Klamath Bird Observatory’s collaborative conservation planning approach is fueled with results from partner-driven science programs. These science programs use birds as indicators of the healthy and resilient ecosystems on which we all depend. The science involves three coordinated aspects:
- Long-term monitoring that provides information about broad-scaled changes in the condition of our world;
- More in-depth theoretical research about how natural and human influences affect our land, air, and water; and
- Applied ecology projects that directly address priority natural resource management challenges.
Klamath Bird Observatory Science-based Conservation: Local, Regional, and International
Klamath Bird Observatory’s award-winning conservation model is applied at local, regional, and international scales.
- We developed our model locally in the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion of northern California and southern Oregon where we maintain intensive science and conservation planning efforts.
- We now provide scientific resources and decision support across the Pacific Northwest region through the Avian Knowledge Northwest node of the Avian Knowledge Network.
- Our intensive professional education and international capacity building programs expand our influence into Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean where we actively support partners who are applying our model through a network of locally driven programs aimed at protecting birds throughout their breeding, migration, and wintering ranges.
Klamath Bird Observatory Conservation Model Applied: Restoration for Oak Woodland Birds and Their Habitats
Our work to advance oak woodland conservation provides a classic example of this model in action. Our science provides:
- A clear sign that oak woodland bird populations are in decline;
- Information about their habitat needs and the possible influence of climate change on their health and distribution; and
- Results that tell us what kind of management actions benefit these species.
The Klamath Bird Observatory Advancing bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships
- Click here for an account of the celebration, written by John Odell.
- Click here for information on Harry Fuller’s bird guide services and book, “Freeway Birding”.
- Click here for Harry Fuller’s blog on birding Oregon and California.
The Klamath Bird Observatory’s foundation is rooted in the study of Natural History and the art of Field Biology. As an Observatory we are an institution that supports observation based science. We prescribe intentioned observation to meticulously document our human experiences in the natural world. Using explicit protocols and well-designed studies we document these experiences, collecting scientific information that we use to inform and improve the way our society manages the ecosystems on which all of Earth’s life depends.
Of course, as a Bird Observatory, birds are the focus of our science. Birds are our focus because the study of birds serves as a cost effective tool for learning about the health of our lands, air, and water. Birds are indicators, and each different species serves as a measuring stick, its abundance and behavior providing invaluable information about specific aspects of our environment. They tell us about the condition and function of our forests; they help to guage the health of the important riparian habitats that grow along and protect our rivers and streams. For example, the presence of various birds tells us many things about a forest—Pileated Woodpeckers and Brown Creepers indicate a healthy mix of standing large trees, both alive and dead, while the occurrence of Pacific-slope Flycatchers, Wilson’s Warblers, and Orange-crowned Warblers indicates a multi-story mix of conifers and hardwoods and a complex of forest floor vegetation. Along our rivers and streams nesting success of certain species serves as an indicator of the health of the riparian habitats that shade and cool the water, stabilize the banks, maintain the water table, and serve as a buffer during flooding. Successfully nesting Song Sparrows indicate early development of healthy riparian habitats, and then, as that habitat matures we expect to see a broader suite of nesting riparian species, such as Yellow Warblers and Yellow-breasted Chats.
Ornithologists, and their scientific study of birds, have lead and formed the foundation for 20th and 21st century conservation. Near the turn of the 20th Century professional and amateur ornithologists, through their affiliation with the American Ornithological Union, shed light on the alarming patterns of population decline and environmental degradation that their science was documenting, influencing Theodore Roosevelt’s ambitious conservation agenda, which included the creation of the United States’ Wildlife Refuge System. Through sound science, the waterfowl community created one of the world’s most successful conservation programs—the North American Waterfowl Conservation Plan. This plan guides protection and management of wetland habitats throughout the ranges of the migratory ducks that depend on these habitats during their entire life cycles. And now more recently, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, through the State of the Birds reports, is bringing to the attention of our top decision makers the fact that birds serve as the bellwethers of our own well-being. Our environmental, economic, and social well-being is inseparably tied to the fate of our birds and we have the science and tools that we need to reverse declines of at risk species while keeping our common birds common—we simply need to make the investment.
With many conservation challenges yet to be overcome, Klamath Bird Observatory is striving to keep our tradition of Natural History and Field Biology alive and well, by ensuring its practice informs effective conservation and helps us to realize tangible benefits for birds and people.
This is an extended version of the Note from the Executive Director article that first appeared in the 2014 Early Winter edition of the Klamath Bird Newsletter.
Overcoming Social and Scientific Challenges to Inform Management in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Soon after the proclamation was issued, Klamath Bird Observatory began working with all the stakeholders to design and implement a grazing effects study in the Monument. We were faced with both social and scientific challenges that put our new non-advocacy, science-based model to the test. At first, the environmental community voiced concerns about KBO working with the BLM on the study, showing their distrust of the agency. Expressing similar skepticism, many of the ranchers were concerned that we were working with the non-government environmental community on aspects of the study. All parties were concerned that individual partners or funding sources would introduce bias into our results. In addition to these social issues, designing a grazing impacts study in the Monument represented a significant scientific challenge because the majority of the area had been grazed for many decades, leaving us with no ungrazed habitats to use as “controls” against which grazing effects could be compared.
We quickly realized that our non-advocacy, science-based model could be used to turn these challenges into opportunities for success. The study design would require cooperation from all stakeholders; we would need to conduct extensive vegetation surveys to document a subtle gradient representing less grazed to more heavily grazed sites. We took on a leading role in this aspect of the study, viewing its design and implementation as essential to effectively measuring the effects of grazing on the Monument’s objects of biological interest. We also viewed collaboration on the study design as a way to unify both the agency and NGO partners involved in the broader grazing effects study.
Within this context we helped to facilitate a process whereby a team of agency, academic, and NGO scientists collaborated on a transparent set of study designs that were presented for scientific review as well as review by a Resource Advisory Committee representing the diverse stakeholder interests. At a Resource Advisory Committee meeting it was agreed that this peer-reviewed and transparent study, and the peer-reviewed results, would produce an agreed upon body of science that would support the upcoming decisions on grazing that had been called for in the Presidential Proclamation. This elevated the science above the social controversy and distrust, in recognition of the integrity of the scientific process. The stage was set for a management decision to be informed by one of the most comprehensive grazing effects studies ever conducted in the western United States.
Many of the study results did indicate that maintaining the current grazing rate and conserving the ecological integrity required by the Monument’s objects of biological interest would prove to be a challenge for the Bureau of Land Management. For example, our data suggested that reduced grazing would benefit long-distance migrant, foliage gleaning, and shrub-nesting birds in the Monument’s oak woodland habitats, meeting established bird conservation objectives.
During the time that the Monument was being created, and the study was being designed and implemented, a separate negotiation involving the government and the environmental and grazing communities was underway. These groups were seeking legislation to facilitate third-party compensation for ranchers who would donate their grazing leases in the Monument, allowing their allotments to be permanently eliminated. This financial compensation offered an alternative to the Presidential Proclamation that stated, “should grazing be found incompatible with protecting the objects of biological interest, the Secretary shall retire the grazing allotments.” However, it was not until the study results were published that a compensation price point could be agreed upon. The results made the retiring of the allotments more likely, given the Secretary’s obligation to meet the directives of the proclamation.
Our early involvement with the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument grazing study served as an excellent test of our non-advocacy, science-based model, and proved to be a true success story for Klamath Bird Observatory, for science, and for science-based bird conservation. Our non-advocacy, science-based model served as a means for building bridges among adversaries, who were eventually able to collaborate as part of a transparent and effective scientific process. Through our involvement we solidified many long-lasting partnerships with diverse collaborators including the Bureau of Land Management, Geos Institute (formally a local office of the World Wildlife Fund), Oregon State University, the US Geological Services Co-op Unit, and local landowners and ranchers. Additionally, many acres of habitat in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument are no longer grazed by livestock, a change in management that is benefitting the ecological integrity of the Monument and many of the resident and migratory birds that depend on its oak woodland habitats.
Over the past 19 years, Klamath Bird Observatory has hosted over 170 student volunteer interns from 16 countries and 23 of the US states. Our objective with each individual has been to create a safe and fun learning experience, with the hope that we impart some positive influence on their academic and professional careers. Certainly, we have enjoyed the company of some incredibly bright, energetic, and enthusiastic individuals.
Luis Morales of Mexico interned with KBO in 2012. At that time he was laying the foundation for a new bird observatory in his native San Pancho, Nayarit, located on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Luis mentored with KBO Executive Director John Alexander as part of his training. The San Pancho Bird Observatory is now a healthy and growing organization advancing bird conservation and education in western Mexico, where many of our nesting songbirds spend their winters.
Keith Larson of Washington interned with KBO in 2004 and 2005. He later completed a PhD at Lund University in Sweden studying songbird migration patterns. Keith is now a research ecologist with the Abisko Arctic Research Lab in northern Sweden, where he is examining the effects of climate change on Arctic ecosystems.
Viviana Cadeña Ruiz of Colombia interned with KBO in 2002 and 2003. She later completed her PhD at Brock University in Canada on the effects of high altitude acclimation on thermoregulation. Viviana is now an eco-physiologist. She recently commenced a three year postdoctoral research fellowship with the University of Melbourne in Australia, where she is researching the adaptive significance of color change in bearded dragon lizards.
These are just a few examples of KBO intern successes – former KBO interns making positive impacts in the world of science and conservation throughout the globe. Our hope, as always, is that their KBO experience has played some part in their accomplishments.
This article is the seventh installment in the series Achieving Partners in Flight Strategic Goals and Objectives.
Klamath Bird Observatory is working with local restoration partners to integrate Partners in Flight priorities and objectives into private lands restoration programs. The Central Umpqua Mid Klamath Oak Habitat Conservation Project, funded by the NRCS Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, is a landscape-scale effort to restore oak woodlands on private lands in southern Oregon and northern California. As a part of this project 15 public and private partners leveraged over $3.8 million to restore 2,000 acres of Oregon white oak habitat.
Lomakatsi Restoration Project and Klamath Bird Observatory are using objectives from regional Partners in Flight (PIF) conservation plans to guide the restoration. Habitat objectives for Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and other oak woodland species are providing details for management prescriptions designed to create oak woodland habitat mosaics, restore native perennial grasses, and reintroduce natural fire regimes whenever possible. Bird monitoring is being integrated into habitat monitoring efforts to assess the effectiveness of restoration based on PIF population objectives. This unique collaboration received the 2012 Department of Interior Partners in Conservation Award.
Download the Partners in Flight Conservation Brief for this project by clicking here. Also see the 2013 State of the Birds Report on Private Lands that highlighted this collaborative oak restoration project in the section on western forest conservation.
Throughout our nation, some two million ranchers and farmers and about 10 million woodland owners look after 1.43 billion acres, or roughly 60% of the land area of the United States. These private lands support more than 300 forest-breeding bird species, and several grassland birds have more than 90% of their distribution on private lands. Waterfowl also depend heavily on private lands. Innovative conservation partnerships are changing the face of private lands conservation as private landowners see real benefits and neighbors follow suit through so-called “contagious conservation.”
In our own backyard, Klamath Bird Observatory is partnering with Lomakatsi Restoration Project, US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and private landowners, and using birds to guide restoration on 2,000 acres of private oak woodlands in southern Oregon and northern California. This unique collaboration—the Central Umpqua-Mid Klamath Oak Conservation Project—received the 2012 Department of Interior Partners in Conservation Award and is restoring one of the West Coast’s most imperiled and biologically rich habitats, benefiting Oak Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. (To learn more about oaks ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest, download Klamath Bird Observatory and American Bird Conservancy’s Land Manager’s Guide to Bird Habitat and Populations in Oak Ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the supplemental guide that features species accounts.)
Klamath Bird Observatory advances bird and habitat conservation in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion and beyond, and has contributed to the high-profile annual State of the Birds reports since the initial report in 2009. Klamath Bird Observatory believes that bird conservation is relevant to every American because the same landscapes that support diverse and abundant bird communities also provide vital services to humans.
John Alexander and Jaime Stephens from Klamath Bird Observatory, and Marko Bey from Lomakatsi Restoration Project, will discuss the 2013 State of the Birds Report on Private Lands on Jefferson Public Radio’s news and information program Jefferson Exchange on Wednesday, July 10th from 9:00am until 10:00am. Tune-in to learn more about what birds tell us about the state of the environment; how these local organizations are working with private landowners to provide benefits for landowners, wildlife, and society; and how America’s famous land ethic—articulated by Aldo Leopold—is being realized.