In the face of truly epic challenges to birds, habitat, and human health, Audubon has its sights set on large-scale conservation that ties together and complements local, on-the-ground efforts. That’s why Audubon is committed to building powerful partnerships. We can’t imagine a more potent partner than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So here’s the big news: As the USFWS moves toward using charismatic species as one of the most critical organizing principles for its work, Audubon’s new strategic plan fits nicely into the broadest vision for conservation in America.
In fact, Audubon’s core-habitat strategy, pioneered to protect greater sage-grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem, is one of the most important models being considered by the USFWS. Our Central Flyway work has already protected 15 million acres in the U.S. West and helped steer energy development to areas where impacts on birds are minimal.
It’s a simple concept: 1) identify priority birds at conservation risk; 2) do what’s needed to protect the habitat most critical for that species; and 3) in the process, preserve an ecosystem along with its values and importance for people. This fall that approach will be the focus of a forum of conservation leaders Audubon is hosting in collaboration with the USFWS as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The goal is to expand the approach to other imperiled species and habitat across the country.
For example, the disappearance of native woodlands along western rivers has made the western yellow-billed cuckoo a candidate for the endangered species list. But by focusing conservation on the remaining large tracts of cottonwoods and willows, we can help save the species and protect other wildlife in the region.
In the East, mountaintop mining and other development have ravaged forests where cerulean warblers breed, triggering decades of population declines. By identifying the places—the Important Bird Areas—most critical to this tiny bird, we can map its future.
We’ve proposed eight focal species, spanning the Western Hemisphere’s four flyways, to the USFWS. Each is an effective environmental barometer and ambassador for protection of its habitat; each has potential on a broad scale of landscape, backed by strong data to guide conservation; and each can focus and galvanize meaningful action.
The USFWS’s response to our list of species was enthusiastic. The agency’s director, Dan Ashe, said this in a letter to me: “I see great potential in cooperating with Audubon to develop common species-based objectives and to work together to ensure landscape-scale conservation is achieved.”
I’m grateful to the USFWS for this opportunity to help shape what I believe can be a game-changing approach to conservation.