Takeaways from NACBI’s State of the Birds Report
In October, The U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NACBI) released their State of the Birds 2022 report, an extensive document that illustrates trends in bird populations based on habitat type, while highlighting conservation gains and losses. This most recent report highlights three main findings. Firstly, three billion birds have been lost from North America in the past 50 years, a metric of 1 in 4 breeding birds. Secondly, 70 species were identified as being “Tipping Point;” these species have lost two-thirds of their populations in the past 50 years and are on track to lose an additional 50% in the next 50 years. Finally, bird populations of every habitat type, except for waterfowl, have shown downward trends in population size and conservation status; this in particular exemplifies the immense success of policy and conservation funding, but also highlighting the need to diversify their allocation to non-waterfowl species.
The Delmarva Peninsula lies within the Atlantic Flyway, a major migratory pathway for North Americans bird species. This area contains numerous biomes of birds identified within the 2022 State of the Birds report: shorebirds, grassland birds, eastern forest birds, and waterfowl. Waterfowl are easily the most culturally significant species of bird on the Eastern Shore, as is evident from traditions such as the annual Waterfowl Festival, (which celebrated its 51st year this past weekend). Community interest has garnered attention and support from major conservation groups, such as Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy, with whom ELSC is proud to collaborate to advance waterfowl conservation. The steady increase in waterfowl populations has been largely driven through these partnerships implementing government funding for preservation and restoration projects, such as through the duck stamp funded Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) allocations through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA).
With programs in place to protect forest birds, such as issuing forest management plans specifically to limit disturbance to Forest Interior Dwelling Species (FIDS) of birds, there could be success in restoring these species. Protection of FIDS habitat through conservation easements is still a key concern and strategy for ESLC, with heavy focus on the protection of large blocks of woodlands within the region.
Grassland birds in particular direly need attention, as they are subject to the largest decline of any terrestrial biome since 1970; without intervention from conservation groups, they are not projected to make any improvements. Across the United States, more than 360 million acres (60% of native grasslands) have been converted for agricultural use or succeeded into forest habitat. The biggest challenge is finding the balance between the increased need for agricultural productivity and FIDS habitat, with land conversion focused specifically on grassland species.
Notably, the Report states that conservation is the fastest and most effective way to bring populations back to healthy levels, as evidenced by the successes already seen in waterfowl. Massive bird losses can be remedied with voluntary, incentive-based programs to bring habitat restoration to landowners willing to restore habitat, as well as advocating for the policy and funding in order to execute these programs. The success of existing conservation initiatives, such as NAWCA, are models to restore populations of other biome types. On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, such programs and partnerships are available through USDA/NRCS programs and the Natural Lands Project, of which ESLC is a proud partner. These programs have already been adopted by many Conservation Easement landowners, and are still available to be enrolled in. Through a Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund grant of $678,871 awarded to the Natural Lands Project, ESLC has committed to helping NLP’s goal of restoring 230 acres of native grasslands over the next three years in the mid-shore region.
Community awareness is a key first step to achieving conservation. Earlier this year, ESLC partnered with Lower Shore Land Trust to highlight the importance of bird conservation within our region and to highlight the success of current initiatives and organizations working towards various bird conservation goals. ESLC plans to continue to educate the community on the issue through a sequel series of bird conservation focused events in 2023. When we work toward conserving bird habitat, we are making an investment in a more resilient future against the impacts of climate change. Bird conservation and habitat restoration not only benefit the targeted bird species of concern, but all species within their biome that create healthy and biodiverse ecosystems – including the people that live and work within them.