Bye Bye Birdie?
What the latest research tells us about the impacts of climate change on avian species and how we will deal in the Klamath.
On September 1, 2009 the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) Conservation Science group released a study that reveals how California birds might adapt, or not, to a changing climate. Yes, it’s true, we’re in Oregon, but some of our most valued bird populations in the Klamath Basin live in or travel from our southern neighbor.
The PRBO report “Reshuffling of Species With Climate Disruption: A No-Analog Future for California Birds?” has found that we may see natural, and subsequently human communities, shift pretty dramatically. Lead author, Diana Stralberg was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article (9.2.09) saying, “What we found is that not only will species shift and communities change, but the composition of communities in certain places will not resemble anything we see today.” As many folks know, birds are indicator species, what happens to them is a good warning sign of what might be to follow for human communities. According to the PRBO study, these winged barometers have something to important say.
The PRBO studied reminded me that as Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement negotiations continue, little has been done in the document to properly address climate change in the basin. Based on the noted research and climate change maps for California alone, a changing climate means a shift in bird migratory patters, resident habitats, and more. Birds won’t be the only thing changing with rising temperatures. Snowmelt, precipitation, and landscape types will also see potentially dramatic shifts. For the Klamath Basin, the high desert is likely to see less water in the seasons that farmers, fish, and birds need it most.
This spring, the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar released the “State of the Birds” report. In keeping with the PRBO study, this report indicates that our nation’s birds will indeed face challenges from climate change, agriculture, pollution, and so on. The report also indicates, however, that wetland birds and migratory waterfowl are relatively resilient, if they have habitat. Though their numbers remain below historic levels, like most bird populations, wetland birds have demonstrated improved numbers based on improvements in conservation and restoration of wetlands. Unfortunately, we have not seen significant conservation of wetlands in the Klamath, and coupled with climate change, our concern for one of the nation’s most valuable stopover basins on the Pacific Flyway is growing.
The KBRA has many flaws, but in addition to lacking a plan to address climate change, the KBRA would allow the continuation of 22,000 acres of lease land farming on the Klamath Basin’s Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. Under the agreement this would essentially eliminate the [already relatively inadequate] discretion of Fish and Wildlife management. The “State of the Birds” reads, “Based on decades of research, conservationists have identified the most important threats to birds, including the greatest threat of all—habitat loss. Addressing these conservation challenges can ensure a safe future for birds and improve the quality of life for people too.”
In an earlier Oregon Wild blog post, I noted that U.S. recreation dollars had “gone to the birds,” but offered this little pun in a good manner of speaking. That is, based on the terrific number of birders contributing dollars to the U.S. economy, birds have been doing their part. Unfortunately, based on the latest research noted here, and potential political pandering to agricultural interests offered in the KBRA, it seems that not only for the Klamath, but for regions around the nation, there’s little humor left in this common phrase. Now with science to back me up, I worry that shifting migratory patterns and ongoing habitat loss may mean conservation of healthy avian species has indeed, gone to the birds.