PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 131, Winter 2003: Human Disturbance

Some forms of human-caused disturbance can be balanced with thoughtful alternatives.


Applying PRBO's Bird Studies

Ellie M. Cohen

Human Disturbance
Executive Director's Column
Vulnerable Coastal Habitats
Invasive Plants
Responsible Science
Birding Ethics
Focus on Feeders
Planned Giving to PRBO
Spain Oil Spill

The word is out--birds are excellent indicators of ecosystem health.

As threats to our environment continue almost unabated, interest in applied bird conservation science is soaring. From the National Park Service to The Nature Conservancy, more and more public and private interests are asking PRBO for help.

By studying bird populations, PRBO is able to evaluate and even predict effects on wildlife of changes ranging from West Nile virus and global warming to planned habitat restoration. This enables us to begin to answer a fundamental question: how do we balance human actions with the urgent need to conserve biodiversity?

Based on our long-term studies, PRBO is providing recommendations that are now in use by every major habitat and wildlife management agency in the West! Following is a sampling of recent PRBO- recommended changes to wildlife and habitat management protocols.

  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area now avoids disturbance of songbirds during the breeding season when conducting habitat restoration and general maintenance, and has changed restoration planting to enhance bird breeding habitat (see page 5).
  • The National Park Service prohibits construction and has closed certain areas to public access on the highly popular Alcatraz Island (in San Francisco Bay) during the seabird breeding season.
  • Plant ecologists conducting restoration on Rush and Lee Vining Creeks (Mono Basin, eastern Sierra) are using our recommendations to plan their designs, e.g., choosing tree and shrub species that support nesting songbirds.
  • The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Cosumnes River, Central Valley, California) removed levees, allowing for regular flooding of riparian habitat. The resulting diverse plant growth is contributing to increased bird diversity and abundance.
  • The National Park Service (Point Reyes) and California Department of Parks and Recreation (Monterey Bay) protect Snowy Plovers' beach nesting sites each summer (see next page).
  • The California Department of Fish and Game (Marine Region) has listed the declining Xantus' Murrelet as a candidate for "threatened species" status. To protect nesting birds from nocturnal predators, the agency also seasonally bans nighttime use of lights by California's squid fishery within one mile of the Channel Islands (off Santa Barbara).

Some forms of human-caused disturbance can be balanced with thoughtful alternatives such as those outlined above. With human activities continuing to threaten bird populations and other wildlife--with likely impacts, ultimately, on each of us--PRBO's research is providing the sound scientific foundation needed to guide successful, win-win conservation solutions.

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