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Aquatic Fauna in Peril: The Southeastern Perspective

Edited By George W. Benz And David E. Collins

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.



Aquatic Fauna in Peril > Birds of the Southeastern United States: Resource Management Programs

Birds of the Southeastern United States: Resource Management ProgramsIllustration by Tom Tarpley.

By Robert P. Ford, Robert J. Cooper, Douglas L. Helmers, John E. Cely, Robert M. Hatcher, Don H. Orr, and Mark S. Woodrey

Aquatic systems are critical habitats for many bird species. Open water habitats are used by waterfowl, coots, grebes, and loons; mudflats and shorelines are used by shorebirds and wading birds. Freshwater and saltwater marshes are used by wading birds, rails, and some songbirds; and bottomland forests are used by a variety of songbirds, waterfowl, raptors, and others. The southeastern United States contains significant areas regarding the management and conservation of Western Hemisphere birds. For many species, the Southeast provides an important link between boreal breeding habitats and tropical winter habitats. Some birds may occur in the Southeast only in the winter, others only during the summer, and many are permanent residents.

Of the many habitats used by birds in the Southeast, perhaps none are more important and threatened with destruction or degradation than aquatic habitats. Between 1950 and 1970, over 30 percent of the remaining wetlands in the Lower Mississippi Valley were lost (Mitsch and Gosselink, 1986). This same region has lost an average of 67,000 ha (165,554 acres) of wetlands per year (Tiner, 1984). Other extreme examples of habitat loss include North Carolina pocosins, which have declined by an average rate of 17,600 ha (43,489 acres) per year, and Louisiana coastal marshes, which have declined by an average rate of 10,000 ha (24,709 acres) per year (Tiner, 1984).

It is difficult to demonstrate a direct causal relationship between declines in bird populations and any particular factor, and this is especially true for migratory species that use different and widely separated habitats. However, habitat losses such as those mentioned above have been implicated in the declines of bird populations, and the correlations between the declining abundance of many bird species and habitat loss are extremely suggestive (e.g., Robbins et al., 1986; Howe et al., 1989).

Various approaches used to address resource management concerns can be placed in two broad categories: narrowly-focused reactive programs and broad-based proactive programs. Narrowly focused management programs are usually species-specific approaches, are usually reactive, and are usually designed to facilitate crisis management of species threatened or endangered with extinction.

Broad-based programs involve a habitat-based approach to conserve species assemblages, or groups of species that share similar habitats. Similar to ecosystem management (Grumbine, 1994), these programs are often proactive and designed to halt population declines before a species, or a group of species, becomes critically endangered. Maintenance of ecosystem function is also stressed (Grumbine, 1994). Necessarily, these programs require a landscape view of conservation and require partnership development between public and private parties.

In this chapter, we discuss a number of bird management programs with narrow focus, plus three broad-based management programs that are international in scope and that target populations of migratory birds: the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Program (commonly called Partners in Flight). Each of the programs will be discussed in relation to important physiographic provinces in the Southeast, with emphasis on the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley.

Species Specific Management Programs

The following programs are examples of vital recovery projects for threatened or endangered bird species or species whose populations are declining throughout the Southeast. The programs described do not include all of the endangered bird programs for imperiled birds of aquatic habitats. Instead, the examples provided range from highly visible and popular recovery projects (e.g., large birds of prey) to poorly funded projects that focus on species whose biology is largely unknown (e.g., rails).

Bald Eagle — Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Population declines of bald eagle in the Southeast from about 1945 to 1975 were principally due to reproductive failures caused by contamination by chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides (see Mulherin et al., 1970). Throughout the region, these declines were often severe, and they reduced eagle populations to levels which ranged from 0-75 percent of historical values. The nesting status in the Southeast was summarized by Wood et al. (1988).

The following perspective for bald eagles is based largely on a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency questionnaire sent to state wildlife agencies in 14 states in January of 1994. The questionnaire requested information about hacking (described below) and other management programs, as well as observed nesting success. Survey results discussed here represent all 14 states, and all of these states except Maryland and Virginia occur in the Southeastern Bald Eagle Recovery Region.

At the time of the aforementioned survey, the bald eagle was listed as federally endangered in 43 of 50 states. For the Southeastern Bald Eagle Recovery Region, criteria required before a listing change to threatened status could be made were the existence of 600 or more occupied breeding areas distributed over nine of the 12 states of the Southeastern Recovery Region, the existence of an overall reproductive rate of greater than 1.5 young per successful nest, and the maintenance of these biological parameters on average over a period of at least three years (Murphy, 1984). In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the status of the bald eagle from endangered to threatened in all 48 contiguous states (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995a).

The hacking technique, in which young birds are removed from the nest where they were born, or from captive breeding populations, and relocated to artificial nests in historic parts of their range, has been used to successfully restore nesting populations of many raptor species (Cade and Temple, 1977). Since 1979, 614 young bald eagles have been released from hack sites in seven of 14 states surveyed (Table 1). Southeastern hacking efforts began in Georgia in 1979 (see Hammer et al., 1981). Tennessee has released 230 eagles through 1993, the most of any southeastern state. Bald eagle hacking continued in 1994 in Georgia, northern Louisiana, and Tennessee.

The large proportion of occupied nests found in close proximity to hack sites in Tennessee (see Hatcher, 1991) indicates that hacking has been successful. Furthermore, even greater nesting activity is predicted for the future since most of the eagle hack releases have been in recent years, and on the average, successful nesting does not occur until these birds reach five years of age. Tennessee’s successful nests have the potential to increase from 15 in 1993 to about 42 by the year 2000. Actual increases in Tennessee and elsewhere will be governed largely by the availability of suitable habitat, the amounts of disturbance by humans, and the educational successes associated with these factors (Hatcher, 1991).

Osprey — Pandion haliaetus

The widely used pesticide DDT and other organochlorines were the primary cause of drastic drops in osprey productivity by the early 1970s. After the use of DDT was restricted in 1972, osprey populations stabilized and began to increase at most locations. Osprey are most common near the Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the Southeast. Large inland reservoirs also provide potential osprey habitat. Osprey currently nest in 12 southeastern states. As of this writing, osprey carry special concern or threatened status in seven states, and active hacking programs exist in several southeastern states (Table 2).

Open-topped live or dead trees are preferred natural nest sites for osprey throughout the Southeast. However, these birds are notable for their attraction to man-made structures, including navigation markers and powerline towers. Man-made nest platforms of 1 m2 (about 11 square feet) and approximately 6 m (about 20 feet) above the ground have proven attractive osprey nesting locations across the country. These structures have allowed managers to provide potential nest sites in areas that lack sufficient natural ones and to relocate pairs of nesting birds away from excessive disturbances (Martin et al., 1986). The acceptance of man-made nests by ospreys also allows nest substitutions to help mitigate problems associated with nesting activity about hazardous or conflicting-use, man-made structures (Martin et al., 1986).

In 1993, over half of Tennessee’s 51 osprey nests were located on Watts Bar Lake, and of these, approximately 66 percent occurred on nesting platforms and 27 percent occurred on other man-made structures (B. Anderson, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, unpubl. data). On the Kentucky portion of Land Between the Lakes, all 14 osprey nests were located on either platforms or other man-made structures (T. Evans, Tennessee Valley Authority, pers. comm.). As indicated by the aforementioned Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s 1994 questionnaire, Tennessee and Georgia reported that future osprey management measures will focus on the installation of nesting platforms and will include an initiative to provide technical assistance to others interested in constructing and installing platforms.

Table 1. Bald eagle hacking and nesting status, by state, in the southeastern United States from 1979 through 1993. Results are based on responses to a 1994 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency survey of state wildlife agencies.
State
Hacking
No. of Successful Nests
1993 Ave. Fledges Per Successful Nest
Nest Recovery Goal
No. Birds
Years
1982
1988
1993
AL
91
1985-91
0
0
6
1.2
10
AR
unknown
 
0
0
9
1.7
10
FL
0
 
240
276
447
1.5
4001
GA
84
1979-93
12
5
14
1.2
20
KY
0
 
0
0
6
2.0
51
LA
30
1992-93
142
24
62
1.5
401
MD
0
 
462
77
1352
 
 
MO
74
1981-90
0
3
3
2.2
 
MS
76
1986-92
0
1
8
1.6
10
NC
29
1983-88
0
1
3
2.0
10
SC
0
 
172
41
63
1.6
511
TN
230
1980-93
0
8
15
1.7
151
VA
0
 
372
65
100
1.8
852
WV
0
 
0
1
2
2.0
21
Total
614
1979-93
355+
502+
633+
1.5
 
1 Have reached state recovery goals, assuming approximately 75 percent of occupied nests are successful.
2 Estimate.

Rails

Of all North American rallids, seven are considered game species: American coot (Fulica americana), common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), purple gallinule (Porphyrula martinica), king rail (Rallus elegans), clapper rail (R. longirostris), Virginia rail (R. limicola), and sora (Porzana carolina). Yellow rails (Coturnicops noveboracensis) and black rails (Laterallus jamaicenses) have not been game species since the late 1960s (Eddleman et al., 1988). Despite some efforts to perform survey work and telemetry research, notably in Florida (Runde et al., 1990) and South Carolina (Cely et al., 1993), rail management can best be characterized as underfunded and based on limited life history information (Tacha and Braun, 1994).

Eddleman et al. (1988) summarized available information on rails and identified conservation problems. Because these birds are wetland species commonly found associated with marshes, rails have suffered much loss of habitat. Furthermore, as most rails are migratory, habitat losses can impact these species throughout the annual cycle. Pesticides and other contaminants might also impact rails, although pollution effects on these birds are little-known at this time (Eddleman et al., 1988; Tacha and Braun, 1994).

Three rail species are the focus of this section. Black rails and yellow rails are small, secretive, rarely seen, and highly sought by birders. King rails, typically inhabitants of freshwater marshes, were fairly common permanent residents over much of their southeastern range 30 to 50 years ago (Sprunt and Chamberlain, 1949; Ripley, 1977). However, many observers consider the species to be experiencing serious population declines in recent years (Reid et al., 1994). Eddleman et al. (1988) recently considered king rails threatened outside of Florida and Louisiana. From 1976 to 1982 the National Audubon Society’s Blue List included king rails as a species suspected to be in trouble, and in 1986, king rails were listed as a species of special concern. In the Carolinas and Georgia, LeGrand (1991) reported king rails as "quite scarce" away from tidewater marshes. A recent survey of marsh birds in South Carolina, using tape-recorded playback calls, amplified the concern of declining king rail populations. Only seven king rails were found at inland coastal sites (e.g., the Atlantic Coastal Plain), and none occurred at more than 50 Piedmont sites despite the presence of suitable habitat (Cely et al., 1993).

Table 2. Osprey hacking and nesting status, by state, in the southeastern United States. Results are based on responses to a 1994 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency survey of state wildlife agencies.
State
Conservation Status
Hacking
Number of Breeding Pairs
No. Birds
Years
1988
1993
AL
special concern1
77
1982-88
9
unknown
AR
special concern1
unknown
 
1
unknown
FL
special concern1
0
 
1750
unknown
GA
 
23
1987-90
105
unknown
KY
 
92
1981-89
0
unknown
LA
special concern1
0
 
6
unknown
MO
 
4
1980s
0
0
MS
special concern1
0
 
40+
unknown
NC
 
0
 
450
unknown
SC
special concern1
0
 
500
1000
TN
threatened2
165
1980-89
33
51
VA
 
0
 
1300
unknown
WV
 
126
1983-93
1
2
1 Species of special concern in the state.
2 Threatened species in the state.

Yellow rails are strictly winter visitors in the Southeast, a time when they are found primarily in moist coastal grasslands and marshes. Little is known of their wintering status, distribution, and habitat needs. Cursory surveys in South Carolina have documented yellow rails at a few sites in shallow-flooded Carolina bays, featuring grasses and sedges (wet depression meadows), from October through January (J. Cely, South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, pers. obs.). However, their presence has been erratic and is apparently dependent on water levels and rainfall. The coastal prairies and high marsh of Texas and Louisiana may support the highest densities of a yellow rail wintering population.

Black rails are federal candidates for threatened or endangered listing (Category 2), and they are also migratory nongame birds of management concern (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995b). Except during migration, the southeastern range of this secretive species is apparently confined to tidal marshes and a few inland sites (Potter et. al., 1980). Black rails have been located using tape playbacks during the nesting season in the upper reaches of shallow-flooded tidal marshes, as well as in high marshes in coastal waterfowl impoundments (Runde et al., 1990; Cely et al., 1993), but few nests have been found in the region. The wintering status of black rails in the Southeast is unclear, but they apparently occur from Florida and the Gulf Coast north to New Jersey.

Although few, if any, resource management programs specifically target rails in the Southeast, these birds partially benefit from extensive waterfowl management efforts by federal, state, and private entities. For example, the majority of marsh birds present in one survey were associated with waterfowl management areas in South Carolina (Cely et al., 1993). Rail management, with some considerations, can be compatible with most waterfowl management practices. Eddleman et al. (1988) noted that rails preferred shallower marshes with denser emergent vegetation than those typically managed for waterfowl. Flooding and de-watering regimes for waterfowl can affect rail management. To best benefit rails, flooding during fall migration should commence earlier than usual for waterfowl and continue later into the spring.

Fire can play a significant role in rail management. Prescribed marsh fires, designed to keep marshes open and remove excessive dead vegetation, can be detrimental if not enough cover for rails remains. Damp meadows, high marsh, and drier transition marsh habitats, preferred by yellow rails and black rails, are often susceptible to replacement by woody plants without periodic burning or other disturbances.

Yellow rails and black rails are among the most sought after species by ever growing numbers of bird watchers, and this fact is added justification for higher priority rail management and research efforts in the Southeast. These birds could play leading roles in Watchable Wildlife Programs and other forms of ecotourism (see Mitchell and Hatcher, 1993). For example, the marsh buggy tours for yellow rails at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas were extremely popular with the birding public. Although marsh buggy tours were discontinued in 1987 due to impacts on marsh vegetation, a successful scaled down version has been substituted in the 1990s. Wildlife management agencies could cultivate new constituencies by developing partnerships with bird watchers that have a high interest in black rails and yellow rails. Refuges could utilize volunteer bird watchers to survey and document rail occurrences and to serve as guides.

Low cost management practices can be implemented for rails. First, to investigate the status and distribution of yellow rails in the Southeast, managers and others may consider a region-wide census of state and federal refuges using volunteers on a Yellow Rail Day in winter. Such a snapshot census could be carried out in conjunction with local Christmas Bird Counts. For black rails, a similar one-day volunteer survey could be conducted in May or June. These surveys could be coordinated through a regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office and individual state wildlife agencies.

Although king rail populations may be declining more dramatically than other marsh birds, interest in this species among bird watchers is not as high as for the aforementioned rails. Therefore, to monitor king rails, managers might use a combination of professional and volunteer surveys, including assistance from waterfowl associations, hunt clubs, and groups that work in king rail habitat. Surveys should be concentrated at sites of known historical occurrence for rails, especially inland wetlands. If suitable populations can be located, detailed investigations of nesting and population ecology should be initiated.

Sandhill Crane — Grus canadensis

Six subspecies of sandhill crane are currently recognized, five of which occur in the United States (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1991; Tacha et al., 1994). The sixth subspecies, the endangered, nonmigratory Cuban sandhill crane (G. c. nesiotes) occurs in Cuba and the Isle of Pines. Of the three migratory subspecies, the greater sandhill crane (G. c. tabida) is commonly found wintering in the Southeast. The Florida sandhill crane (G. c. pratensis) and the Mississippi sandhill crane (G. c. pulla) are nonmigratory and nest in the southeastern United States (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1991). Both of these sandhill crane subspecies were listed as rare in 1968 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After its recognition as a subspecies (Aldrich, 1972), the Mississippi sandhill crane was listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1973).

Currently, 115 to 120 free-ranging Mississippi sandhill cranes reside on and around the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County, Mississippi. Of these, about 90 are captive reared birds released through a reintroduction program at the refuge. Prior to augmentation with captive-reared birds, wild population numbers were less than 40 individuals with no more than eight breeding pairs per year, and an average of less than five pairs (S. Hereford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm.). During the last three to four years, an average of six breeding pairs per year have nested on the refuge, and since captive-reared birds have entered the breeding population, an average of seven pairs have nested annually (S. Hereford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unpubl. data). However, chick productivity of these nesting attempts has been very low, with only two wild-reared chicks being fledged each year since 1991 (S. Hereford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm.).

Mississippi sandhill cranes nest in Lower Coastal Plain wet, pine savanna habitats. Historic population declines of these cranes have likely been caused indirectly or directly by habitat loss and increased rates of various forms of mortality (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1991). For example, in recent history, indirect loss of savanna habitats has occurred via the suppression of wildfires, which has allowed the establishment of plants such as gallberry (Ilex glabra and I. coriacea). These plants make the savanna unsuitable for crane nesting. Direct loss of habitat resulted from conversion to pine plantations during the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, thousands of acres of wet savanna were drained and planted with slash pine (Pinus elliotii) seedlings (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1991; Tacha et al., 1994). Reports of crane shootings, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, though sporadic, resulted in mortality rates which may have exceeded natural recruitment rates for the population. Increased natural mortality caused by predation on adults and nestlings continues to restrict crane population growth (S. Hereford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unpubl. data).

Challenges to the recovery of the Mississippi sandhill crane population are many. The recovery objective regarding this subspecies is to maintain a genetically viable, stable, self-sustaining, free-living population (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1991). Actions needed to recover the subspecies include the following: improvement of the quality and quantity of nesting habitat on or near the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge; increasing natural recruitment in the wild population; minimizing human disturbance (especially to nesting cranes); continued restoration, improvement, and maintenance of feeding and roosting habitats; and limiting or negating contact with potential toxins (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1991). Results of a 1992 workshop on population and habitat viability assessment indicated that efforts aimed at habitat restoration, reducing mortality, and increasing reproduction are essential to the continued existence of this species (Seal and Hereford, 1994).

Least Tern — Sterna antillarum

Least terns are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as migratory nongame birds of management concern throughout the United States (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995b). Though fairly common in coastal areas, there is moderate concern for this species throughout the Southeast. Reasons for this concern include apparent population declines and this species’ use of geographically restricted coastal areas for breeding. Coastal habitats, particularly in the Southeast, are under tremendous pressure associated with land development and human disturbance (Cullitan et al., 1990). Development of coastal habitats restricts the availability of suitable least tern breeding sites and it predisposes these birds to disturbance. Human disturbance at suitable nesting areas has been documented to cause entire colonies of nesting least terns to fail.

Of more immediate concern in the Southeast is a population of least terns which nest in interior regions. The interior least tern (S. a. athalassos) nests in low numbers on barren sandbars (Smith and Renken, 1993) along the Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio, Red, Rio Grande, Platte, and other river systems in the central United States (Hardy, 1957; U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1985; Sidle et al., 1988; Whitman, 1988). In 1985, the interior least tern was listed as a federally endangered subspecies throughout its range (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1985). Southern states included under the federal listing are Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. These states also list the interior least tern as endangered under state law.

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (e.g., Rumancik, 1993) and the Missouri Department of Conservation (Smith and Renken, 1991, 1993) found about half of the rangewide population of interior least terns, estimated by Kirsch (1992), to be 6,800 birds between Cairo, Illinois and Vicksburg, Mississippi (Sidle et al., 1988). Kirsch (1992) analyzed productivity data from studies of breeding interior least terns to estimate population trends at several geographic scales. Population trends were strongly positive for the entire population, as well as for populations in the Mississippi River drainage. Population trends for the Missouri River and Platte River drainage basins were not significantly different from zero.

Interior least terns nest from May through July. Threats to this subspecies include the loss of riverine sandbar nesting habitat because of high water during annual floods and channelization and impoundment of rivers (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1990). The federal recovery plan aims at establishing a stable population over ten years of 7,000 birds divided among five river drainage basins (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1990). Current recovery activities include ongoing investigations of population trends and habitat requirements throughout the breeding range of interior least terns, management of reservoir and river water levels when possible to benefit terns (i.e., expose sandbars when seasonally appropriate), education programs to develop public awareness, and protection of nesting areas in places where public use is high (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1990).

BROAD-BASED PROACTIVE MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS

In contrast to the species-specific programs discussed above, more proactive, broad-based management programs have in some instances been implemented prior to the point when a bird species becomes so rare that it must be protected to ensure its survival. The three programs described below represent such broad-based programs, and as such they benefit more species, are implemented over wider geographic areas, and generally seem more economical in comparison to species-specific management programs.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Waterfowl had been intensively managed for many years prior to the initiation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan in 1986. Throughout the Southeast, state and federal wildlife agencies had acquired, developed, and intensively managed hundreds of refuges and management areas. In this region, management efforts have historically focused on providing wintering habitat for the dabbling duck group, which includes the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and other ducks that feed in shallow water, and breeding habitat for wood ducks (Aix sponsa). Canada goose (Branta canadensis) has been the featured species of most goose habitat management efforts. Thousands of habitat acres that are managed by private individuals and organizations are critically important to waterfowl. Treaties and laws that protect waterfowl have been enacted, and state and federal governments work together each year to implement and enforce hunting regulations designed to sustain and increase breeding populations.

While the efforts described above have been beneficial, waterfowl populations have generally declined because of the continual loss of breeding, migration, and wintering habitat in Canada and the United States. To address these declines, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) was approved by Canada and the United States in 1986. This program sets waterfowl population goals and identifies the actions needed to achieve those goals. Because it was recognized that the total cost of achieving the NAWMP’s goals was beyond the capability of government, the plan recommends that partnerships between public and private organizations be formed to share in the effort to restore waterfowl populations to levels of the 1970s by protecting about 2,428,200 ha (approximately 6 million acres) of priority habitat (U.S. Department of Interior and Canadian Wildlife Service, 1986).

Priority waterfowl habitat areas in the Southeast are the Lower Mississippi River Valley (LMV), the Gulf Coast, and the Middle-Upper Atlantic Coast. The LMV habitat program was initiated in 1989 with a goal to "Provide an adequate quantity, quality and distribution of migration and wintering habitat on public and private lands to ensure that the LMV Joint Venture area can support a wintering population of at least 8.6 million ducks and 1.0 million geese during the years of normal precipitation" (Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture Management Board, 1990; page 6).

Contributions from the private sector have been significant; the federal government contributed $16,809,789, state governments contributed $1,847,574, and private interests contributed $909,306 for habitat management in the LMV during 1993 (Loesch et al., 1994).

The habitat program in the Southeast has been successful not only because of the additional habitat that has been provided, but also because it has shown that creating partnerships between the private and public sectors can be extremely beneficial and cost effective when managing waterfowl. Furthermore, partnerships create a new awareness and interest within private groups and among individuals. For example, in the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture, 114,696 ha (283,409 acres) of wetlands have been protected, 46,635 ha (115,233 acres) of wetlands have been restored or enhanced, and active water management occurs on 24,436 ha (60,380 acres) of private lands (Loesch et al., 1994).

This program is young, and it is still too early to have produced significant changes toward achieving its waterfowl population goals. The program will continue through at least the year 2000, and the available resources are expected to increase each year. NAWMP activities in the other two priority areas (Gulf Coast and Middle-Upper Atlantic) have also been commendable.

Waterfowl management in the Southeast should continue with programs that improve habitat in high priority areas, while seeking to expand into other areas that are also important to waterfowl. As overall continental waterfowl populations increase, so will Southeast populations. Predation rates on nesting females are very high on the breeding grounds and significantly affect the continental population of waterfowl, particularly ducks. Improving nesting habitat on breeding grounds should increase nesting success and ultimately strengthen duck populations.

Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

Shorebirds are a diverse group, with 80 species, primarily of the families Scolopacidae and Charadriidae occurring throughout the world. Body size ranges from the 20 g (0.7 ounce) least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) to the greater than 500 g (17.6 ounce) double-striped thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus) and oystercatchers (Haematopus spp.). In addition to their morphological diversity, shorebirds also exploit diverse habitats, ranging from coastal beaches and marshes, to mud flats and freshwater wetlands, to grasslands and savannas. Their annual migrations can cover 30,000 km (18,642 miles) round trip, taking them from the tip of South America’s Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic tundra and boreal forest breeding grounds found in Alaska and Canada. These birds depend intimately on the continued availability of several critical wetland areas to provide food and resting places during their international migrations. So important are these stopover locations that the elimination of one wetland along a migratory pathway could translate into a major population disruption for an entire species.

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), based at the Manomet Bird Observatory in Massachusetts, is a voluntary collaboration of private and government organizations committed to protecting shorebirds and their wetland habitats. The WHSRN program began in 1985 to address the alarming declines in shorebird numbers. Via this program, critical stopover sites used by large concentrations of migratory shorebirds are identified and provided international recognition. The Network uses shorebird conservation to raise awareness of the intense international cooperation needed to protect wildlife habitat, and to endorse the need for a global perspective to conserve the planet’s natural ecosystems and biological diversity. Specific sites are incorporated into this program based upon biological criteria and voluntary nomination by landowners or managers.

WHSRN was initiated as a result of decades of research by the Manomet Bird Observatory, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the Canadian Wildlife Service, that suggested that many shorebird populations were declining (Howe et al., 1989). Through research it became apparent that to protect shorebirds, a strategy was needed to protect migration stopover habitats in areas where they were most threatened.

Although many gaps still exist in our knowledge of shorebird migrations, the WHSRN uses data from the International Shorebird Survey, the Pacific Flyway Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and other sources to identify the most important shorebird stopover areas. These locations can then be nominated for inclusion as part of the Shorebird Reserve Network. The Network extends international recognition to member sites and fosters improved conservation management that benefits shorebirds.

WHSRN recognizes four categories of sites with locations in seven countries across the hemisphere. Sites are placed in one of four categories: hemispheric sites include 500,000 shorebirds or 30 percent of a flyway population, international sites include 100,000 shorebirds or 15 percent of a flyway population, regional sites include 20,000 shorebirds or five percent of a population, endangered species registry sites include important locations for endangered species and no minimum population is required. These sites encompass about 5 million ha (12,354,830 acres) of wetlands, affecting about 30 million shorebirds. Although this program benefits shorebirds, these populations are still at risk because the WHSRN actually extends no legal protection to critical sites.

WHSRN unites wildlife agencies, private conservation groups, and other organizations across the Americas to solve the conservation problems negatively affecting migratory shorebirds and their habitat. The success of WHSRN’s collaborative and hemispheric approach to a global environmental challenge, such as the conservation of migratory shorebird populations, is one model for the international management approach needed to confront the crucial environmental problems that exist today. WHSRN has become a widely respected hemispheric effort, especially in Latin America, and has initiated and developed local wetland groups along with new international, national, and local wetlands policies.

WHSRN is also active in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan to manage and protect shorebird habitats. A shorebird habitat management manual has been prepared by WHSRN to help integrate the management of wetlands for shorebirds (Helmers, 1992). WHSRN is currently collaborating with federal, state, and private agencies to organize training workshops for natural resource managers throughout the United States. The objective of these workshops is to provide information that can be used to integrate shorebird management into traditional wetland management practices. Workshops provide resource managers with many of the tools needed to enhance the availability of shorebird habitat.

WHSRN’s shorebird and wetland conservation activities have enhanced public and political conservation awareness, and have elevated important issues into national and international policy arenas. Myers et al. (1987) suggested similar conservation programs for other migratory species that pass through various bottlenecks during migration. These species could include several species of birds of prey, large wading birds, cetaceans, anadromous fishes, and large terrestrial mammals.

Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Program — Partners in Flight

Long-term population declines of many songbirds have been summarized from a variety of data sources including the Breeding Bird Survey (Robbins et al., 1986), Breeding Bird Census (Hall, 1964), and independent research projects (e.g., Hagan and Johnston, 1992). Specifically, Breeding Bird Survey data indicated recent declines in many bird species groups, including populations of long-distance, or neotropical migratory birds (Robbins et al., 1986; see also Hagan and Johnston, 1992; Finch and Stangel, 1993).

Neotropical migrants are birds that nest in North America and spend the nonbreeding season in Mexico, Central or South America, or the Caribbean. These attributes differentiate them from migrants in general, which include birds that winter in southern North America but breed in northern North America, and neotropical birds, which include species that spend their entire lives in neotropical areas. Over 160 species of birds are classified as neotropical migrant landbirds (Finch, 1991), with major groups including raptors (birds of prey), cuckoos, caprimulgids, swifts, hummingbirds, flycatchers, swallows, thrushes, vireos, warblers, tanagers, orioles, buntings, grosbeaks, and some sparrows.

In response to recognized population declines of songbirds and associated public concern (e.g., Terborgh, 1989), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation hosted an international meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in late 1990. Representatives attended from federal, state, and local governments, large and small non-government organizations, and universities. From this meeting, the "Partners in Flight — Aves de las Americas" Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Program began. The goals of the Partners in Flight initiative are as follows: determine the status and specific causes of neotropical migratory bird population declines, maintain stable populations of these species, and reverse declining population trends through habitat restoration and management (Finch and Stangel, 1993).

During the first two years of the initiative (1991-1993), approximately 114 projects were funded by about 3 million dollars of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funds privately matched by 5.3 million dollars. Most of these projects have taken place in the United States, but some work has been carried out in tropical wintering areas. Many federal agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding to manage and conserve neotropical migrants; those with extensive responsibilities for wetlands and aquatic systems in the Southeast include the U.S. Department of Defense (Army Corps of Engineers), the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The national Partners in Flight is organized into regional working groups (northeast, southeast, midwest, and west) containing subsets based on four topics: information and education, management, research, and monitoring. Hunter et al. (1993) have provided strategies for prioritization of species, species assemblages, and habitats by physiographic province. The development of species and habitat priorities has enhanced the establishment of goals and objectives. Many states, such as Tennessee (see Ford and Cooper, 1993), have initiated five-year plans for conservation and management of neotropical migrants. One focus of the southeast working group has been to address issues and ultimately manage neotropical migrants at the physiographic province level, which transcends traditional state boundaries.

Pertinent to aquatic systems is the Mississippi Alluvial Valley physiographic province. The Mississippi Valley bottomland hardwood forests and other wetlands are important habitats for birds. Recently, daily checklists from ten sites in the Mississippi Valley included 174 bird species. Of those, 39 species were breeding neotropical migrants and 41 were transient species (Smith et al., 1993). To date, conservation and management activities in the Mississippi Valley have been primarily associated with inventorying, monitoring, and research as applied to forest management. A landscape level management plan is currently being developed and will be integrated with developing waterfowl and shorebird management objectives. This plan will primarily address the need for quality nesting habitats.

Nesting habitats have been the primary focus of Partners in Flight. Yet, little is known about the importance of habitat during the migratory period, and the importance of stopover habitats has been overlooked in most conservation strategies involving long-distance migratory birds (Moore and Woodrey, 1993). The availability of suitable stopover habitats is critical when birds must replenish depleted fat reserves, respond to unfavorable weather, and avoid predation (Moore et al., 1993).

Many species migrating through the Southeast make a nonstop migration of greater than 1,000 km (621 miles) across the Gulf of Mexico in 18 to 24 hours. Forested coastal habitats may be crucial to landbird migrants in the fall, because they provide a place to develop energy reserves for the flight across the Gulf, and in the spring because they provide a place to rest and replenish energy reserves following a trans-Gulf flight (Moore et al., 1990).

Rapid urban and rural development in coastal zones throughout the Southeast is a conservation problem (Moore et al., 1990). By the year 2010, coastal populations are likely to have grown from 80 million to 127 million people, an increase of about 60 percent. In the Southeast, the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico is expected to follow this trend (Cullitan et al., 1990), and as a result, possibly the most important migratory stopover areas of the Nearctic-Neotropcial migration system in the southeastern United States appear in critical need of protection.

As with the other broad, proactive programs described here, private landowners are an integral part of the Partners in Flight program. Workshops concerning the simultaneous management of forests and birds, and conflict resolution have been held in several physiographic provinces, including the Mississippi Valley (Smith and Pashley, 1994), the Coastal Plain, and the Interior Low Plateaus. The forest products industry is funding significant research and management of their own volition, including at least one ecosystem management initiative in the Interior Low Plateaus region of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. The Anderson-Tully Co., a forest products industry, published a breeding bird field manual for managers of bottomland hardwood forests (Anderson-Tully Co., 1994). This manual identifies important habitat types, seral stages, life history characteristics, and beneficial silvicultural activities for various bird species found in bottomland hardwood forests. These types of conservation activities demonstrate a positive move away from the highly confrontational atmosphere that has often surrounded endangered species management in many areas of the country.

Funding Problems

One serious problem that has always thwarted the management of nongame species is the lack of a consistent, reliable funding source. The adequate management of nongame species will never be realized until a reliable funding mechanism is developed to support it. Along these lines, annual funds obtained via the excise tax associated with the Pittman-Robertson and Dingle-Johnson Acts serve as an excellent model of success. A similar user pay-user benefit surcharge levied at the manufacturer level on birdseed, feeders, field guides, binoculars, and other items associated with observing wildlife as a form of recreation could provide the necessary sustained funding to drive ecosystem management programs. Such a surcharge is currently being proposed by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a large coalition of users. The acceptance of this initiative, commonly known as Teaming With Wildlife, is vital for state leadership in developing conservation, management, and research programs for nongame species, and conservation education programs for the public.

Summary

Narrowly focused, or single species, management programs for aquatic birds in peril, such as bald eagle, osprey, least tern and sandhill crane, involve intensive efforts such as creation and protection of nesting sites and artificial rearing of birds. Although these programs are necessary, effective, and often benefit other species, they are also extremely expensive regarding benefits obtained per species and per individual. Furthermore, private landowners often fear these programs because there is often little room for compromise or experimentation in terms of simultaneous management of exploited resources and imperiled fauna. Hence, via such programs landowners sometimes can lose control over certain aspects of management of their own lands.

Broad-based approaches to wildlife management are oriented towards large-scale habitat conservation that helps multiple species. Adopting ecosystem management, these programs are proactive, embracing the philosophy that the best way to approach the imperiled species problem is to keep species and habitats from becoming endangered. Because of the large geographic scale often involved, partnerships between the public and private sectors are encouraged. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) has been exemplary in this regard. To date, the broad-based programs described above have afforded land managers and owners the opportunity to provide proactive input into the overall plan, simultaneously manage their land resource for traditional objectives as well as the groups of species in question, and maintain greater control over the various management objectives of their lands. Administrators also prefer this approach because it is more cost and labor efficient. For example, creation of flooded grasslands and emergent marshes under the NAWMP also benefits rails, bald eagles, osprey, and other species as well.

Along with creating a sustainable funding source, we recommend the following program needs for adequate conservation and management of imperiled birds which use aquatic habitats:

  1. increased inventory, monitoring, and research efforts focusing on bird populations to better determine species in need of management;
  2. increased funding levels for single species management until recovery goals are met, and the addition of other imperiled species as necessary to prevent extinction or local extirpation;
  3. increased financial support for existing broad-based proactive programs, and integrated management of multiple species and species assemblages as a step toward ecosystems management;
  4. prioritization and development of a broad-based proactive program for rails which increases inventories, monitoring, and research on these species and which uses research findings to drive management actions;
  5. increased inventory, monitoring, and research of important stopover habitats during migration periods and integration of the data thus obtained into international, national, regional, physiographic province, and local management plans; and
  6. increased support and encouragement for research programs designed to investigate the assumptions of management priorities.

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