By | Michelle N. Meyers
The Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act was enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives on July 12, 2017. U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Rob Portman introduced the bill as a reauthorization to The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The bill is intended to promote long-term conservation of Neotropical migratory birds and their habitats through a grants program, and so far, it is the only federal U.S grant program available throughout the Americas dedicated to the conservation of migratory birds.
Projects part of MBACA benefit most of the 386 bird species that breed in the continental United States or Canada and spend the winter in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, or South America. In addition, MBACA works to protect over 4.2 mill. acres of bird habitat, spanning across thirty six countries, according to The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The North Coast of California happens to be one of richest areas in the country in terms of avian diversity, between some 300 and 350 species of birds can be found from just offshore, all the way to the first inland ridge-line. Humboldt Bay in particular is a vital stop for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway which is a route used by millions of birds for migration to wintering and breeding grounds. The Bay’s coastal mudflats support some of the highest densities of shorebirds in California, housing 60% of all migrating Black Brant, 23% of all migrating and overwintering Western Sandpiper, 44% of all migrating and overwintering Dublin, and 3.5% of all Long Billed Curlews, just to name a few, but there are several other species of birds protected under the act that migrate to and through Humboldt County.
The Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge, located within the Pacific Flyway, serves as a key migratory stopover and/or wintering area for several species of waterfowl and shorebirds. “The purpose of establishing the refuge was to provide habitat for those birds for their Wintering stopover.” said Kurt Roblek of the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge. “Let’s say for example… Aleutian Cackling Goose, we provide Wintering grounds for that species…whose numbers were very low before the bird was listed.”
While he was not aware of Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act itself, he says that-
“We do have projects that will have direct benefits to those species. Such as our White Slough Restoration Project, where we are creating salt marsh habitat along the edges of Humboldt Bay.”
- How exactly are you creating these habitats?
“We are actually taking fill material and we are increasing the elevation behind the levees, so when the levees breach, that land will be high enough that it will be salt marsh.”
- So what happens when it breaches?
“So once it’s breached… In a few years, through passive and active restoration of that habitat, we will create something that used to exist, but didnt… we’ll bring it back.” Says Robleck. “Pre-human, or pre-white man- In the past, there was salt marsh”
George Ziminsky of the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center, board member for the Friends of the Arcata Marsh, and graduate of HSU felt similarly about the necessity of our coastal habitats, stating that “Most migrating birds need mudflats for the invertebrates they eat.” Yet, a lot of the other habitats along the Pacific Flyway migratory birds rely on have been compromised, such as “Down in San Francisco Bay, places have been dyked and filled in so what was normally habitat for food for them, just had soil brought in and dumped on top of it.” He stated that over at the Arcata Marsh they are doing what they can to “create a more diverse habitat” and “restore what was taken away.” He also expressed that the city actually has been very involved in their efforts to restore the salt marshes.
“A Lot of the areas west of I Street was being used for agricultural land, 15 to 20 years ago, and the City of Arcata has removed part of the levee and took out the tide gate.”
As of now, The Arcata Marsh, includes around 307 acres of mixed habitat and serves as a solid foraging place for birds on their winter stopover. “The shorebird numbers are in the hundred of thousands in the winter” says Ziminsky
Jim Clark The Redwood Region Audubon Conservation Director and 4 time president, who graduated from HSU some 40 years ago, states that The MBACA is “the key conservation act that dictates everything from development to hunting,”
Yet when it comes to avian conservation, “A Lot of it is advocacy,” says Clark. “So we look at the act as backups to those principles. We largely are reactionary, we try to be proactive.” He feels that public awareness, “Going beyond just birdwatching, but understanding a need to protect migratory birds.” plays a vital role in habitat and species conservation. His hope is that one day people will see “that little yellowish’ bird with the black top, Wilson’s Warbler, actually migrates 1000’s of miles. I think that would be an outstanding thing if all the people saw it, better understood what it has to go through to have a life.”
“About 5 years ago we had seeds of varied thrush, and you wonder why this happens” says Clark
“If you don’t protect the birds, there won’t be any birders, because there won’t be any birds to watch, to put it bluntly.”
- How can the public get involved in bird conservation?
“Be aware of what they can do on an individual basis for birds”
He recommends “putting reflective strips on windows so you don’t get bird strikes.” In addition, he advises that we also not leave garbage out on the street because it’s attracting crows and ravens, which have now become quite a nuisance. He says that “40 years ago when I was going to HSU I had to get in a car and go over the first ridge inland to see one or two ravens. And now their thick because they’ve learned that where humans live, there’s stuff to eat.”
In regards to what he has done to keep birds coming to his home, he says “in our yard we have planted red alders, it’s a native tree, and they get infected with little leaf hoppers which the warblers love to eat, sparrows love them too, they need them during nesting season.” In addition he states that he’s “planted native grass instead of the typical lawn.”
We can also do our part by “Carrying out invasive, non native plants, encouraging native plants that provide food for birds at the right time of the year.” On the same note, “rat ladders” as he calls them, in reference to Ivy in particular, he states, “let’s rats go up into the trees and eat birds eggs” says Clark “The rats love Ivy, they love Pampas grass, and they love Himalayan Blackberries. All 3 of those plants are non native invasive plants.” Yet the birds aren’t the only ones affected by the fuzzy creatures according to Clark, “When you consider rats it’s also a public health issue.”
- What issues do you see having the greatest effect on the community now or in the near future?
“I think we’re going to be looking in the future to sea level rise and how that is going to affect the natural environment and how we’re going to live with that natural environment when we have to change our urban planning to accommodate that sea level rise, and it’s already happening.”