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State of the Birds Report

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Gerrit Vyn

America’s legacy of healthy habitats needs support.

From 1870 to 1900, the number of people in the United States nearly doubled, creating tremendous demand for food and wood products and putting tremendous
pressure on mature forests. Deforestation in the Northeast reduced the breeding
range of the Passenger Pigeon.

In the wake of the pigeon’s demise, a strong conservation movement emerged
with a great appreciation for the importance of habitat. President Roosevelt declared the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island in 1903. Today, public
agencies protect more than 850 million acres of land and 3.5 million square miles of ocean. Private conservation groups and land trusts protect another 24 million acres (an area of private protected habitat nearly as large as the entire National Park Service system in the lower 48 states).

A strong framework of habitat conservation legislation emerged, too. In recent decades, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act have conserved more than 30 million acres by growing initial federal investments into higher conservation returns (grant-to-match ratios of more than $3-to-$1). The Farm Bill has had the largest conservation
footprint on private lands, with nearly 30 million acres currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program or under farm, grassland, or wetland easements. Additionally, conservation measures are implemented through Farm Bill working lands programs on another 30 million acres on farms and ranches. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has added millions of acres to our national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges.

These cornerstones of federal legislation have built a great American legacy of healthy habitats. In order to carry the legacy forward for future generations, they must receive continuing authorization and funding at levels closer to their peak appropriations.


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