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Saturday, February 5, 2011

CT Audubon Society Toplines Its 2011 State of the Birds Report

CT Audubon Society Toplines 
Its 2011 State of the Birds Report:
Forest birds in permanent decline 
due to hard development
(Posted to 2/5)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society, has been sounding the alarm for years now that, due to hard development, our state’s forests and forest bird populations are in permanent decline.

This is the topline message of the Society’s 2011 State of the Birds Report, a brief preview of which Bull was to present at the Birdcraft Museum on Saturday, Feb. 5. The presentation, which was to have been given to Society members, was cancelled in advance of a winter storm that was expected to deposit a snow/sleet mix in the area throughout the day Saturday. The complete report will be released during the last week of February at a press conference to be held at the state’s legislative office building in Hartford. 

Interviewed by phone late Friday afternoon, Bull gave some background about the report and expanded on its key message.

“Our annual reports were instituted to provide members and the public with an idea of how the state’s birds are faring,” explained Bull. “Our first report six years ago showed that 50% of the state’s birds were declining. The significance of this finding impacts everyone in the state, whether you’re a fan of birds or not. Birds, which inhabit all of the state’s various habitats – forests, salt marshes, inland wetlands, lakes, grasslands -- are a key indicator of environmental quality. They are literally our canary in the coalmine. That finding confirmed the importance our of work to monitor bird populations and environmental conditions.”

Since that first report, the Society has studied the various habitats to understand why the birds there are declining, and to make recommendations on how to conserve both the habitats and bird populations.

Bull said that they have been successful in getting the state legislature to look at and try to improve how the state acquires conservation land. “For instance, we recommended that the state develop a registry of protected lands in Connecticut, to determine how much land is protected, if it protects the bird species we need to protect and where the land is located,” he said. “Then we can identify and prioritize critical land and habitats that need to be acquired and protected. That’s been the thrust of our recommendations these past years.”

This year’s report, though, is focused on conserving our forest birds. To get a perspective on how this particular population has changed, Bull provided a quick history lesson.

“Early colonists made the first dent in native bird populations, removing trees for agricultural reasons, fuel and to build their houses – what we call soft development,” Bull explained. “This changed the type of local birds from forest birds to more grass and shrub land birds. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, farmers moved west or into the cities and abandoned their farms. The trees grew back and the forest birds returned.”

What the state has experienced in the last 20 years or more is what Bull calls hard development, which is having a permanent effect on forest bird populations. “The forests have been in decline without regeneration due to the construction of big box stores, roads and power lines,” he said. “Fragmentation and parcelization is reducing our forests into smaller and smaller blocks that can no longer support productive populations of forest dependent birds.”

Bull said this is a definite concern and that the report makes suggestions on how to protect and conserve our forests, with the goal of improving our economy and quality of life while preserving the unique character of our New England landscape.

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