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Re: swifts, stewardship, and endangered birds (long)
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: Re: swifts, stewardship, and endangered birds (long)
- From: Joshua Stuart Rose <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2000 22:42:10 -0400 (EDT)
- In-Reply-To: <200009191954.PAA19030@bacchus.acpub.duke.edu>
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On Tue, 19 Sep 2000, Frank Enders wrote:
> I read where efforts are being made to save chimneys in the Northwest for
> roosting swifts.
> Perhaps we should pay people or publicize the roosts, to keep the heat from
> being turned on before the birds have passed through, and/or to keep the
> more significant chimneys in existence.
> Where, one wonders, do swifts go if there are no chimneys for 50 miles?
On our way home from the NAMC, Frank Rheindt and I noted 2 or 3 large
flocks of Chimney Swifts over Durham. All seemed to be focused over
churches with prominent bell towers. I wonder if they have recently
started using bell towers, as chimneys became less available, or if it
has been going on all along? The natural habitat of Chimney Swifts is
dead hollow trees, but I can't say that I've ever seen a colony of any
appreciable size in a tree. Of course, modern forestry methods make large
dead trees like this a great rarity in most landscapes.
> How can we persuade people to provide habitat for swifts and rails and
> Red-cockaded Woodpeckers when we spend all our money on mileage and salaries
> for "biologists", but do not fund programs to pay for habitat and nesting,
> such as the (private) Nature Conservancy and (federal) Farm Stewardship?
> What should I reply when I am told a landowner in Wilson County was not
> allowed to cut his timber due to Red-cockaded Woodpeckers? Who will
> reimburse the landowner for the thousands of dollars per acre of
> pulpwood/timber he cannot cut? Who can stand there and support conservation
> of birds when the landowner's timber is losing thousands of dollars of value
> each year due to it getting ever more "overmature"? And, we birders want
> the redhearted "rotting" timber to stay up, so we can have Red-cockadeds now
> and for the future of our world.
I wish there were simple answers to these questions, but there aren't. A
recent exchange on the listserv BIRDCHAT discussed whether support for
the National Audubon Society was worthwhile, given how much money they
spend on glossy magazines and self-promotion that could otherwise be
spent directly on conservation, and given their occasionally difficult
treatment of state and local affiliate Audubon Societies. I won't try to
repeat the entire exchange here. However, in a day and age when we all
can't even agree that supporting the Audubon Society is a good thing,
funding decisions like support for biologists vs. reparations for
landowners is far more difficult an issue. After all, what if funding
more research reveals that some species is actually more common than we
thought, such that many landowners can go ahead and build/cut/farm on
their land without restrictions? Not only is the landowner then off the
hook, but the government saves tons of money as well.
Similarly, had the government spent money decades ago preserving habitat
for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers before they were endangered, there would not
now be lawsuits flying and draining even more money that could otherwise
go directly to conservation rather than to lawyers and such. Money that
gets spent on preserving habitat now will save ten times as much in
lawsuits over Endangered Species Act non-compliance years down the road;
and yet, without biologists, how can we tell which habitats to save? And
that's without even getting into complex schemes like HCPs and "Safe
> I certainly am not (as a registered Republican) going to vote for George
> Bush if he will not conserve our natural resources; nor, I wonder, will Al
> Gore put out the money to pay all those who provide habitat for our wildlife
> resources. But, I do feel more confident that the "new" conservative
> Democrats will actually pay for what they get, conservation. I feel less
> confident that Republicans will even try to save our birds, let alone use
> our tax surplus to put some funding to the worthwhile conservation projects
> (such as Farm Stewardship or conservation easements). Eventually, some
> Republicans will vote for funding, I am sure.
There are signs of some Republicans coming around and not being so
anti-environment. G.W. seems hopeless (in spite of his photo and
signature appearing on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail maps), but his
brother Jeb has actually been praised by the Florida Audubon affiliates
for much of his work on behalf of the Everglades restoration. And the
Democrats have been the environmentalists' party for so long, many of
them now take our votes for granted without actually working for us in
Congress. It's still pretty one-sided for now, at least in the
presidential race (unless you count Ralph, for whom I'll probably vote),
but there's hope for the future.
> Again, my concern is that the funds we get for nongame purposes first go to
> acquiring and protecting land. I have a hard time faulting the Clinton
> Administration (as my party's candidate, Bush, just did) for spending too
> much on acquiring land, and not enough on maintaining it (in national
> parks). Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't our first priority getting
> stuff conserved, our second paying for our setasides, and isn't making land
> pretty (or better for wildlife) a lower, third priority?
Not necessarily. In the case of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, or to take
another endangered bird species the Kirtland's Warbler, preserving the
land isn't good enough. If the forest gets too old, with the species
composition changing, the endangered birds can't live there anymore. In
the old days before this country was settled by humans, disturbances like
fire and flood would maintain parts of the system at the right age for
these species. Now, after centuries of fire suppression, clear-cutting,
fragmentation, and so on, there may be no hope for such habitat-
specialized bird species without active maintenance of the land.
But then again, you're right. There are lots of bird species out there,
for example the California Gnatcatcher, which exist almost exclusively on
private land. If this land is not either purchased outright or protected
through reparations to private landowners via programs such as those you
mentioned, these other species are doomed. And these lands are going so
fast to development and such that waiting is not an option. So funds have
to go to both obtaining *and* maintaining land, or something's going to
> I do wonder how shamed some of our agencies, particularly state and federal,
> might be if we compared them to charities: what is the overhead for our
> natural resources agencies, compared to funds actually spent to acquire (not
> maintain) lands? 90% overhead? Wow!
The gist of the BIRDCHAT discussion was a similar comparison within
charities: whether Audubon's promotional and administrative budget was
greater or lesser than its conservation budget, and whether that ratio
was better or worse in NAS compared to TNC and other conservation groups.
I'm willing to bet, though, that NAS in its worst year spends a much
higher proportion of its budget protecting wildlife than the government
in its best year.
> But, that
> is why we pay taxes. We want to pay that overhead to maintain a healthy
> environment, including nongame species.
Hear, hear! I watch enough C-SPAN to get entirely sick of people
proclaiming that each and every new tax is an evil which must be avoided.
*SOME* taxes actually do good things, if we let them.
> Perhaps we need a bond issue to acquire lands for conservation.
> But, I think we need a continuing fund to pay private landowners/farmers to
> produce nongame species. A sort of payment schedule, say $10,000 per
> Red-cockaded fledged, $100 per Bald Eagle fledged, $20 per Barn-owl fledged.
Interesting idea, but a little too species-oriented. Most studies of
species-oriented conservation find that they are, at best, short-term
solutions. I have a feeling that some day, probably after we're all dead
and gone, the government will follow the lead of TNC and focus on
conserving communities with all of their component species, rather than
frantically reacting to each individual species as it becomes endangered.
The community approach will save a lot of money in lawsuits as well,
although it might cost more in biologists' salaries...
Agh! Enough politics. I'm going home to bed, in hopes of seeing some
migrants and perhaps a few new yard birds in the morning.
Joshua S. Rose
Department of Biology (Zoology, R.I.P.)