Tom Gardali, Pacific Coast and Central Valley Group Director, Point Blue Conservation Science
Jaime Stephens, Science Director, Klamath Bird Observatory
Debra Agnew, Science Communication Specialist, Klamath Bird Observatory
John Alexander, Executive Director, Klamath Bird Observatory
Sarahy Contreras-Martínez, Professor-Conservation Scientist, Universidad de Guadalajara-CUCSUR
Kristen Dybala, Principal Ecologist, Point Blue Conservation Science
Wendy Easton, Head of Habitat Assessment and Data Management, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Climate Change Canada
A recent article from Rosenberg et al. (2019) in the journal Science found that nearly 3 billion birds have been lost since 1970. In response to this staggering loss, the bird conservation community envisioned the Five Game Changers concept, a concept that has been embraced by Partners in Flight (PIF) and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. Recognizing the need for new perspectives to address the severe declines of North American birds, on October 28, 2020, the Western Working Group (WWG) of PIF convened virtually to stimulate novel thinking around the Five Game Changers and to generate actionable ideas to make the Game Changers game-changing.
The first half of the meeting consisted of presentations including a summary of the Five Game Changers, and a series of partner presentations on their responses to the loss of three billion birds. In the second half of the meeting participants were gathered into five breakout groups, one for each Game Changer, to discuss “how to make the Game Changers game-changing.” We recommended that participants frame their ideas within a multiple-benefit conservation context. Multiple-benefit conservation is a term that describes conservation efforts that are designed from the outset to benefit people, conserve ecological processes, and enhance wildlife habitat. During these short breakouts each group rapidly generated new, big ideas, and suggested which existing efforts we can reinforce or ramp-up to recover bird populations.
Here are some examples of ideas from each Game Changer breakout group:
1. Unprecedented Collaboration
Many workshop participants pointed to the need for collaborations to be more authentically inclusive, especially of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other People of Color. As a first critical step, we recommend members of the bird conservation community undergo intensive diversity, equity, and inclusion training.
There is growing momentum around the concept and practice of Landscape Stewardship which is resulting in organized networks throughout the world – see the California Landscape Stewardship Network for example. We recommend forming or joining Landscape Stewardship Networks to address bird conservation issues working across multiple ownerships in bold collaborations that involve more human-inclusive approaches to stewardship.
Decades of science-based bird conservation recommendations have yet to be implemented, particularly on scales needed to conserve even common birds. While there is still important avian science to do, bridging the implementation gap between science and practice would be game-changing. Implementation Science is a new field of science that addresses gaps between science and practice around human health; this emergent field can be defined as the scientific study of methods and strategies that facilitate the uptake of evidence-based practice and research into regular use by practitioners and policymakers. We recommend engaging in Implementation Science to build a research agenda for bird conservation.
Workshop participants also reinforced the importance of applying social science as a priority game-changer and we recommend supporting the research needs identified by Dayer et al. (2020) which include studying incentives, social influence tools such as pledges or recognition, structural changes such as changing the built or natural environment so that conservation behavior is easier.
3. Conservation Investment Strategy
In order to expand the number and effectiveness of conservation projects it will be important to find ways to bundle projects with multiple benefits for birds and society. Such strategies have the potential to leverage different funding streams to create greater overall value. We recommend implementing a series of demonstrations that apply this approach to conservation, and leverage novel funding sources, to advance the success of conservation investment strategies and bolster unprecedented collaboration (see above).
Migratory birds spend the majority of their annual cycle on the wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, and South America, yet conservation spending for science and implementation is not proportional to that. We recommend hosting a focused discussion led by conservation organizations in Latin America to learn what is needed and how funding for bird research and conservation efforts can be more equitably distributed.
4. Legislative and Policy Opportunities
We have identified a breadth of needs across the geography of our working group, ranging from incentives for individuals and businesses, to environmental policy, to Indigenous reconciliation. We recommend that all bird conservation professionals connect with local and national representatives to promote policies that advance our collective work and push for multi-national legislation and policy that can help foster cross-border conservation outcomes.
Canada is focusing on Indigenous reconciliation which includes creating Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) for example. The IPCA concept and practice could be expanded within and beyond Canada and empowered by true adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We recommend working to advance the commitment of all governments not simply to adopt UNDRIP but commit to putting it into practice.
5. Communication and Engagement
One response to the loss of 3 billion birds has been the development of Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds. Workshop participants saw the value of these as a tool and suggested evaluating them through the frame of multiple benefits. We recommend analyzing the Seven Simple Actions to determine what additional societal and/or environmental benefits they may have, and then making those benefits clear as part of a communication strategy that goes well beyond birds.
The Five Game Changers can provide a useful frame for evolving bird conservation actions, norms, and practices. However, to be successful we will need to stretch our views on traditional approaches to conservation and double down on what currently works. The initial conversations at the Western Working Group workshop suggest that one path forward is to authentically engage and learn from many worldviews and to invest time and money in doing so. Many of the example actions summarized above will not be easy to implement but are likely to be worthwhile, durable investments for birds and people.
The novel ideas and recommendations listed above emerged from short brainstorming sessions and more conversation is needed to determine our next steps and trajectory. Partners who are eager to take action to support game-changing conservation can pursue training opportunities to fill gaps illuminated by these WWG recommendations. They can also learn more about multiple-benefit conservation, or partners who are already working within the multiple-benefit context can showcase demonstration projects to raise the profile of this approach in achieving shared goals. If you would like to join us in continuing this conversation, and turning it into action, please contact Tom Gardali (firstname.lastname@example.org) and sign-up for the Western Working Group listserv.