WILDLIFE:

Report showing threats to birds spurs call for conservation

Nearly a third of 800 U.S. bird species are imperiled or in significant decline because of habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and other threats, according to a comprehensive new federal report.

The "State of the Birds" report shows sobering declines for rare birds on the Hawaiian islands and in ocean habitats, grasslands and arid lands. But it shows waterfowl and wetland birds rebounding, an improvement that conservation groups touted as evidence of the success of habitat-protection programs.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the report a "clarion call" for more investment in the Fish and Wildlife Service, in conservation programs and in large-scale legislative efforts.

"This report should be a call to action, but it is action within our reach," Salazar said at a news conference. "If we move forward with a new ethic of conservation, we will be able to restore bird populations."

The Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, state wildlife agencies and nonprofits worked on the report, which analyzes 40 years of data from various bird censuses.

The report shows that populations of half of all migrating shorebirds have declined and populations of birds in arid lands have declined 30 percent in the past 40 years. The report links shorebird declines to stress from development, disturbance and dwindling food supplies along the coasts. Urban development sprawling into arid lands is threatening birds there.

Birds that breed exclusively in grasslands also saw a 40 percent decline in the past 40 years.

Some of the most concentrated problems for U.S. birds are in Hawaii, where nearly all native species are in danger of extinction because of habitat destruction, invasive species and disease.

Scientists estimate that 71 bird species have gone extinct since humans first colonized the islands, and 10 other species have not been seen in the past 40 years.

"Hawaii is a borderline ecological disaster, and it is spectacularly underinvested in by the federal government," said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a lead contributor to the report. "It desperately needs additional investment before it's too late."

Hawaii's mounting conservation challenges are running up against budget woes. Although a third of all birds listed under the Endangered Species Act are in Hawaii, the islands received just 4.1 percent of the $30.6 million the Fish and Wildlife Service spent on endangered birds between 1996 and 2004, according to a previous report by David Leonard of the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Fish and Wildlife funding

Salazar said he is trying to increase funding for Fish and Wildlife and some of that should go to boost Hawaii conservation.

"When you look back at the last decade or so, you see the Department of Interior budget continue to decline, being one of the bottom-end budgets of all three departments of our national government," Salazar said. "That does have a huge impact on the Fish and Wildlife Service and what it can do, because they don't have the resources to get the job done."

The service received some additional funding in the economic stimulus package, and Salazar said he will request more in the Obama administration's fiscal 2010 budget proposal.

"My hope is, some of these places where there are holes, we can address," he said.

On the plus side for birds, the report shows bird populations responding to conservation action.

The data show increases for wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey and ducks -- which have benefited from conservation partnerships and efforts to restore more than 30 million wetland acres.

"These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends," said Rosenberg. "Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines."

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