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State of the Birds Report

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Courtesy Tom Thulen

Hunters and birders, the conservation constituency

The Passenger Pigeon is a case study in unregulated harvest. At one massive
nesting colony in Wisconsin in 1871, one million birds were stuffed into barrels
and shipped to market via railroads.

Wildlife management was clearly needed. In the early 20th century, sportsmen
ignited a remarkable conservation turnaround. Key legislation, such as the Duck Stamp and the Pittman-Robertson excise tax on firearms and ammunition, built the foundation for funding a wildlife management system. The results of that bold action fly as waves of ducks and geese that course along our country’s flyways.

Today, though, our conservation dollars are stretched thin, as the problems are
more complex. Climate change poses pervasive threats (changing seasonal
temperatures, precipitation patterns, and water levels) that require full-landscape
management. Our challenge now is to protect the entire ecological fabric, not just individual threads. It’s time to build on the successes of the past century by updating existing revenue streams (the price of a Duck Stamp has not changed since 1991) and expanding the funding base beyond hunter-generated dollars. The 47 million birders in America could be a more powerful source of conservation funding.

Wildlife management in this century must be proactive and partnership-driven. As successful as the Endangered Species Act has been—the lifeline that rescued Bald Eagles and remains fundamental to preventing extinctions—it should be a last resort. We must strive to keep species off the list. Responding to early-warning signals is far more cost efficient and effective than administering emergency care.

The Passenger Pigeon is gone, but we’ve accomplished much since it disappeared. We may face steeper challenges, but we have a century of progress to build on. And, we know conservation works, when we have the will—and the
resources—to achieve it.


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