PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 152, Spring 2008: Public-Private Partnerships for Conservation

Public-Private Partnerships for Conservation


Meeting the Needs of California's Bird Populations and Private Landowners

Finding Common Ground

Catherine Hickey and Geoffrey R. Geupel

Finding Common Ground
CEO's Column
Avian Monitoring on Private Lands
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Informed Decision Making
Pocket Guides to Birds
California Bird Species of Special Concern
Long-billed Curlew Studies
Safe Harbor for Landowners
Recent Highlights from PRBO
Join the Tern Society
Bird-A-Thon 2008

American Avocets feed in a Central Valley rice field. Native birds can benefit from agricultural practices¬ on private land. Photo © Stuart Mackay.
Given the multiple demands upon land today, partnering with private landowners is essential for conservation success. Sustainable populations of California's migratory and resident birds cannot be supported on public lands alone. In the Central Valley, for example, approximately 94% of land is under private ownership, including much of the Valley's important wildlife habitats: managed wetlands 68%, riparian (riverside) forest 80%, grasslands 90%.

As human populations grow, habitats on private lands are often the first to be lost to development pressures. Land-use conversion can create habitat fragments that are disconnected from larger areas of similar habitats. Such fragmentation impedes the movement of wildlife and reduces reproductive success, causing populations to decline. Without conservation of wildlife habitat on private lands, many species throughout California may disappear.

In this Observer, we demonstrate the promise and the influence of private-lands programs that protect, restore, and enhance habitat. We describe PRBO's role in providing the science, conservation recommendations, and outreach to help make these programs a boon for bird populations.
Water is the key ingredient for managing Central Valley lands to provide habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterbirds. Photo © Rick Lewis.

Fortunately, many private landowners already are devoted to providing wildlife habitat. Private hunting clubs, for example, manage habitat for waterfowl and are willing to help other kinds of birds, as well. Agricultural communities, such as rice growers and cattle ranchers, also have an exciting, growing interest in enhancing wildlife habitat. Farms and ranches are often passed down through generations; many landowners have been living with their lands and the local wildlife for decades. Partnering with them in conservation creates an educational opportunity that is reciprocal, with biologists learning about the local environment and landowners learning more about the ecology of their lands and about species' needs. Individual landowners, resource managers, and the conservation community can discover the values they share—a process of finding common ground, figuratively and literally.

Federal and state natural resource agencies in California have been visionary in their creation of innovative programs (listed on page 4) for protecting and improving habitat on private lands. These programs provide opportunities for individual landowners to tailor conservation activities specifically for their lands, which also helps management agencies meet their migratory bird conservation objectives. Many landowners are eager to participate. They recognize the multiple benefits—to their lives and livelihoods and to wildlife—of being good stewards.

PRBO has been fortunate to work collaboratively with these private-lands programs and other non-governmental organizations (page 4 list) through powerful "Joint Ventures"—regional conservation partnerships—in the Central Valley, San Francisco Bay, Intermountain West, Pacific Coast, and Sonoran Desert. Joint Venture private-lands programs in the Central Valley have succeeded in connecting small islands of wetland habitat on public land (e.g., wildlife refuges) into large mosaics of diverse and functioning ecosystems. The habitat incentives and conservation easements provided to private landowners have greatly increased the value of the landscape to all wildlife.
On managed wetlands, partnerships for effective conservation involve land managers working with state and federal programs and non-governmental organizations. Photo by Ryan Digaudio/PRBO.

PRBO has been a lead science partner in these endeavors, with a growing focus on private-land conservation over the past five years. (On public land throughout the West, we have a decades-long history of using information on birds to guide management). Our biologists actively evaluate conservation programs and land management activities by monitoring bird populations and habitat conditions. In our Avian Monitoring on Private Lands Program (story on page 4), we have shown that private lands enrolled in federal and state programs support a great diversity and abundance of both upland and wetland bird species. Some 70% of California's "Bird Species of Special Concern" (see page 8) in the Central Valley benefit from these programs.

With data on birds and their habitats, PRBO ecologists can guide conservation work in an "adaptive" framework, where the lessons learned provide feedback to improve future efforts. Additionally, we have worked to apply bird monitoring findings proactively, extending their utility beyond monitoring and evaluation: we are using the data to develop "decision-support tools" that can help guide effective investment of limited conservation funds (see page 6).

New Measures of Success

In the past, the success of public- and private-land conservation was measured simply by the number of acres protected or restored. Today, legislators are asking for measures of conservation success that go beyond acres alone. As PRBO has learned over the last few decades, carefully collected data on bird populations can not only improve management practices but also quantify biological successes at multiple scales. Armed with information on birds and their habitats, public-land managers are now better able to mee¬t their mandates to conserve natural resources on state and federal lands. Likewise, private-lands program managers are better able to accrue funding and help private landowners create quality habitat across California. Both groups can provide state legislators and Congress the feedback they need to continue these important conservation programs.

Moving toward the goal of sustainable bird populations and healthy ecosystems throughout the West will require broad and diverse partnerships. The resources that PRBO brings to such partnerships —essential data, committed ecologists, targeted decision support, and focused outreach to all the constituencies—are helping build a foundation from which we can reach our goal.

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