2014 Christmas Bird Count

In mid-December, annual bird counts will begin in U.S. national parks. One of the longest running citizen science events in the world, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) began in 1900. It provides reliable data that help demonstrate the importance of national parks to birds.

National parks in almost every state will host bird counts this year. The parks, with more than 40 listed by Audubon as Important Bird Areas, provide essential habitat for one or more species of breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds.

Each year, the CBC mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations. The 2014-15 count dates fall between December 14th and January 5th. When compiled, the results will be posted at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

Christmas Bird Counts include:

Dec 14, 2014: Yosemite National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Congaree National Park, Biscayne National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Glacier National Park

Dec 15: Badlands National Park

Dec 20: North Cascades National Park and Zion National Park

Dec 27: Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Dec 29: Everglades National Park

Jan 3, 2015:  Hot Springs National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park

January 5: Lava Beds National Monument

January 10: Point Reyes National Seashore (for kids!)

Additional Christmas Bird Counts are planned for Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park, Death Valley National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Yellowstone National Park, and Big Bend National Park.

source: National Park Service

U.S. National Park System Expansion

The U.S. National Park System will receive the most significant expansion in nearly three decades. Newly approved legislation includes the establishment of seven new national park sites, the expansion of nine national park sites, and the extension of 15 National Heritage Areas.

It also authorizes the National Park Service to study Civil War battlefield grounds in Mill Springs, Kentucky; areas related to the Buffalo Soldiers, often considered the original guardians of our national parks; and other important places for future national park consideration. Once President Obama signs the bill, it will officially become law.

Highlights of the legislation include:

Approval of Nevada’s Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument as a new national park site, once home to the Ice Age fossil remains of lions, bison, gargantuan mammoths, dire wolves and saber tooth cats.

Approval of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park as a new national park, with sites in Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee, where under a veil of secrecy workers built the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor—and created a lasting impact on world history.

Approval of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York, sites important to the life of the legendary Underground Railroad conductor who led many enslaved people to freedom.

Approval of Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico as a new national park site, where scientists come to study one of the world’s best examples of a resurgent caldera and its large eruptions and visitors come to explore the streams, mountain peaks, old growth timber, and rich tribal heritage.

Expansion of Gettysburg National Military Park to include the Gettysburg Train Station in Pennsylvania, famed for bringing President Abraham Lincoln to the area to deliver the Gettysburg Address.  The train station also served as a field hospital during the battle.

Expansion of Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve to add 4,000 additional acres of federal land to the existing monument to better protect the larger watershed and the cave system.  President William Howard Taft originally protected 480 acres of this area in 1909.

Expansion of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas to better preserve important cultural and historic resources associated with the Spanish Colonial era (1513 – 1821).  Visitors will now be able to see crops growing on the Spanish colonial farm fields and witness a working irrigation system (acequias).

Study the possible inclusion of a national park site to tell the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American troops that played a key role in protecting Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks before the National Park Service was formed. The soldiers built roads, created maps, extinguished fires, prevented the logging of sequoia trees, and kept poachers out of the parks.

Protection of land and the headwaters of the Flathead River, adjacent to Glacier National Park, by precluding future mining and drilling activity through the North Fork Watershed Protection Act.

source: National Parks Conservation Association

Red Knot Listed as Threatened

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced federal protection for the rufa subspecies of the red knot, a robin-sized shorebird, designating it as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A “threatened” designation means a species is at risk of becoming endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

“The red knot is a remarkable and resilient bird known to migrate thousands of miles a year from the Canadian Arctic to the southern tip of South America,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Unfortunately, this hearty shorebird is no match for the widespread effects of emerging challenges like climate change and coastal development, coupled with the historic impacts of horseshoe crab overharvesting, which have sharply reduced its population in recent decades.”

Since the 1980s, the knot’s population has fallen by about 75 percent in some key areas, largely due to declines in one of its primary food resources – horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay, an important migratory stopover site. Although this threat is now being addressed by extensive state and federal management actions, other threats, including sea-level rise, some shoreline projects and coastal development, continue to shrink the shorebird’s wintering and migratory habitat.

Changing climate conditions are also altering the bird’s breeding habitat in the Arctic and affecting its food supply across its range, in particular through climate-driven mismatches in migration timing that affect the peak periods of food availability. The bird must arrive at Delaware Bay at exactly the time when horseshoe crabs are laying their eggs.

One of the longest distance migrants in the animal kingdom, some rufa red knots fly more than 18,000 miles each year between breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic and wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast, southeast United States and South America. One bird, banded by biologists in 1995 in Argentina, has been nicknamed Moonbird because he has flown the equivalent of a trip to the moon and at least halfway back in his 21 or more years of migrations.

Along its epic migration, the red knot, which can be identified by its rufous breast, belly and flanks during breeding season, can be found across 27 countries and 40 U.S. states in flocks ranging from a few individuals to several thousand. Although rufa red knots mainly occur along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, small groups regularly use some interior areas of the United States during migration.

The largest concentration of rufa red knots is found in May in Delaware Bay, where the birds stop to gorge themselves on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs; a spectacle drawing thousands of birdwatchers to the area. In just a few days, the birds nearly double their weight to prepare for the final leg of their long journey to the Arctic.

International, state and local governments, the conservation community, beachgoers and land managers are helping ensure red knots have safe areas to winter, rest and feed during their long migrations. These partners help knots in a variety of ways, including managing the harvest of horseshoe crabs (which are caught for use as bait in conch and eel pots), managing disturbance in key habitats, improving management of hunting outside the United States, and collecting data to better understand these birds.

In making its decision, the Service analyzed the best available data in more than 1,700 scientific documents, and considered issues raised in more than 17,400 comments provided during 130 days of public comment periods and three public hearings. Protections under the ESA will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

As required by the ESA, the Service is also reviewing the U.S. range of the rufa red knot to identify areas that are essential for its conservation, known as critical habitat. The Service expects to propose critical habitat for the rufa red knot for public review and comment in 2015 after completing the required review of economic considerations.

For more information, visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/redknot/

source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Minnesota DNR Habitat Grants

The Department of Natural Resources has awarded 46 conservation grants to various organizations and entities for restoring, enhancing and protecting habitat in Minnesota.

This latest round of habitat funding comes from the agency’s Conservation Partners Legacy (CPL) grant program, which in the past six years has awarded more than $27 million to local, state, and federal nonprofit organizations and government entities for conservation projects.

The DNR recently received a record-high $8.9 million in grant requests from 71 applicants during round one of the application cycle. The DNR has funded $5.7 million of these requests.

The DNR’s CPL program provides grants ranging from $5,000 to $400,000 to conservation nonprofit organizations and governmental units to help fund projects to restore, enhance, or protect fish and wildlife habitat in Minnesota.

For more information, visit: http://www.mndnr.gov/cpl

source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

USFWS Wetlands Acquisition Grants

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission recently approved $28 million in funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to purchase, lease, restore or otherwise conserve more than 128,000 acres of wetland habitats for ducks, bitterns, sandpipers and other birds in the United States.

Of the total funds approved by the commission, $24.6 million will be provided through North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants to conserve more than 127,000 acres of wetlands and adjoining areas in 16 states. Eight of the 24 grants will target species or areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Grants made through this program require matching investments; the projects approved today will leverage an additional $54.4 million in non-federal matching funds. More information about these grant projects is available at: http://www.fws.gov/birdhabitat/Grants/NAWCA/index.shtm.

The commission also announced the approval of more than $3.5 million for fee title land acquisitions of more than 1,700 acres on four national wildlife refuges. These funds were raised largely through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps.”

For every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents go directly to acquire habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. This year the Federal Duck Stamp celebrates its 80th anniversary.

source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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