Urgent Action Needed to Protect Birds and Their Habitats
June 24, 2013 — Climate change is altering and destroying important habitats that New England’s migratory birds depend on and urgent action is needed to change that dangerous flight path, according to a new report released by the National Wildlife Federation. Shifting Skies: Confronting the Climate Crisis details how a warming climate could lead to a decline in some bird populations and even extinctions if we don’t take action to reduce carbon pollution and adopt climate-smart conservation strategies.
“We are already seeing New England’s birds like the blackpoll warbler and the Bicknell’s thrush at risk from climate change impacts including habitat changes and changes in nesting seasons”, says Hector Galbraith, staff scientist for the Northeast office of the National Wildlife Federation. “Climate change is a massive threat to birds right now. We need to act, or we will see declining bird populations”.
Shifting Skies explains that migratory birds face unique challenges. Each season they require different places to live, often thousands of miles apart, to raise their young, migrate and overwinter. At least 350 species in North America fly to South or Central America every fall and return in the spring. The report describes how climate change is adversely affecting bird behavior and includes specific examples in many regions of the U.S.:
- Birds’ ranges are shifting and in some cases, contracting. 177 of 305 species tracked have shifted their winter centers of abundance northward by 35 miles on average in the past four decades.
- Coastal wetlands and beach habitats like Cape Cod and New England’s marshlands, home to birds like saltmarsh sparrows and piping plovers, are being inundated by sea level rise or extreme weather.
- A warming climate is exacerbating pests and disease, including the hemlock woolly adelgid and the emerald ash borer.
“Piping Plovers are struggling along our coast in New England right now”, said Pam Hunt of New Hampshire Audubon. “Between sea level rise and the potential of storms like Sandy destroying their nesting areas, they are perched on a razor’s edge. We must not only protect their habitat but also curb climate change in order to ensure super storms and extreme weather events don’t wipe them out altogether”.
The National Wildlife Federation report recommends the following concrete steps to curb climate change and its impacts on migratory birds, such as sea level rise, wildfires, drought and more extreme weather events:
- Reduce carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate industrial carbon pollution has been approved by the Supreme Court and upheld by Congress, the Obama administration has not yet set carbon pollution limits.
- Invest in clean energy and reduce dependence on dirty fuels. Properly sited wind, solar, and geothermal will reduce our consumption of carbon-polluting fuels like coal, oil, tar sands and natural gas, which are driving climate change.
- Protect and restore natural carbon sinks. Restoring the ability of farms, forests and other natural lands to absorb and store carbon provides increased benefits to birds and other wildlife by providing important habitat as well as helping to mitigate climate change.
- Use climate-smart conservation strategies to protect sensitive habitats and restore degraded areas. Land and water protection efforts will increasingly need to take climate projections into account to ensure long-term benefits to birds and other wildlife. Degraded landscapes need to be restored, and citizens can take action to provide important habitat through backyard and schoolyard habitat programs.
“Coastal and marine birds, like puffins, that birders and all New Englanders hold dear are under threat right now”, said Jeff Wells from the Boreal Songbird Initiative. “Birding is enjoyed by many and brings hundreds of millions of dollars annually to our economy in New England. We know the steps we need to take to safeguard not just birds but all wildlife, our communities, and current and future generations of Americans from climate change. Now is time to act, we owe this to future generations of birders.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 was America’s hottest year on record.
“We must take action nationally and internationally to curb climate change.” said Carol Oldham, Northeast Regional Outreach Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “We need to stop pumping out carbon pollution and move to clean renewable energy, and New England’s Senators and Representatives are a key part of making that happen. We’ll need to work together to solve these challenges, not just across local, state, and federal boundaries, but across party lines.”
The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.