State of the Birds 2010: Climate Change

Dave Mehlman, the director of The Nature Conservancy’s migratory bird program, is blogging all week about the new “State of the Birds 2010” report, of which he is a co-author. Read all his posts on the report — then go to to learn more about the report and the Conservancy’s work to protect birds.

The 2010 State of the Birds report, released last week by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, is a follow-up to last year’s groundbreaking report by the same name. This year’s report focuses on climate change, perhaps one of the most critical issues to our nation’s birds.

The report, again a product of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative and an array of federal agencies and private conservation groups, starts with the assumption that birds are sensitive indicators of the effects of climate change on our environment. It looks at how birds are doing and might fare in a changing world.

The team developing the report, of which I was a member, assessed each species in the United States for its vulnerability to climate change, based on its biological sensitivity to climate and the exposure of its habitat to short-term climate change.

Using this assessment, we were able to analyze all the major habitat types that we used in the 2009 report to determine the relative vulnerability of habitats to climate change. We were also able to explore how various subgroups and species of birds within habitat types might vary in their susceptibility to climate change.

We found dramatic differences between habitat types in their birds’ vulnerability to climate change:

  • By far the most vulnerable are oceanic birds and those found in Hawaii.
  • Birds of coastal, arctic and alpine, grasslands, and on Caribbean and other Pacific Islands showed intermediate vulnerability.
  • Lower levels of relative vulnerability were shown by birds of aridlands, wetlands and forests.

Across all habitat types, birds species already considered of conservation concern (such as those listed under the Endangered Species Act, on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Birds of Conservation Concern list, or on the American Bird Conservancy/Audubon Watchlist) showed higher vulnerability than those not already considered of concern.

This finding clearly implies that climate change will exacerbate the currently precarious status of these species. However, this same analysis also clearly points out certain species which are likely to become of concern in the future, even though they currently are not.

I’ll outline some of those species in my follow-up posts this week.

(Image: Red-footed booby at Palmyra Atoll. Image credit: Jonathan Reed/TNC.)

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  1. We musn’t let Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring become a reality. When I hear about crops seeds being “round up ready” I cringe. Are we crazy?! Our wildlife is collapsing. Humans will be next, but until then many have their heads firmly planted in the, um, sand.

  2. I just read “The Wrong Kind of Green–How conservation groups are bargaining away our future” in the Nation. The name of your organization was prominent in the article as one who has lowered standards (to a dangerous level) in order to placate the oil and coal industries. Other conservation organizations were listed as well, but yours is the one I contribute to. I was very upset. And I don’t see an e-mail address in your contact list.

    What do you have to say in rebuttle to this article. It was very disturbing to me!

  3. Margaret,
    I’m an employee at The Nature Conservancy and I can respond to your question.

    First off, thanks so much for giving us the chance to respond to your concerns. We’ve read The Nation’s piece and do have some thoughts on it.

    The first point we’d like to make is that the vast majority — some 90 percent — of the Conservancy’s funding comes from the individual donations of our 1 million-plus members, not from corporations. In other words, people like you fund The Nature Conservancy.

    Second, we believe that environmental sustainability requires finding ways to meet society’s growing economic demands while ensuring nature remains healthy and strong enough to provide the food, water, shelter and income we all rely upon for survival.
    It’s our stance that it would be wrong not to work with these companies – which through their daily actions and decisions have a major impact on our natural world — in an effort to find strategies that benefit both people and nature.

    We also want to correct some inaccuracies contained in the article:
    1. Despite The Nation’s claims we in fact do support policies to combat climate change and that will keep temperatures increases below the 2 degree C “tipping point.”

    2. The Nation insinuates that we seek to profit from our forest carbon work. This is demonstrably false: We have never received any forest carbon credits or “offsets” that can be traded on the carbon market from our REDD programs around the world.
    In our Noel Kempff REDD project in Bolivia, the Conservancy spent $2.6 million helping develop and implement the project, but received absolutely no carbon rights.

    I would also add that we sent all of this information to the Nation’s reporter when he first contacted us in January. We find it unfortunate that the Nation chose not to publish any of our responses to their questions.

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