Most of us are aware of the alarming decline in populations of pollinators and other beneficial insects. This affects all of us, our food supply, and the birds that we love. In addition to habitat loss, pesticides use is a major culprit. Recent investigations have found pesticide residue everywhere, in the body tissues of people and animals, in the food we buy at our supermarkets, and even (sorry about this) in our beer and wine.
The percentage of people who think global warming is happening is now five times greater than that of people who don’t, according to a recent survey conducted by Yale University.
I prefer bird tweets to presidential tweets. It’s too easy to get distracted by the rhetoric and scandals, which may lead to the false impression that not much is getting done. However, while we are distracted, the current administration has sought to roll back many bedrock environmental protections. The vast scope of these changes and proposals makes it difficult for me to read or listen to the news. The following is a sampling of the more than 60 policy changes. Some are in the proposal stage, while others have been enacted.
- The federal government is reversing a policy that would have increased vehicle mileage standards for cars made over the next decade. The standards that were to go into effect would have limited vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They would have also lessened other forms of pollution, reduced the need for fossil fuels, and saved people money at the pump.
You might have heard a little something about the birds and the bees. But maybe you haven’t heard that what’s good for bees is good for birds as well. Because that’s true, Lane County Audubon has joined the Eugene Pollinator Protection Committeein collaboration with the Xerces Society, Beyond Toxics, Walama Restoration Project, GloryBee, and the City of Eugene Parks and Open Spaces. By helping to protect native bees, we also secure resources, habitat, and health for our bird populations and other wildlife.
Unfortunately, pollinator populations have declined dramatically. A 2017 report revealed that over 700 species of native bees are in trouble.
Fom Portland Audubon: East Sand Island was once the largest Double-crested Cormorant colony in the world, home to more than 28,000 cormorants representing 40 percent of the entire population west of the Rocky Mountains. However, for the past three years, federal agencies have been waging a relentless and inhumane war on Double-crested Cormorants, shooting thousands of the birds out of the sky with shotguns and destroying their active nests. More than 5,000 cormorants have been shot, and more than 6,000 nests have been destroyed. Because of this, the world’s largest colony of Double-crested Cormorants has collapsed. The birds abandoned the colony at the peak of nesting season in 2016, and only a couple hundred birds returned to nest in 2017.
The collapse of the entire colony went far beyond what was allowed under the Corps permits and puts the entire western population of Double-crested Cormorants at risk. Yet, the US Army Corps has applied for permits to continue destroying cormorant nests on East Sand Island if the birds return in 2018, and has plans to modify their habitat to limit nesting in the future. This kind of activity could precipitate another colony collapse in 2018.
Oregon’s rocky coastal shores are not currently receiving sufficient analysis or protection. Oregon Shores and Audubon chapters, along with the other organizations that cooperated to institute Oregon’s marine reserves, share this concern. These groups believe that more up-to-date information is needed to make strategic plans. Specifically, we need well-defined objectives, based on scientific data about marine resources and uses.
Many of us share an appreciation for migratory birds. One hundred years ago (that’s 1918), people recognized the need to protect migratory and native species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) that resulted is one of the finest and most far-reaching environmental laws ever passed in the United States. Now it’s in trouble.
Drongos are short-legged birds who literally speak with forked tongues, as do many passerines. They are good mimics. Birds mimic for many reasons, but the drongo can use this ability for tactical deceit. When they see a meerkat carrying food, the drongos loudly mimic a meerkat alarm call. This causes the duped individual to drop their food and run for cover. Guess who gets the food?
Similarly, some people in Congress are giving an alarm call about forest practices and wildfire danger. Proponents of HR 2936 and SB 1731 claim that these new laws would make our forests healthier. What seems more likely is that they will provide benefits to timber companies without protecting the forests. The ironically named “Resilient Forest Act” just passed in the House. The Senate version, “The Forest Management Improvement Act”, has been introduced and may soon be up for a vote. Some troubling aspects of the bills are that they exempt forest projects from review and from the protection of environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act. For example, the Forest Service would no longer need to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts to determine if a project would harm a protected species, and they would no longer need to do an environmental review to determine what the impacts of their project would be.
Roadside herbicide spraying has long been a controversial issue in Lane County, and that hasn’t changed.
Lane County served as a model for environmental stewardship when it banned roadside herbicide spraying in 2008 in response to community concerns. Mowing and other mechanical/manual techniques have proven largely effective at managing our county roadsides since then. Unfortunately, inadequate funding has negatively impacted that effectiveness, so a task force was convened in 2015 to deal with the problem. While some members of the task force were reportedly skeptical about lifting the moratorium on herbicides, they understood the need for addressing problem areas. As a result, ordinance 16-07 was passed in July 2016. The task force recommended several well-considered measures to protect and inform the public while allowing for limited use of herbicide spray.
Most of the problem areas relate to guardrails that are not easily reached by mowers.
In a research study published in July, ravens learned how to get food out of a puzzle box using a stone tool. The next day, when the ravens were given a choice of items to collect, they preferentially selected the stone tools, even when the puzzle box was nowhere in sight. The stones might come in handy later on, when the puzzle box was around. They also learned to trade bottle caps for food. Later, when given a choice between bottle caps and other items (even small food treats), they choose the bottle caps—a fun demonstration that birds are good at planning for the future.
Like ravens, humans also need to plan for the future. National monuments protect species, biodiversity, and important habitat. But the effectiveness of the protected areas decreases over time, due to encroaching development and shifts in species’ ranges due to climate change. How to plan for the future?
One way is to expand existing national monuments. This is just what was done with Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, first designated in 2000. This area is part of the Pacific Flyway, a migratory corridor essential to birds. At the crossroads of four distinct eco-regions, it was created to protect the area’s unique biodiversity. Scientists expressed concerns that the original boundaries were not large enough to preserve the connectivity between species, and that an increase in area development threatened habitat. These concerns, plus evidence indicating that the area was not large enough for species to withstand range shifts due to climate change, prompted an expansion of the monument in 2016. Good planning for the future.