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American Bird Conservancy And Cornell Lab Of Ornithology Join Forces

Two leading bird conservation groups, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, have launched “Science to Action,” a partnership aimed at reversing decades of population declines for migratory birds in the Americas. Bringing together the Cornell Lab's cutting-edge science and ABC's on-the-ground approach to bird conservation, this joint effort represents new hope for hundreds of declining species that journey each spring and fall between their breeding grounds in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America and the Caribbean.

ABC and the Cornell Lab are combining their strengths at a critical moment for migratory birds. Landmark conservation measures such as the Endangered Species Act are being targeted for elimination even as environmental threats mount. As the most recent State of North America's Birds report makes starkly clear, fully one-third of our continent's bird species will require concerted conservation efforts to ensure their future.

The ABC-Cornell Lab partnership will focus on how new data and conservation tools can be harnessed to enhance conservation of migratory birds across their breeding and wintering grounds, as well as stopover sites in between.

“The Cornell Lab's dedicated science team and its depth of citizen-science data make it a perfect fit for informing better conservation decision-making by ABC,” said George Fenwick, President of ABC.

“The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy share common values and complementary expertise for protecting wild bird populations across the Western Hemisphere,” said John W. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of Cornell Lab. “With so many bird species showing alarming declines, it is more important than ever that the Lab work closely with ABC, combining our scientific focus and citizen-science data with ABC's effective conservation actions.”

Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Applied Conservation Scientist at the Cornell Lab, is leading the new partnership. “Our two organizations will provide a unified voice for bird conservation, applying the best science on the ground at important natural areas and informing policies that affect the future of bird populations,” he said.

Together the partners will:
  • Leverage data and resources from the Cornell Lab to refine and prioritize ABC's conservation strategies, including ABC BirdScapes—landscape-scale areas critically important to targeted bird species. Such data are key to answering the “Where and when?” questions that drive ABC's conservation planning.
  • Identify and develop conservation strategies for key migratory stopovers. Researchers are learning that the success of migration may hinge on just two or three stopovers located strategically along the migration route for each species. One chief goal of the partnership is determining how we can best conserve these stopover sites.
  • Use citizen-science data from eBird to help monitor and evaluate the success of ABC reserves and projects—the “Did it work?” piece of ABC's conservation efforts.
  • Provide science support for Migratory Bird Joint Ventures, and leadership for conservation alliances such as Partners in Flight and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative's State of the Birds reports.
Article by Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: March 20, 2017

View from the Highlands, Annual Report 2017

Check out the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy achievements from 2016. This issue also includes stories about new land protection, volunteer work days, habitat management, and our Community Farm, as well as info about upcoming Spring and Summer events.

Check out View from the Highlands Annual Report.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: March 20, 2017

Cerulean Warbler Partnership Coordinator named NWTF Biologist of the Year

Kyle Aldinger (far right) is congratulated by NWTF Board Members and conservation staff for receiving Wildlife Biologist of the Year for the Eastern Region at the 41st annual NWTF Convention and Sport

Kyle Aldinger, AMJV and National Wild Turkey Federation's (NWTF) Cerulean Warbler Partnership Coordinator in West Virginia, was named NWTF Wildlife Biologist of the Year for the Eastern Region. Kyle was given this prestigious award for his valuable contribution to the Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement Project, a regional effort to enhance 12,500 acres of forest habitat on private lands in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania as well as reforesting 1,000 acres of reclaimed surface-mine sites in Kentucky and Ohio. His and partners' efforts have raised awareness tremendously - through workshops, news articles and radio and tv spots - about proper forest management practices that can create habitat for Ceruleans and a host of other wildlife. In 2016, public engagement led to great interest from 165 private landowners and established 11 contracts to improve habitat on nearly 500 acres.

The Wildlife Biologist of the Year Award is presented annually to one NWTF wildlife biologist in the eastern region and one in the western region. The award recognizes outstanding contributions toward NWTF’s "Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt." initiative. NWTF wildlife biologists are assigned to project-specific deliverables that further the conservation goals and objectives of this initiative and may also serve as a project specialist for state and federal partners as well as volunteer leadership.

On day one, Kyle was tasked with building a program from the ground up in collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other federal, state, and NGO partners. He made it a priority to inform NWTF volunteers and members about his role as well as how the program designed to improve forest conditions for a non-game bird species in peril would significantly benefit wild turkeys and the NWTF mission. Kyle and a host of partners collaborated with private landowners to engage them on the importance of forest management and opportunities to secure technical and financial assistance to get the work done. 

Before joining the AMJV and NWTF, Kyle earned his B.S. degree in Environmental Studies; Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from California University of Pennsylvania in May 2007 and subsequently completed his M.S. degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources from West Virginia University (WVU) in 2010. Kyle studied ecology, management, and survey methodology of Golden-winged warblers, which have habitat needs that parallel Cerulean warblers. In addition, Kyle began pursuit of his Ph.D. in Forest Resource Science: Wildlife and Fisheries Resources at WVU in 2010 for which his research involved studying ecology and management of Golden-winged warblers and associated species.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 23, 2017

Comprehensive Management Helps Increase Wildlife on Private Lands

West Virginia landowner John Gavitt is using a variety of conservation practices to improve his land for wildlife, including the declining cerulean warbler. Photo courtesy of John Gavitt.

Three decades ago, John Gavitt bought 430 acres of hilly property in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia for hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors. Over the years, his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took him all over the nation and world, where he saw the benefits of healthy wildlife habitat.

That’s when he realized he wanted his land to better benefit people and wildlife. This would lead him and his wife to transform the private property into a public outdoor recreation area to bring in young people and families from the cities to experience the outdoors.

“As someone who worked in wildlife conservation for over 30 years, I saw firsthand how outdoor experiences can instill a love of nature and a conservation ethic. And I wanted somehow to pass that on,” said Gavitt.

Now named North River Retreat, the land offers hunting for quail, deer and turkey, fishing, camping, hiking, and other outdoor recreation. To make these opportunities possible, Gavitt adopted a variety of conservation practices to provide a diversity of habitat for wildlife species.

Situated in Hampshire County, West Virginia, North River Retreat contains dense oak-hickory forests, patches of open pastureland and the meandering North River.

Gavitt worked to establish wildlife corridors across open pastureland and food plots amid forests. He also worked to stabilize the banks along the North River to stop erosion. These conservation efforts have created a haven for deer, wild turkey, and small game as well as an increasing number of bald eagles and black bears.

He is also working to manage his forests for a rare bird – the cerulean warbler offsite link image    . The imperiled songbird’s core breeding range is in West Virginia. The decline in diverse forests across much of the East has greatly impacted the cerulean warbler and other species.

Gavitt is working to thin out trees and create gaps in the forested canopy. This sustainable technique allows mid- and upper- canopy trees the growing space to form long branches and develop dense foliage. Such conditions are ideal habitat for the cerulean warbler.

Creating such gaps also benefit other wildlife who utilize space in dense forests to nest, forage, and hunt. Gavitt’s efforts are part of a multi-state project by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture offsite link image     (AMJV) to help the bird. The overall goal of the project is to improve 12,500 acres of forest habitat and 1,000 acres of reclaimed mine lands for Cerulean Warblers and other wildlife in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland.

“I’m very enthused about this program, as my property’s woodland are overstock with trees in areas that cause a lot of suppression,” said Gavitt. “By opening up the forest a bit, it will provide greater nesting cover and more food for wildlife.”

“I have found overtime that not only a diversity of habitats, but a diversity of management practices – from wildlife corridors to tree harvesting – lead to a very wildlife-friendly environment,” he added.

The AMJV project is funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Through the project, the AMJV, NRCS, and National Wild Turkey Federation, among other partners, provide landowners with technical and financial assistance to help them make conservation improvements to their property, including the forest management practices that Gavitt used on his property.

“NRCS has been a true partner in much of the management practices on my land,” said Gavitt. “This project is just another example of how they are incentivizing landowners to really make their farming and other operations efficient and sustainable.”

If you’d like to learn more about this project and how to get involved, visit AMJV’s webpage. Meet some of our other “Habitat Heroes” like Gavitt by visiting NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife webpage. Download a PDF of this story.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 15, 2017

Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas seeks volunteers to collect data

The northern cardinal is one of the most abundant species found in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas’s first field season. Photo by Bob Schamerhorn.

Many people recognize the most common bird species in Virginia, but according to Ashley Peele, a research associate with Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute, there is still much that scientists don’t know about these species.

To try to fill those knowledge gaps, Peele is coordinating the second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas. This statewide project sponsored by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will gather data collected by volunteer birders over a five-year period to determine where breeding birds are living and breeding.

“We tend to assume that common birds stay common,” Peele said. “We see them all the time so we don’t worry about them from a conservation perspective. Bird populations can begin to decline without us even realizing it. The atlas will provide an overview of all the birds in the state and assess the status of all species, not just the ones that we’re already monitoring.”

Another atlas of this type was conducted in the 1980s, but in order to remain current, birding atlases should be published every 15 to 20 years.

“We’re definitely due for a new one,” Peele said. “We want to document evidence that birds are breeding and where they are choosing to do so. We want to know how this compares to Virginia bird populations 25 years ago.”

In order to gather data most efficiently, Peele and her team use a system that divides the state into 4,400 atlas blocks, each measuring about nine square miles. From among those blocks, a subset of priority blocks are targeted first to ensure that each part of the state receives equal coverage.

“Once we survey those priority blocks, we can start filling in the gaps between them,” she said.

According to Peele, volunteers are recording more data than in most citizen science endeavors.

“Often birders are asked to do basic surveys to just identify and count birds. Instead of focusing on numbers, we want people to slow down and make behavioral observations,” she said.

“We want to know where birds are, how and where they’re breeding, how habitat degradation and loss affect populations, how landscape changes affect populations, and how we might mitigate those effects,” Peele continued.

Scott Klopfer, director of the Conservation Management Institute, housed in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, said that in addition to gathering valuable data about bird populations in Virginia, the project also highlights the importance of citizen science in natural resources management.

“Watching birds provides birders with a window into what’s going on in natural resources,” Klopfer said. “If people are keeping track of birds on their Saturday morning walks and we can harness that information, we can build a powerful tool to understand what’s going on with bird communities and the environment.”

The project’s 450 volunteers have completed their first year of data collection, having taken observations from 37 percent of the total atlas blocks and 45 percent of the priority blocks. So far, their work is paying off.

“In the first atlas, 191 species were identified as breeders in Virginia,” Peele said. “In the second atlas’s first year alone, we’ve already identified over 210 species and confirmed that 174 of those species are currently breeding.”

After collecting the data, volunteers submit their findings to the atlas’s own eBird portal, an online resource maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. eBird allows citizen scientists to log in and submit observational data that is then fed into Cornell University’s larger mainframe, enabling Peele and other researchers to analyze the data.

The European starling, northern cardinal, and American robin are among the most abundant species from the atlas’s first breeding season, which ran from March to September 2016. Additionally, five new breeding species were confirmed, including the Mississippi kite, magnolia warbler, and yellow-bellied sapsucker.

According to Peele, the volunteer-collected data have far-reaching implications.

“This research will help inform bird conservation plans for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, help researchers statewide gather information on conservation and management strategies, and improve general knowledge about what’s going on with bird populations in the state,” Peele said. 

To keep up momentum from the first year, Peele said she hopes to expand the project’s volunteer base.

“We want to open up the field of bird conservation to the public and engage anyone who’s interested in birds and better understanding them,” she said.

According to Klopfer, volunteer birders can serve in a variety of roles.

“We’re looking for people all over the state, particularly where the population density is lower than places like Richmond or Northern Virginia," Klopfer said.
Specifically, Peele is hoping to attract volunteers from western and southwestern Virginia, where the rural, less-populated grids allow diverse bird populations to thrive.

Klopfer also stressed the need for volunteers to serve in other capacities besides birding. In particular, he noted a need for volunteers willing to help birders who use traditional pen and paper recording methods to input their data into the online database.

“There’s a fairly large segment of the birding community that isn’t familiar with this online technology, and we don’t want data entry to be an obstacle for them,” he said.

To volunteer for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project, visit vabba2.org.

Check out a short video about this effort. 
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 15, 2017

Story Map Illustrates Accomplishments of Migratory Bird JVs

Joint Ventures work together to build a healthy world for birds, other wildlife, and people. As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of this model for international collaboration in 2017, Joint Ventures look ahead to the next thirty years and beyond of building strong, effective partnerships for bird and habitat conservation.

Access a new Story Map that illustrates some of the Migratory Bird Joint Ventures recent accomplishments.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 09, 2017

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