The U.S. State of Birds Report

Ever since Peter Matthieson’s 1959 Wildlife In America, we’ve known that birds — and songbirds in particular — are key indicators of the overall health of our environment. Matthieson’s target 60 years ago was feral domesticated cats, which wreaked havoc on bird populations.
Now a new U.S. government report says our dependence on an endless supply of energy has become a leading contributor to bird mortality. On Tuesday Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released the U.S. State of the Birds Report, which describes “troubling declines of bird populations during the past 40 years — a warning signal of the failing health of our ecosystems.” As Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press points out, the report “shows that birds in Hawaii are more in danger of becoming extinct than anywhere else in the United States. In the last 40 years, populations of birds living on prairies, deserts and at sea have declined between 30 percent and 40 percent.” Turns out that energy production of all types — coal, ethanol, even wind — have led bird numbers to fall precipitously.
Yesterday, John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society, commented: “The birds are sending us a wake-up call that the habitat destruction, climate change and shortsighted environmental policies of the past are combining to take a serious toll.”
What’s the message for anglers? Habitat destruction and pollution are still major culprits in the loss of all wildlife, including fish, but declines in bird life point to increasing problems with fisheries management. Among other things, falling seabird numbers are one of the surest signs of the loss of forage fish to overfishing and bycatch. Longliners contribute directly to the death of surface-feeding seabirds. Diving birds — loons, grebes, gannets, ducks, and shearwaters — die from entanglement in gill nets. According to the actual report, “Mortality from incidental capture in commercial fisheries (bycatch) is the most significant source of mortality for Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses, both species of high conservation concern.” Not surprisingly, the report concludes that new attention to sustainable fisheries is needed to stop the destruction.

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