Applying radar technology to migratory bird conservation and management: Strengthening and expanding a collaborative

Open-File Report 2007-1361

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Edited by:
Janet M. Ruth


Executive Summary

Understanding the factors affecting migratory bird and bat populations during all three phases of their life cycle—breeding, nonbreeding, and migration—is critical to species conservation planning. This includes the need for information about these species’ responses to natural challenges, as well as information about the effects of human activities and structures. Habitats and other resources critical to migrants during passage and stopover are being destroyed, degraded, and threatened by human activities. Birds and bats are also uniquely susceptible to human use of the airspace. Wind turbines, communication and power transmission towers, and other tall structures, known to cause bird and bat mortality, are being erected or proposed in increasing numbers across the country. In addition, the potential for bird/aircraft collisions poses human safety threats. Management and regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, and industry currently lack the information they need to meet their missions and statutory responsibilities. The biological data available from various radar technologies offer a unique opportunity to learn more about the spatiotemporal distribution patterns, flight characteristics, and habitat use of “aero-fauna.”

Recognizing the opportunities presented by radar technologies, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and university partners collaborated first on individual projects and then in a broader, informal “collaborative” to coordinate their radar-related research and work together to develop the suite of products needed for conservation of birds and bats. Having produced two summary documents (Sojda and others, 2005; Ruth and others, 2005), the next objective was to convene a workshop for researchers, management and regulatory agencies, and other interested parties. The focus of this initial workshop was on strengthening the existing USGS-USFWS-university partnership and expanding the “collaborative” to include new Federal agency partners. The subject matter was centered on discussing available technologies, appropriate applications, management-related needs, and ways to strengthen collaborative research and conservation efforts.

The workshop opened with presentations about the history of the “radar collaborative,” a description of the workshop objectives and focuses, and a summary of resource management and regulatory needs. Scientific presentations describing current research projects or subjects followed, given by USGS scientists, as well as scientists from other Federal agencies, academia, conservation and ornithological organizations, and a private contracting firm. Presenters addressed a wide variety of management issues including siting of wind-power facilities, bird/aircraft collisions, effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on bird migration, bird use of Conservation Reserve Program land, defining bird migration patterns at a broad regional scale, and associating migrant birds with their stopover habitats. Presentations described a variety of radar technologies including NEXRAD weather surveillance radar, modified mobile marine radar, military tracking radar, pencil beam radar, and dual polarization radar, as well as complementary techniques and analysis methods such as acoustic monitoring, thermal imaging, artificial intelligence, and individual-based modeling.

Key issues, themes, and questions identified during the open discussions that followed fell into five main categories: (1) agency needs and challenges; (2) radar technology and applications—technical questions and issues; (3) tools and resources for managers and researchers; (4) standardization of protocols; and (5) collaborative opportunities. Participants identified the following management, regulatory, or business issues facing them which may be addressed with radar technologies: tall structures; wind turbines; identification and protection of key habitats; assessment of management activities; and bird/aircraft strikes. Participants frequently expressed the need for specific information about which radar technologies are best used for answering particular questions. User groups emphasized the importance of clear, defensible scientific information on which they can base their activities. In turn, researchers emphasized their need for clearly defined, specific questions from managers so that they can design and conduct the required research. Discussions about technical issues requiring further research and collaboration included target identity, ground-truthing, linking migrants to habitat, and standardized protocols for applied research.

Workshop participants identified and endorsed a series of seven action items that would promote collaboration and begin to address key issues identified at the workshop:

Action Item #1: Establish a working subgroup to address large-scale surveillance radar standardization issues.
Action Item #2: Establish a working subgroup to address small-scale radar standardization issues.
Action Item #3: Bring management and regulatory agencies together to identify the three most important information needs for each key management issue relating to radar technologies.
Action Item #4: Develop Fact Sheet(s) to provide information about radar technology applications to migratory bird and bat conservation issues.
Action Item #5: Create a “radar collaborative” Website to provide information about radar biology applications, contacts, publications, and so forth.
Action Item #6: Formalize and expand the USGS-USFWS “radar collaborative.”
Action Item #7: Advance basic research, such as target identity and validation, which will support and improve our abilities to apply radar technologies to conservation objectives.

There was considerable interest in expanding the “radar collaborative” to include those agencies, organizations, and industries represented at the workshop. It was felt that the publication of the workshop proceedings, implementation of action items, and additional future meetings or workshops will be crucial in strengthening the “radar collaborative” effort and promoting the use of these valuable technologies for conserving migratory species.

Additional publication details

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USGS Numbered Series
Applying radar technology to migratory bird conservation and management: Strengthening and expanding a collaborative
Series title:
Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
iv, 86 p.
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