Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"State of the Birds"

From the New York Times:

Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, released a new, nationwide survey last month that assesses the state of bird populations in America. The news is grievous. Over all, a third of the bird species in this country are endangered, threatened or in serious decline.

There is special concern for grassland birds — whose habitat has been vanishing steadily for decades — for birds in Hawaii, where a variety of species face a variety of threats, and for coastal species. The good news is that wherever nature is allowed to recover, especially in the case of wetland birds, it shows its usual resilience.

But there is no glossing over these staggering losses, and there is no dismissing what they mean. There is nothing accidental or inevitable about the vanishing of these birds. However unintentional, it is the direct result of human activity — of development, of global warming, of air and water pollution and of our failure to set aside the habitat these birds need to flourish. Every threatened species reveals some aspect of our lives that could be adjusted.

The survey also shows that where humans have made an effort — as with migratory waterfowl and with endangered species like the peregrine falcon — good things have happened, with some species recovering even as others declined. This in turn argues that the programs now in place to protect habitat should not only be spared the budgetary wrecking ball but also expanded — most conspicuously those managed by the Agriculture Department that seek to preserve wetlands and prairie grasslands as well as the Interior Department’s Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The remarkable recovery of ducks and geese and other wetland species — thanks to strong conservation efforts — should remind us of what is possible. The only other outcome is too grim to consider — a landscape steadily emptying of birds.

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