The 2011 State of the Birds Report is the nation’s first assessment of birds on lands and waters owned by the American people. The findings indicate tremendous potential for bird conservation. These publicly owned habitats support at least 50% of the entire U.S. distributions of more than 300 bird species.
The report concludes that America’s public lands and waters, ranging from national wildlife refuges to national parks to national forests, offer significant opportunities to halt or reverse the decline of many species. More than 1,000 bird species inhabit the U.S., 25% of which are federally threatened, endangered, or of conservation concern. The report provides a scientific tool to help public agencies identify the most significant conservation opportunities in each habitat. The good news is that because birds so extensively use public lands and waters as habitat, effective management and conservation efforts can make a significant difference in whether these species recover or slide towards extinction.
The report assessed the distribution of birds on nearly 850 million acres of public land and 3.5 million square miles of ocean. It relied on high-performance computing techniques to generate detailed bird distribution maps based on citizen-science data reported to eBird and information from a federal database.
The report highlights the wide variety of bird habitats on public lands. These include:
Aridlands: >50% of U.S. aridlands are publicly owned. 39% of aridland bird species are of conservation concern and >75% of species are declining.
Oceans and Coasts: All U.S. marine waters are publicly owned and are home to 86 ocean bird species and 173 coastal species. At least 39% of U.S. bird species restricted to ocean habitats are declining and almost half are of conservation concern, indicating severe stress in these ecosystems.
Forests: Public lands include some of the largest unfragmented blocks of forest, which are crucial for the long-term health of many bird species, including the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler, which has 97% of its U.S. distribution on public lands.
Arctic and Alpine: 90% of boreal forest, alpine, and arctic breeding bird species in Alaska rely on public lands for habitat, including 34 breeding shorebird species of high conservation concern. There are more public lands in Alaska than in the rest of the U.S. combined, offering huge potential to manage lands for conservation.
Islands: More birds are in danger of extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else in the U.S. Public lands in Hawaii support 73% of the distribution of declining forest birds. Among declining Hawaiian forest birds on Kauai, about 78% rely on state land. Four endangered species in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands are entirely dependent on federal lands.
Wetlands: Wetlands protection has provided the “gold standard” for bird conservation. On the whole, 39 species of hunted waterfowl have increased by >100% during the past 40 years as nearly 30 million acres of wetlands have been acquired and management practices have restored bird populations.
Grasslands: Grassland birds are among our nation’s fastest declining species, yet only a small amount (13%) of grassland is publicly owned and managed primarily for conservation. 48% of grassland-breeding bird species are of conservation concern, including four with endangered populations.
The 2011 State of the Birds report is a collaborative effort as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, involving federal and state wildlife agencies, and prominent scientific and conservation organizations.
The full report is available at http://www.stateofthebirds.org.