Building Back Biodiversity

Celebrating the International Day of Biological Diversity 2023
Greater Sage Grouse on Sagebrush Steppe.

The International Day for Biological Diversity (#BiodiversityDay) is on May 22, and it gives us an opportunity to celebrate the amazing diversity of life on our planet. It is also a day when concerned individuals, organizations, and governments from around the globe highlight innovative solutions to the world’s biodiversity crisis. Building on the momentum started at COP15 with the development of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, this year’s theme is “From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity”. Building back biodiversity means creating a safer and healthier future for all life. But in order to do this, we need to start taking meaningful action now.

Did you know that approximately 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction? It is a staggering number and quite alarming. As the term “web of life” implies, life on this planet is interconnected and interdependent. Healthy and vibrant ecosystems are not only important for those living within them but they can also provide healthy drinking water, food, and medicines for many far beyond their geographical boundaries. That is why global action to protect biodiversity is so important. At Audubon, we are taking a hemispheric approach to conservation with strategies that address and mitigate the most critical threats to wildlife and biodiversity. Here are just a few of the biologically rich habitats across the hemisphere where Audubon is focusing its efforts:        

North America’s Boreal Forest, Canada

The Boreal Forest is one of the largest intact forests left on Earth, boasting approximately 500 billion trees and 1.5 million lakes and ponds. It stretches from Alaska to Labrador and provides nesting grounds and migratory stopovers for nearly half of the common bird species found in North America. Migratory birds from as far away as Chili and Argentina visit the Boreal each spring to breed and raise their young. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as North America’s bird nursery. By the time fall migration hits, up to 5 billion birds—adults and newly hatched offspring—pour out of the forest and fly south to winter homes throughout the Western Hemisphere. And the birds are not alone; caribou, bears, wolves, lynxes, wolverines, and countless other species thrive in the Boreal in numbers rarely seen elsewhere.

Sadly, threats from development and the effects of climate change are putting vital habitats within the Boreal at risk. Because of the immense importance of the Boreal Forest for birds, Audubon has a specific Boreal Conservation program and strategy within its Audubon Americas initiative. We recognize that across Canada, Indigenous Nations and organizations are responsible for the most ambitious current proposals to preserve Boreal lands. Collectively, these Indigenous-led proposals could protect more than 100 million acres of Boreal Forest. That’s why our conservation strategy includes working in collaboration with Indigenous governments and organizations to advance their conservation and land stewardship goals. We offer our science and communications resources to provide support for Indigenous-led initiatives across Canada such as the Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and Indigenous Guardians Programs.

The Sagebrush Steppe, USA

The sagebrush steppe ecosystem is home to more than 350 species of conservation concern and provides services and benefits to millions of people. As North America’s largest ecosystem, it spans 14 states and three Canadian provinces. The Greater Sage-Grouse, a sagebrush-obligate species, is completely dependent on large tracts of healthy sagebrush habitat for its survival and is a reliable sentinel for the health of this ecosystem. 

A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), found that Greater Sage-Grouse populations have dropped more than 80 percent range-wide since 1965, with a 37 percent decline since 2002. Spurred by a dramatic loss of more than half of its habitat, these declines are much bigger than one bird species.

The other wildlife, plants, communities, and ranchers who call this place home are also threatened by the degradation of this landscape, especially the continued march of invasive species and the increasing frequency of larger and hotter wildfires across these rangelands. Between 2000 and 2018, wildfires have burned more than 15 million acres of sagebrush habitat (approximately the size of West Virginia) on public land alone.  

Audubon’s Public Lands team and regional offices like Audubon Rockies and Audubon Washington continue to take action in partnership with our membership, chapters, and other NGOs to find pragmatic solutions that balance the needs of people and birds.

The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”) and the Inflation Reduction Act offers real hope for the bird and sagebrush country. The Department of the Interior, specifically the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is expected to receive hundreds of millions of dollars for ecosystem restoration and wildlife risk reductions across the country—and Audubon and partners are working hard to make sure that sagebrush country receives its fair share. Not only will these efforts help control the invasive grasses which overtake native sagebrush but they will also create new local jobs across these rural Western communities.

The Cauca Valley, Colombia

Colombia is one of the most biologically rich countries in the world, home to almost 10 percent of the planet's biodiversity. It is also the country with the greatest variety of birds. There are nearly 2,000 species, including more than 200 migratory species and 80 endemic species.

In western Colombia, the Cauca Valley (Valle del Cauca) wetland habitats are home to more than 403 species of birds, but these important habitats are at risk. In recent decades, the valley of the Cauca River has lost much of its wetlands because of obstruction or desiccation mainly due to agriculture and livestock production. 80 percent of the area that existed in 1970 (33,715 acres) has already been lost. Conserving the wetlands that still exist in the region is vital for birds and biodiversity. Audubon Americas is implementing a conservation strategy in Colombia through in-depth interventions in the Cauca Valley region. Working with our local partners, we seek to prioritize and refine restoration activities and bird-friendly practices to get the highest possible return on conservation investment, such as using tree and shrub species that benefit migratory birds while supporting local bird species. We work to leverage and influence funding from local partners to increase support for wetland and forest restoration to better support bird and biodiversity conservation. We also engage communities in building a strong movement to advance bird and habitat conservation throughout the Cauca Valley and the country.