; Sen. Martin Heinrich is a Democrat from New Mexico; Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat, represents California's 5th Congressional District; and Rep. Rob Wittman, a Republican, represents Virginia's 1st Congressional District.
This was printed in the November 21, 2019 edition of USA Today.