Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships


Reversing the Fate of an Ecosystem in Peril
by Silke Neve, Canadian Wildlife Service

British Columbia's Similkameen and South Okanagan area contains one of the three most endangered ecosystems in Canada. The area is abundant with rare and endangered species of plants and animals, including one-third of the Province's Red List species.

It is also a critical wildlife corridor and stopover point for many migratory species. In spite of this, and despite the efforts of many conservation agencies over several years, the Similkameen and South Okanagan habitats have continued to be threatened by agricultural, urban, and resource development. Consequently, the South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program was launched by federal and provincial environment ministers and 17 non-governmental partners in Osoyoos, British Columbia, in July 2000.

The program's goals are to expand community involvement, promote ecologically sustainable land use, enhance stewardship on private and Crown lands, and negotiate acquisition of key habitats. It will also seek strong community support and involvement to help balance the needs of wildlife and humans.

The program focuses on four habitat types: wetland/riparian, grassland/shrub-steppe, coniferous forest, and rugged terrain. Consistent with the program's landscape approach to conservation, recovery strategies for species at risk will be implemented.

Stewardship projects will be another element of the program. As part of Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Fund, $1 million is being contributed to a series of stewardship projects targeting species at risk and priority habitat types within the South Okanagan Similkameen area. This contribution is more than being matched by other partners.

Projects focus on grassland conservation through weed management and management of forest encroachment; conservation of riparian areas through fencing; landscape-level planning tools that support sustainable decision making; landowner development of wildlife-friendly management practices; and securement and management of critical habitat. The stewardship projects are consistent with program priorities and were developed in collaboration with many partners.

In addition to helping meet the goals and objectives of the Federal Species at Risk Strategy, the program is a delivery vehicle for integrated bird conservation as envisioned by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). North American Waterfowl Management Plan and Partners in Flight representatives are currently partners in the program. It is expected to be a model for showcasing the NABCI vision.

For more information, contact Silke Neve, (604) 940-4657, silke.neve@ec.gc.ca, www.soscp.org.

Caribbean Islands Look to the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture
by Francisco J. Vilella, U.S. Geological Survey

The thousands of islands and cays composing the Greater and Lesser Antilles are among the most biologically complex areas of the world. Centrally located in the West Indies, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is in the eastern extreme of the Greater Antilles approximately half way between the southern tip of Florida to the north and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela to the south. The Commonwealth consists of the main island, Puerto Rico, and several satellite islands.

Caribbean wetlands are characterized by an abundance of flowing water systems, absence of salt marshes and lake fringes, high species richness of both plants and animals, abundance of palms, and high rates of primary productivity. Wetland types include mangrove forest, coastal lagoons, salt flats, herbaceous marsh, swamp forest, and riverine forests. The high species richness in the Caribbean's freshwater wetlands is an important difference between wetlands in the United States and the Caribbean.

Several waterfowl species regularly winter in Puerto Rico's wetlands. The most common species include blue-winged teal, American wigeon, lesser scaup, and northern pintail.In addition to waterfowl, the island's herbaceous and forested wetlands provide essential habitat for migratory forest birds, shorebirds, and many endemic and resident birds. The moist tropical forests of the mountainous interior provide habitat for many of the island's 16 endemic bird species and essential wintering habitat for many species of migratory songbirds. Finally, several Federally listed endangered species such as the West Indian manatee, leatherback sea turtle, brown pelican, and Puerto Rican boa depend on the island's wetlands.

In addition to coastal wetlands, the Commonwealth possesses an abundance of wetland environments associated with littoral systems. Coral reefs support small island fisheries, protect the shoreline from erosion, create or nourish sandy beaches, and represent one of the most valuable coastal resources of the Caribbean islands. In addition to coral reefs, seagrass beds form a significant portion of the littoral environments. They provide nutrients, primary energy, and habitats that sustain coastal fisheries, create foraging grounds for endangered species, and enhance biodiversity. Whereas reefs are subject to natural (hurricanes) and human (boat anchoring) disturbances, seagrass beds have been most seriously affected by human disturbances: recreational activities and dredging associated with docking facilities.

Puerto Rico's total coastal wetland area has been reduced by approximately 50 percent, primarily due to drainage and water-level stabilization. Once, sugarcane cultivation was largely responsible for clearing and draining many coastal wetland areas; now, road construction and urban development are the major causes of degradation.

Douglas Ryan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Bird Habitat Conservation, and Craig Watson, Assistant Atlantic Coast Joint Venture Coordinator, visited Puerto Rico in July 2000, to explore the possibilities for future cooperation between the Joint Venture and the Commonwealth's government. They visited several sites on the main island and met with the Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (Department) and his staff. Following their visit, the Department realized the value of the joint venture concept in conserving Puerto Rico's natural resources. Looking into the future, Watson said: "There is a place for joint ventures in areas of the Neotropics where habitats play significant roles in the annual cycle of wintering as well as resident bird species."

For more information, contact Francisco J. Vilella, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Mail Stop 9691, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Mississippi State, Mississippi 39762, (662) 325-0784, fvilella@cfr.msstate.edu.

Dogs for Ducks
by Laura Houseal, Ducks Unlimited

Long valued by their owners as companions at home and in the field, dogs can now be our partners in efforts to provide habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. Although dogs can't serve on committees or volunteer at events, Ducks Unlimited (DU) Canine Club members will contribute to conservation with their owner's $20 club membership fee.

Any dog, no matter what breed, can be enrolled in the Canine Club, even if its owner is not a DU member. Membership applications will be available at most DU events. If the event is holding a raffle, a part of the application form will serve as a raffle ticket worth $20. There will be a limited number of applications at each event, but interested dog owners can also enroll their pets by calling 1-800-45-DUCKS.

Each new member of the Canine Club will receive a brass finished dog-collar tag depicting the DU Canine Club logo and a Canine Club decal. Bob Davis, Director of Membership Marketing, says the Canine Club is a fun and exciting way to get people and their dogs more involved in DU. "Most canine owners consider their dog a member of the family, so we thought, 'Why not make them members of a DU club too?'" explained Davis. The IAMS/Eukanuba Dog Food Company is a proud sponsor of the club and has contributed generously to the cause.

According to a poll of DU magazine readers, 66 percent own a dog. Of those, 83 percent own a sporting dog. With such a large number of DU supporters owning dogs, Davis expects the DU Canine Club to be a hit: "Dogs play such a vital role in the lives of sportsmen and outdoorsmen. It makes sense that they would want to get their dogs more involved with Ducks Unlimited and conservation."

The first official member of the club is Drake, the DU Dog. Drake was born July 25, 2000, at Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. He will appear on The World of Ducks Unlimited television show, at DU events, and more. Register your dog at your local DU event. To find an event in your area, call 1-800-45-DUCKS, or visit the "Community" section of DU's website at www.ducks.org.

For more information, contact Laura Houseal, Ducks Unlimited, One Waterfowl Way, Memphis, Tennessee 38120, (901) 758-3764, lhouseal@ducks.org.

Make STEP OUTSIDE® Part of Your Outdoor Ethic
by Jodi DiCamillo, STEP OUTSIDE®

Anita didn't understand hunting or waterfowl management; Sam didn't fish; Janet never wanted to be around guns; and Dave had never pulled back a bowstring.

Anita now owns her own gun and can't wait to go hunting this fall. Sam, who is 12, has his line in the water every chance he gets. Janet goes to the shooting range once a week after work. Dave has become so proficient with a bow he's joined an archery club. Why the transformation? Someone made the effort to introduce them to traditional outdoor activities.

STEP OUTSIDE®, a National Shooting Sports Foundation and Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization program launched in 1988, issued this challenge to outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen: as part of your personal outdoor ethic, make a commitment to introduce annually at least one newcomer to target shooting, archery, hunting, or fishing.

"It's very rewarding and fun," said outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen all around the country who have participated in the program. Following are just some examples of what is heard at STEP OUTSIDE® headquarters from callers every day:

"We didn't get a mallard, but we had such a great time anyway. He got so excited just seeing the ducks take flight. He can't wait to go hunting again."

"Seeing her hit her first clay bird and seeing the smile on her face was indescribable!"

"My wife and I really enjoyed being in the marsh. We have found a way to spend valuable time together. I'm so glad I asked her to go duck hunting with me."

The concept of "Invite a Friend to Step Outside" grew out of the first Strategic Conference on the Hunting and Shooting Sports in 1996. The goal of the program is to increase participation in hunting, shooting, archery, and fishing by encouraging current participants to reach out to family members, employees, neighbors, or friends and invite them to STEP OUTSIDE®.

Over the past 4 years, the concept has been expanded to include broad-based activities that might be organized by hunting and fishing clubs, state agencies, employers, and other organizations to provide a hands-on introduction to outdoor sports to larger groups of participants.

Your involvement can range from something as simple as inviting your sister to go duck hunting to coordinating an event at your club. You may choose to promote the concept in your organization's publications, radio and TV shows, or events. The awesome potential of this program lies in the fact that anyone can host any number of individuals at any time, whether it's one-on-one or a company-wide event.

Pass the word to each of your outdoor friends. Make it part of the outdoor ethic you live by. Challenge each other to make a pledge and commit to invite at least one newcomer per year to STEP OUTSIDE®. If you want ideas on how to make your outing successful or to learn more about STEP OUTSIDE®, visit website www.stepoutside.org or write to STEP OUTSIDE®, 11 Mile Hill Road, Newtown, Connecticut 06470.

The Sonoran Joint Venture
by Robert Mesta, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Sonoran Desert encompasses 120,000 square miles and ranges over two countries, the United States and Mexico, and five states: Arizona, California, Sonora, Baja California Norte, and Baja California Sur. It is home to some 130 mammals, 100 reptiles, 20 amphibians, 30 native freshwater fish, and 5,000 plants.

More than 500 bird species - nearly two-thirds of all bird species that occur in northern Mexico, the United States, and Canada - breed or winter in or migrate through the Sonoran Desert. It is also culturally rich, with at least 20 indigenous cultures and others that have immigrated to the region.

Unfortunately, loss of habitat due to urban and agricultural development, groundwater pumping, surface-water diversion, livestock grazing, and invasive exotic plants plus greater recreational demands threaten terrestrial, estuarine, and riverine/riparian habitats throughout this fragile ecosystem.

The binational Sonoran Joint Venture was initiated in the fall of 1999 to address the situation. Its goal: develop and maintain a broad range of bird conservation initiatives, including research, monitoring, habitat preservation, restoration and enhancement, and environmental education, to benefit wildlife and human communities.

The combined biological and cultural diversity of the Sonoran Desert makes this landscape unique. However, it is this "uniqueness" that makes designing a bird conservation initiative that is sensitive to regional, social, and economic needs a challenge.

Joint Venture partners have launched headfirst into that challenge:


Restoration of Cienega de San Bernardino
The desert cienega (wetland) is arguably one of the most productive and threatened habitats in the arid southwest. Partners will restore the Cienega de San Bernardino, once a large wetland that stretched across the U.S.-Mexican border. The wetland's remnants, which now provide stopover, breeding, and year-round habitat for a significant number of birds, will be expanded by 250 acres in Sonora, Mexico. The diversity of waterfowl species here is high, but the numbers are low due to the wetland's degraded state. Over the years more than 250 bird species have been recorded at the cienega.


Pollinator Project
Over 2,500 pollinators (invertebrates, birds, and bats) are known to exist in the Sonoran Desert, which has the highest known diversity of bees in the world. Currently the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Instituto del Medio Ambiente y el Dessarollo Sustentable del Estado de Sonora are supporting parallel programs to better understand and protect four key pollinator species: the monarch butterfly, rufous hummingbird, white-winged dove, and the lesser long-nosed bat. The Joint Venture is helping to link the two programs through habitat restoration and enhancement efforts.


Western North America Migratory Bird Project
More than 20 American and Mexican partners are initiating a long-term landscape project that looks at western North American neotropical riparian birds and their habitat status and needs. They will focus on surveys along the major rivers in Sonora, Mexico, to determine the condition of the riparian habitats and their use by neotropical migrants. They also will develop a management strategy to preserve these critical habitats. Though new, the Joint Venture is not wasting time in getting projects on the ground—there is no time to waste!

For more information, contact Robert Mesta, Sonoran Joint Venture Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 12661 E. Broadway Boulevard, Tucson, Arizona 85748, (520) 722-4289, robert_mesta@fws.gov.

Bird Conservation with our Amigos
by Sharon Rodenbush, Saskatchewan Wetland Conservation Corporation

In keeping with ecosystem and migratory bird management, the Saskatchewan Wetland Conservation Corporation (SWCC, pronounced swick) established a neotropical bird program to help sustain populations of migratory birds in the Americas. The TransAmerica Migratory Bird Fund (Fund) is designed to complement the efforts of many agencies and governments with similar objectives and supports conservation actions in communities, particularly in bird wintering areas. The program supports land management, planning or research efforts, many of which contain community awareness and educational initiatives. Several projects involve the development of sustainable ecotourism, and delivery ensures economic, social, and environmental benefits remain with the community.

TransCanada PipeLines, a long-standing supporter of SWCC's programs and a substantial contributor to ecotourism development and land-management programs in Saskatchewan, is the Fund's founding sponsor and a key supporter of SWCC conservation initiatives, in Saskatchewan and in Latin America. The North American Fund for Environmental Cooperation has assisted with program expansion in Mexico, and the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City is an ongoing supporter of these Mexican projects.

"Programs such as the TransAmerica Migratory Bird Fund employ the principles of sustainable development at an international level, providing broad-scope benefits to people and the environment. Through the support of projects that help sustain migratory bird resources in the Americas, we are able to make a real contribution to the social and economic fabric of the communities where these projects are delivered." said Robert Day, Vice President of Government, Communication and Community Investment with TransCanada.

The Fund has contributed to 14 projects in six countries since its inception in 1998. Research activities involve burrowing owl conservation in Mexico; banding of sanderlings in Chile and Saskatchewan, Canada; and boreal forest songbird studies in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. Land management and conservation-based tourism projects are being supported in Morelos, Quintana Roo, Nayarit, and Queretero, Mexico, and in the Sali-Dulce River Basin in Argentina.

Other projects involve organic and shade-grown coffee, which is excellent habitat for migratory songbirds, and community awareness, education, and training initiatives. The most recent project supported by the Fund is the North American Guide Exchange Project (see box). Future issues of Birdscapes will feature specific Fund projects.

For more information, contact Sharon Rodenbush, Saskatchewan Wetland Conservation Corporation, (306) 787-0913, srodenbush@wetland.sk.ca.

Manitoba Youth Learn Outdoors Skills
by Jonathon Scarth, Delta Waterfowl Foundation

The sound of geese honking and squawking grew stronger as the rays of dawn's early light streamed from the horizon. It's the stuff that memories are made of, and for 17 Manitoba youth, this came free of charge in the hunter ethics and conservation lesson during Delta Waterfowl's first annual Youth Waterfowl Hunt.

"It was the best," said Jason Fossay, a participant in the Nation's first Waterfowler Heritage Days. "I never woke that early before, but it was worth it, and I can't wait to go again."

Changes to the Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations created Canada's first Waterfowler Heritage Days. This allowed provinces to establish a special season for youth aged 12 to 17 to hunt under the watchful eye of experienced adult mentors.

"The purpose is to introduce youth to the concepts of ethical use and stewardship of waterfowl and other natural resources," said Brian Gillespie, director of the Manitoba Wildlife Branch. "It encourages youth and adults to experience the outdoors together, and contribute to the long-term conservation and management of migratory birds," he said.

The youth and volunteer mentors arrived at Delta Marsh the evening before. All had previously passed hunter safety courses, but they received additional instruction in hunter ethics and firearm safety and target practice. The next morning they were up by four in the morning and heading for the marsh.

"Thousands of birds were overhead," said Rob Olson, Delta Waterfowl's assistant scientific director, describing the breath-taking experience in the pre-dawn marsh as waterfowl took wing. The magnificent setting and marsh sunrise took precedence over hunting for most of the group.

Back in camp, one youth related how a flock of pelicans glided effortlessly over their blind. Another was delighted when a raccoon came calling. For Brian McCannell the memorable moment came as several flights of ducks set their wings and dropped among the decoys hunters had set out only moments earlier.

"It was one of the finest hunts I've ever been on and I didn't fire a shot," said Robert Sopuck, a volunteer mentor who accompanied Brian McCannell. "Watching Brian's enthusiasm grow with every flight of ducks was extremely gratifying." Bagging a duck or two, for most of the group, was secondary to their enjoyment of the moment.

The adult mentors played a vital role in the event. Their first priority was to ensure safe gun handling skills. They also helped identify ducks on the wing and judge effective shooting distances.

"We feel now that this special, youth-only waterfowl hunt is one of the best ways to introduce youngsters to hunting and the conservation ethic that goes with it," said Olson.

Waterfowler Heritage Days is an attempt by Environment Canada, provincial organizations, and hunting associations to inspire the country's youth to participate in a cultural tradition that brings people closer to the land and to their natural heritage: a natural heritage that is worth preserving.

For more information, contact Environment Canada's Inquiries Centre, (819) 997-1100, nawmp@ec.gc.ca, www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca/heritage/intro_e.html.