Lucy Parham: Celebrating birds and their habitat

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Every year as the skiers leave, we watch some other amazing travelers choose the Yampa Valley to grace and transform our forests and grasslands with their songs and their offspring. The riparian forests of the Yampa Valley provide native habitat for more than 140 species of migratory birds.

Birds are easy keepers. All we have to do is keep their habitat in tact. This spring marked the release of the first U.S State of the Birds Report. The report was produced as a result of an unprecedented partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The report is based on a new synthesis of 40 years of data collected from three continent-wide monitoring programs. A team of experts drew upon a variety of sources to determine the conservation status and population trends of more than 800 bird species that occur regularly within the continental U.S., Hawaii and surrounding oceans.

The findings of the report revealed that bird populations in many habitats have declined, but it also provided heartening evidence that conservation actions have reversed the decline of birds where efforts have been made. The results reflect the influence of human activities and global change on our nation's birds.

Every U.S. habitat harbors birds in need of conservation. Hawaiian birds and ocean birds appear most at risk, with populations in danger of collapsing if immediate conservation measures are not implemented. Bird populations in grassland and arid land habitats show the most rapid declines during the past 40 years with a 30 percent to 40 percent population decrease. Birds that depend on forests also are declining.

In contrast, wetland species, wintering coastal birds and hunted waterfowl show increasing populations during the past 40 years, reflecting a strong focus during this period on wetlands conservation and management.

Not only are birds beautiful, but they also are economically important and a priceless part of America's natural heritage. Each year, an estimated 71 million Americans participate in wildlife watching, generating an estimated $85 billion in economic activity. Birds also are highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend. Healthy bird populations depend on maintenance of the quality and quantity of habitats. These same habitats provide resources that are essential for human survival and quality of life. Trends in bird populations can give us initial insight into the health of these habitats, and thus provide an indication of environmental sustainability.

The findings of this report provide all the more incentive for people to continue to invest time and effort into conservation. Here in the Yampa Valley, The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch provides ample opportunity for its citizens to hike in the protected riparian forest along the Yampa River and participate in the conservation of birds through weekly free bird walks, at 8 a.m. every Saturday in May and the first Saturday in June.

Also at Carpenter Ranch, on May 9, we will kick off the birding season with a celebration of International Migratory Bird Day. The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch, Yampatika, the Yampa Valley Birding Club, American Birding Association, the U.S. Forest Service and Epilogue Book Co. will host a fun-filled day of activities. Guided bird walks will be leaving every 20 minutes between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. Artist Joan Hoffmann will exhibit her show Birds of Routt County, and at 10:30 a.m., she will give a presentation about the history of Landscape Painting in America.

Yampatika will guide a nature walk at 1:30 p.m. and will conduct fun and educational activities for families throughout the day. The event is free, open to the public and is a great way to learn more about the birds of the Yampa Valley. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawn. For more information, e-mail Betsy Blakeslee at bblakeslee@tnc.org.

Lucy Parham is the Carpenter Ranch Outreach and Stewardship Assistant for The Nature Conservancy. To learn about TNC's work in Colorado and across the world, visit www.nature.org.

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