Sixty percent of the United States is private property. So it makes perfect sense that the fourth annual State of the Birds report—produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the help of Audubon and other conservation groups—explores this crucial question: What role do private landowners have in conserving the nation’s birds?
The report shows how much a wide range of vulnerable species, from California condors to greater sage-grouse, count on “working lands” for survival; it also makes it clear that ranchers and farmers who factor wildlife into the way they manage their lands are true conservation heroes. And it sounds an urgent call for encouraging more private landowners to sign up for government programs that protect natural resources.
Where birds thrive, people can prosper, points out Alicia King, communication coordinator for the USFWS’ Migratory Bird Program. “Using birds as bellwethers of our environment is a great way to gauge how we’re doing—it’s not an either/or situation.”
The report sets conservation goals for wetland, grassland, arid land, forest, coastal, and island habitats. For instance, the report notes that 90 percent of the northern Midwest’s prairie pothole region—King describes the area as the United States’ “wetland nursery of waterfowl”—is privately owned, and that much of it is rapidly being converted to cropland. To slow this trend, the report advocates offering more generous compensation to the region’s farmers who keep the land in its natural state. This is also one of Audubon’s longstanding objectives, one the organization has spent years trying to cement by promoting legislation that encourages conservation.
“The support for many of those practical solutions is disappearing because a dysfunctional Congress can’t pass the farm bill,” says David Yarnold, Audubon’s president and CEO. Vital parts of the legislation, he says, “allow landowners to participate in programs that promote conservation measures on private lands.”—Emma Bryce