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Environmental Policy news: With spring migration in full flight, a new report urges greater protection for an avian haven



From: Guest Contributor, Lisa McCrummen
Published May 5, 2014 10:18 AM

With spring migration in full flight, a new report urges greater protection for an avian haven

It's been dubbed North America's bird nursery: the sprawling billion-plus-acre boreal forest that spans the continent from Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Each spring, an estimated 1 billion to 3 billion nesting birds make the long journey north to the boreal forest from wintering grounds throughout the United States and central and South America. 

Their populations swell during the boreal breeding season, and as many as 3 billion to 5 billion birds of remarkable diversity—from ring-necked ducks to whooping cranes to Cape May warblers to golden eagles—can make the return trip south in the fall. 

These are the birds that populate America's backyards, parks, and wetlands, providing enjoyment and recreation to millions of birders, conservationists, and waterfowl hunters. 

But as abundant as they are, boreal birds face myriad challenges and threats to their habitat. Some of the most iconic species have suffered dramatic declines in recent decades. 

To mark International Migratory Bird Day on May 10, a new report highlights the urgent need to protect North America's boreal forest, a still-pristine haven for more than 300 avian species and one of the planet's last great wilderness regions. 

The report, Boreal Birds Need Half, cites science showing that boreal bird species require expansive, landscape-scale habitat conservation in large, interconnected protected areas to maintain healthy populations.

It showcases the often-unappreciated role that boreal birds play in providing ecosystem services by pollinating plants, redistributing nutrients, and controlling pests, as well as the value they add to the U.S. and Canadian economies. The report also emphasizes the integral role that birds play in the cultures of First Nations aboriginal peoples. 

"The good news is that the boreal forest is still largely intact. The majority of birds that breed in the boreal forest still have large population sizes and are doing well," said Jeff Wells, senior scientist at the Boreal Songbird Initiative and co-author of the report. 

"But there are some birds—especially those breeding in the southern part of the boreal forest in Canada where there is a bigger industrial footprint—that have seen declines of 50 percent or more over the last 30 years," Wells said.

The report recommends: 
  -  That at least 50 percent of the boreal forest remain free of large-scale industrial disturbance, a protection level needed to ensure a high probability of maintaining the full spectrum of boreal birds.
  -  That industrial activity in the remaining unprotected areas be subject to the highest global sustainability standards, with an emphasis on maintaining healthy and pristine wetlands and waterways.
  -  That protected areas and industrial activities proceed only with the free, prior, and informed consent of aboriginal communities.

Read more at Boreal Birds Need Half.

Boreal bird migration image via Boreal Birds Need Half.

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