Some of us occasionally enjoy the convenience of buying take-out food and bringing it home to the family. It’s not so convenient though, when the take-out place is located up to 100km (over 60 miles) away. That is the daunting challenge faced by Marbled Murrelets (MAMU), seabirds that nest in the old growth forest of the coastal mountains but forage at sea.
Riddle: You’re out hiking one day, and you catch glimpses of osprey, kingfishers, American Dippers, herons, perhaps a flycatcher, a woodpecker, a warbling vireo. Where are you?
As you listen to the bird calls, the sun glints off the water but the edges of the stream are cooled by the shade of riparian vegetation. You see flashes of fish, and darting damselflies, hopping frogs, and puddling butterflies. Dare you dream that this river oasis will still be providing habitat in a few years?
Under review by the new administration: One hundred (that’s 100!) anti-environmental regulations. Dare we hope that as we move forward, the health of the environment becomes a priority for decision makers? I hear the birds singing and remain cautiously optimistic.
Included in the review is the removal of protections for spotted owls and other old-growth- dependent species, the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species Act, and regulations that limited scientific and public input in decision-making, including weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act. So far, the leasing for drilling and extraction on public lands in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been halted and regulations around some types of pollution are being reinstated. More locally, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) upheld the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s denial of a key permit that would have allowed the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline to move forward.
Conserving biodiversity is a big challenge, but there is much we can do. Populations suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation, the wildlife trade, invasive species, and disease. These are exacerbated by climate change, as animals shift range, search for food, and crowd into smaller habitats. And all of these factors work together to stress populations, increase the chances of human encroachment into wildlife habitat, and provide the fuel for the next pandemic.
A concerted effort on the part of people cooperating to enact solutions is long overdue. But is cooperation possible? These are stressful times—the pandemic, the economy, politics, wildfires, and the state of the environment—just to name a few things. During times of stress, it’s easy for people to be less tolerant and less cooperative, for us to withdraw or just not want to bother. But we would do well in these difficult times to draw on the better aspects of human nature, our capacity to be generous, compassionate, and cooperative.
The wildfires that tore through our communities and devastated natural areas were terrifying. We are so sorry for those who had to flee, for those who lost their homes, for those impacted by the fire and smoke. We are sad, too, for the individual animals that might have been harmed due to the wildfires, but it is comforting to note that nature is resilient and populations are generally not wiped out by fire.
Most of the species found in the western states have evolved with wildfire, and although there may be some exceptions, their populations will recover. Fire allows many seeds to germinate and the growing vegetation will provide a source of habitat and food to numerous animals. The Black-backed Woodpecker, which has been a candidate for the endangered species list, actually thrives in burnt conifer forests, where it gobbles the plentiful wood-boring beetles. Other insects come in and, along with the new growth, provide good sources of food for wildlife. The snags, large dead trees, provide shelter to birds, especially cavity nesters. The snags also help to anchor the soil, shade young conifers from intense sunlight, and provide habitat for many insect-eating bats, birds, and small mammals.
It is essential now to move forward in a way that avoids misconceptions about fire and creates the best possibility for recovery. Several misguided proposals to increase logging are already being discussed.
What does the science say?
Lane County Audubon Society has joined a diverse group of stakeholders to fight poaching and illegal harm to wildlife in Oregon. This campaign is a collaboration among conservationists, recreationists, hunters, and landowners. We and other wildlife organizations (including Portland Audubon) believe this to be an opportunity to help protect non-game wildlife.
Stakeholder meetings include representatives from the legislature, Oregon State Police, Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Hunters Association, and Defenders of Wildlife among others. Recently passed legislation authorized the Oregon Department of Justice, State Police, and Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to work together to fight poaching. New legislation increased fines and restitutions for fish and wildlife crimes. Funding was made available to support the Stop Poaching campaign.
Numerous illegal bird-killing reports over the years have included Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks and other raptors, swans, crows, and Red-winged Blackbirds.
“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas, and throw the bad ones away.” – Linus Pauling
We’ve all heard the expression “There’s no such thing as a bad idea,” but I think many would disagree. Unfortunately, on the environmental front, many bad ideas have recently been proposed. Thankfully, many of these ideas have not been implemented. I list a few below.
In early November, Lane County Audubon hosted the 2019 Oregon Audubon Council (OAC) in Eugene. In attendance were representatives from nine of the twelve Oregon chapters as well as representatives from Washington State Audubon. The goal of the annual OAC meetings is to bring together state chapter members in order to discuss conservation concerns, to receive progress updates on ongoing issues, and to determine how we can best help to make a difference.
An article published in the journal Science this month revealed that bird populations in North America have declined by 29 percent since 1970. That’s a loss of about 3 billion birds! These population declines were documented in common bird species as well as species of concern. Indeed, people in our community have been contacting Lane County Audubon for years with concerns about the disappearance of many favorite backyard birds.
The Endangered Species Act is one of America’s most effective and important environmental laws. Since its passage in 1973, the Act has enabled the recovery of several at-risk species including the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, humpback whale, Virginia flying squirrel, and the Oregon chub, among others.