Science for avian conservation: Priorities for the new millennium

The Auk
By: , and 



Over the past decade, bird conservation activities have become the preeminent natural resource conservation effort in North America. Maturation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), establishment of Partners in Flight (PIF), and creation of comprehensive colonial waterbird and shorebird conservation plans have stimulated unprecedented interest in, and funding for, bird conservation in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other countries in the western hemisphere. Key to that success in the United States has been active collaboration among federal, state and local governments, conservation organizations, academia, and industry. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), which has primary statutory responsibility for migratory bird conservation and management, has been a key partner.

Despite the great strides that have been made in bird conservation science, historical approaches to research and monitoring have often failed to provide sufficient information and understanding to effectively manage bird populations at large spatial scales. That shortcoming, and the lack of an integrated strategy and comprehensive set of research priorities, is more evident in light of the goals established by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI). The NABCI is a trinational, coalition-driven effort to provide an organizational umbrella for existing conservation initiatives. The expanded focus of NABCI and individual bird conservation initiatives is to work together in an integrated, holistic fashion to keep common birds common and to increase populations of declining, threatened, and endangered species.

To assist bird conservation initiatives in defining goals and developing new approaches to effective research, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the research agency of DOI, convened a workshop, “Science for Avian Conservation: Understanding, Modeling, and Applying Ecological Relationships,” on 31 October–2 November 2000, which brought together 51 scientists from USGS, as well as scientists and conservationists from other agencies and organizations actively participating in NABCI. As the lead federal agency involved in bird conservation research, USGS has a clear legislative mandate to provide scientific information upon which future management plans and actions will be built.

This article summarizes key issues and recommendations that arose from that workshop. The principal goal of the workshop was to guide USGS in defining its role, assessing capabilities, and directing future agency planning in support of bird conservation. A major component was to identify key areas of research needed in this new era of bird conservation science. Although tailored to the mission of USGS, workshop recommendations visualize a bold direction for future avian conservation science in which research and monitoring work in tandem with management to increase our understanding of avian populations and the processes that affect them. The USGS is a science agency whose role is to provide objective scientific information to management agencies and therefore is not directly involved in high-level resource policy-making or on-the-ground management decision making. Nevertheless, it is important to note that effective policy decision making must integrate the best available science with political and economic realities to achieve successful avian conservation—an important subject acknowledged in the workshop, but largely beyond its scope of discussion. Williams (2003) questions regarding how scientific information can be effectively communicated to decision makers and incorporated into natural resource policy. Without an aggressive vision and the willingness of researchers, managers, and policy makers to implement it, conservation of North American birds is likely to proceed without the full benefit of scientific investigation. These recommendations represent the principal conclusions drawn by workshop participants and do not necessarily reflect official USGS policy.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Science for avian conservation: Priorities for the new millennium
Series title The Auk
DOI 10.1642/0004-8038(2003)120[0204:SFACPF]2.0.CO;2
Volume 120
Issue 1
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher American Ornithological Society
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center, National Wildlife Health Center, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
Description 8 p.
First page 204
Last page 211
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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