Bob Ford, Partners in Flight US National Coordinator
In the 1980’s, Chan Robbins and John Sauer led an analysis of Breeding Bird Survey data and found a disproportionate population decline in long distance migrant birds when compared to resident bird species. A coinciding series of science symposia and popular literature focused attention and support on the issue. Wildlife conservation leaders at the time knew a strong coordinated response was needed to find solutions and energize capacity and resources from a host of national and international partners.
They knew what to do. On the heels of establishing the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Joint Ventures, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, wildlife conservation leaders believed they could do the same for nongame birds. Partners in Flight was launched in 1990 to stop and reverse those population declines. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Amos Eno, State Wildlife Agencies through Gary Myers, the US Forest Service, a host of NGOs, and others provided leadership and support.
In 2020, Partners in Flight celebrates its 30th anniversary. There is much to celebrate. Partners in Flight was foundational to a movement that was changing wildlife conservation in the United States. No longer were state and federal “nongame” programs relegated solely to bluebird nest boxes, backyard bird feeding tips, or Bald Eagle hacking programs. Instead the conservation of these birds helped all of us think about the application of conservation biology concepts – minimum tract size requirements, connectivity of habitats, full annual cycle, and creative international partnerships. Birds are indicators of viable habitats and ecosystem health for other species and habitats under our stewardship.
While we celebrate Partners in Flight success, all of us recognize there is cause for concern and it is time for a renewed call to action. The paper published recently in the journal Science (Rosenberg et al. 2019) documents almost 3 billion fewer birds in the North American avifauna than 50 years ago. Among the steepest declines are our most common species, including aerial insectivores like swallows and swifts and steep losses in grassland obligates and forest species.
Partners in Flight’s 30th anniversary is a “working anniversary” as well as a celebratory one. The simple mission of proactive, voluntary, science-based conservation for common birds—before they require costly ESA listing—has been consistent and effective for 30 years. And brings society’s support from a large and still growing constituency of birders and citizen scientists that provide data and a public voice for bird conservation.
Throughout the year, Partners in Flight will use the 30th anniversary as a platform for renewed energy and dedication to bird conservation as a forward to viable habitats and ecosystem health. A series of workshops, facilitated sessions, symposia, blog posts, and social media will inspire critical thinking for new and creative approaches for conservation.
The strength of Partners in Flight lies in its international network of experts and the effectiveness of that network is only as strong as the culmination of people who engage in it. We know that, as wildlife professionals, we can bring species populations back when we work together in partnerships and when we apply the knowledge, resources, and capacity at hand. Partners in Flight encourages you and your staff to engage even more in the network, in these working group sessions, and together we can turn bird populations around.