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Conserve Habitat

2. Conserve Habitats and Ecosystem Functions

The PIF assessment highlighted key habitats and geographic areas in Canada, Mexico, and the United States that are critical for the survival of continental landbird populations, for both species at greatest risk and millions of shared migrants. Conserving healthy habitats and addressing threats to bird populations remains the primary action necessary to reverse population declines and keep common birds common. Habitat conservation must occur at all scales, from protection of specific sites for the most at-risk species, to management of large core habitats for species of high trinational concern, to improving the matrix of working landscapes for all birds.

ChamelaCuixmalaBiosphere_p26.jpg   ShadeCoffee_p26.jpg
The Chamela-Cuixmala
Biosphere Reserve protects
critical tropical deciduous
forest on the Pacific slope
of Mexico.
  Shade-grown coffee is an
extremely important crop
that provides income to
local people while
preserving much of the
native vegetation.

Photo by Alejandro Salinas



Photo by Fulvio Eccardi


Restore and Retain Core Habitats

Today, the expansion of agriculture continues to be the major driver of biodiversity loss. Agriculture affects every type of habitat and impacts 76% of the landbird species of highest conservation concern; 65% are threatened by unsustainable livestock grazing. Preventing the conversion of large areas of habitat, whether grassland, forest, or aridlands, in the core distribution of species of concern will be necessary to stem the rapid decline of many landbirds. Policies and management practices are tools that can support the needs of high-priority birds on vast public lands in Canada and the United States. Large areas of representative habitats can be preserved in Mexico through a mixture of government, community, and private lands. Core areas of habitat need to be buffered by sustainable landscapes, especially in open, dry habitats where location, climate, temperature, and open habitat structure make them susceptible to further degradation. Fire suppression and habitat fragmentation invite the spread of exotic species. Restoration should promote the use of native plant species, control invasive species, minimize the use of chemicals, and, where appropriate, use fire to emulate natural disturbance patterns.

PlowedGrassland_p27.jpgGrasslands: A vanishing biome

Loss and degradation of both breeding and wintering habitat has led to an overall decline of 45% for 33 grassland species, a combined loss of 500 million birds over the past 40 years. The Chihuahuan and Sonoran grasslands of northern Mexico are important to grassland birds breeding in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada because these areas support the majority of the population in winter. Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands are being converted at an alarming rate for short-term farming practices that leave the land unsuitable for grassland birds (see photo). The U.S. government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service identified wildlife habitat enhancement as a priority for implementing the 2008 Farm Bill, which represents the most important tool for conservation of grassland birds on private lands. In order to protect shrinking native Canadian grasslands, we need changes in policy and and extensive education to promote expansive native prairie and minimize degradation due to energy development, urbanization, or conversion to intensive agriculture.

Image: Native grasslands are being plowed at an alarming rate in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Photo by Angel B. Montoya

Adopt Sustainable Grazing and Food Production

Most grassland and open woodland birds have always lived with herbivores. North American grasslands support a ranching culture that is equally dependent upon the survival of this vanishing ecosystem. Sustainable grazing of native grasses, combined with appropriate stocking rates, can be compatible with the needs of many grassland breeding species of continental concern.

Birds of high conservation concern can co-exist with many other types of sustainable food production. In tropical forests, shade-grown products like coffee and cocoa help retain native forest cover for birds while providing more diverse economic opportunities for local farmers. Improving the matrix of agricultural lands in Mexico by increasing natural vegetation cover will have far-reaching effects on continental bird populations.

Natural protected areas in tropical
and pine-oak forests must not only
protect, but also maintain, natural
disturbance regimes, such as forest
fires, on which many migratory and
resident bird species depend.
Photo by Enrique Jardel Peláez
Implement Sustainable Forestry Practices and Policies

Three quarters of the world’s forests, including more than half of the temperate broadleaf forest and tropical dry forests, have been replaced by cultivated land and plantations. Whereas much of the temperate forest was converted decades ago, deforestation in the tropics and the boreal forest is accelerating. More than 65% of our continental landbirds of high tri-national concern are threatened by unsustainable timber harvest.

To maintain the abundance of landbirds produced in the boreal forest nursery and other forested habitats, we need to manage forests to maintain structural complexity and a diversity of age classes. Many international certification programs support sustainable forestry practices that emulate natural disturbances and result in greater forest complexity that supports biodiversity. Natural processes, such as fire, also are important for maintaining forest health, and retention of large trees and snags is critical for cavity nesting birds and other wildlife.

CanadaBorealForest_p27.jpgImprove working landscapes for birds

Relatively small policy changes can have dramatic cumulative benefits on habitat for birds, especially
related to industrial-scale agriculture, forestry, and energy. Governments and industries have a key role in developing and adhering to sustainable standards. In Canada, a new regulatory strategy to manage the incidental take of birds will be one tool to support sustainable working landscape conditions. Project proponents would obtain permits that prescribe mandatory practices to support bird populations and habitats. Industries will benefit from new options to comply with existing regulations, and birds will benefit by having significant conservation issues addressed. Image: ndustrial-scale forestry in Canada's boreal forest.
Photo by Kenneth V. Rosenberg
Foster Community-Based Conservation Initiatives

Sustainable resource management is only possible when integrated into the regional economy. Working with local communities and landowners to protect, restore, and manage habitats is essential. Innovative approaches such as fiscal and economic incentives will be instrumental in promoting habitat conservation (e.g. Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative or the UN economic incentive programs for developing countries to maintain forests and minimize carbon emissions. Taxation systems, market incentives, and conservation easements can also be structured to promote conservation in priority landscapes and help landowners and local governments in the process. Ecotourism and other habitat- friendly economic opportunities can provide employment and economic return to local communities when they are developed collaboratively with local people. Communitybased conservation can provide alternative livelihoods that support both economic development and sustainable resource use.

Economic incentives for conservation

Several successful models for community-based conservation exist in Mexico that conserve some of the continent’s most endangered species. Communal landowners in "El Palmito" forestal ejido in la Concordia, Sinaloa, signed a new conservation easement in 2008 to suspend logging practices in 1,150,000 hectares of prime Tufted Jay habitat for a period of 30 years. Through economic incentives for the development of low-impact tourism activities, habitat conservation of this endemic bird strengthens rural and economic development for the community in El Palmito.


Images clockwise from left: Rancho Liebre Barranca,Sinaloa; Tufted Jay; recently cut pine.

Photos by Eduardo E. Iñigo-Elias, Kenneth V. Rosenberg (2)
New York City’s Central Park provides
vital stopover habitat for thousands of
migrants that need to navigate through
the urban metropolis along the United
States Atlantic coast each spring and fall.
Implement Sustainable Urban and Land-Use Planning at the Landscape Level


Urbanization throughout the continent continues to deplete habitat and erect hazards to migration such as buildings and towers. Habitat loss from residential and commercial development is both a result of expanding cities and large-scale resorts and vacation properties. Smart-growth initiatives are needed that limit urban and suburban sprawl and can incorporate “green infrastructure” such as large, functional, connected habitats. Because landbirds often congregate in large numbers during migration, it is critical we identify, manage, and conserve vital stopover habitats and migratory bottlenecks, especially along coastlines and in urban environments. Municipalities can work with neighboring jurisdictions to achieve common objectives for greenspace and to monitor change in urban ecosystems. Cost-share funding opportunities can support planning and implementation to ensure that development retains the natural values that first attracted people to the area.


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