Friday, March 20, 2009

2009 "The State of the Birds" report

Save the Birds! [link]

"The state of birds in the U.S."
2009-03-20 by Jane Kay from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
North America's bird populations have declined significantly in the past 40 years as bulldozers have flattened forests, rolled over grasslands and filled wetlands, according to a study released Thursday that is the first comprehensive analysis of the state of the nation's birds.
About one-third of 800 bird species in the United States are listed under federal law as endangered or threatened, or are dropping in numbers precipitously, because of lost habitat, invasive species, polluted water and changing climate, said the study, by government wildlife agencies and conservation groups.
But efforts to restore nesting and feeding grounds, ban pesticides and halt development in sensitive wetlands and other migratory stopovers have brought back the California brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, the bald eagle and a bevy of herons, egrets, osprey and ducks, among other birds.
"Conservation can really work," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who released "The State of the Birds" at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., attended by representatives of the American Bird Conservatory, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and other groups.
"There are places where many bird species are doing better today than we were 10 to 15 years ago," Salazar said. "Those success efforts should lead us to what we should be doing in the future."

Call to action -
Still, the downward trend in numbers should set off alarm bells, said Salazar, who described the report as "a clarion call to action" to restore bird populations. "In 2009 it is time for a new beginning" on how to make sure wildlife and habitat are protected."
Salazar made his comments just days after environmental groups criticized him for announcing that the Interior Department will hold more than 40 major lease sales for oil and natural gas development on public land this year. They warned that the sales would jeopardize wildlife and wildlands.
The data analyzed for the assessment came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service and included the North American Breeding Bird Survey as well as trends from 40 years of citizens' sightings gathered in the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count.
This week, Audubon California, a branch of the national group, released its maps of 145 "Important Bird Areas in California" that support sensitive species and large numbers of species, including 21 areas in the Bay Area.
Birds that nest or rest on the nation's coasts, where nearly half the U.S. human population lives or works, are particularly imperiled, the government study said, because those areas are expected to grow by 25 million people by 2015.
Of 173 bird species that use the coastal habitats at any time of year, 53 are in trouble and 14 are listed as endangered or threatened, the study said, and 14 of 27 shorebird species that primarily use coastal habitats have declined.

Incentives suggested -
Federal and state governments could offer incentives that protect coastal habitat for birds, and cities and counties could protect natural areas, the study recommended.
The study also found:
-- Beach-nesting birds, including snowy plovers and least terns, are vulnerable to people and pets that inadvertently destroy or disturb nests. In the Bay Area, those birds are found on Ocean Beach and Alameda.
-- The common murre remains one of the most numerous seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere, but local populations can be severely reduced by climate change, oil spills and nest predators. The birds, hit by the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, nest on the Farallon Islands and Devil's Slide Rock on the San Mateo County coast.
"The snowy plover has become the poster child for the effects of beach disturbance on shorebirds," said Melissa Pitkin, education director at PRBO Conservation Science of Petaluma, which conducts research on birds, fish and mammals.
Still, plover populations are being held stable, or slightly increasing in some locations, because of fencing and other recovery efforts along the coast, she said.

Seabird problems -
Seabirds can suffer from sparse food supplies of krill and anchovies in the ocean during years of low upwelling, Pitkin said. Cassin's auklets have declined since the 1970s, experiencing complete nesting failures in 2005 and 2006 on the Farallon Islands, when ocean waters were warmer.
Common murres have increased in numbers on the islands over the past eight years, but are now leveling off, she said.
One of the challenges in preparing the study was the lack of centralized data for trends in shorebird populations, Pitkin said. Data exist from a few sites, including many federal wildlife refuges, "but it is not pooled together - and accessible - to really know if shorebird species are increasing or decreasing," she said.
As a result, PRBO and its partners have created an avian data center to collect information in California.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

2009-01-10 "'Crisis situation' for Marin's coho salmon" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
 The lack of rain this winter has contributed to what fisheries biologists say is, so far, the worst return of coho salmon in the recorded history of Marin County's Lagunitas Creek watershed, one of California's most critical ecosystems for the endangered fish.
 Only a smattering of coho were spotted and only 20 egg nests, or redds, were seen in the two main tributaries - Lagunitas and San Geronimo creeks - during the annual winter survey of fish, watershed biologists said this week.
The paltry showing of redds represents an 89 percent drop in the number of returning offspring of parents that gave birth in the lush western Marin watershed three years ago. Last year at this time, 148 redds had been counted, then the lowest number in the 14 years that records have been kept, said Paola Bouley, the conservation program director for the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN.
 "It's just frightening, actually," Bouley said. "We were expecting 70 redds, which is still a 63 percent decline. It's definitely a crisis situation."
 The waterway, which winds its way through the picturesque San Geronimo Valley on the northwest side of Mount Tamalpais, typically supports the largest wild run of salmon left in the state, historically about 10 percent of California's coho population.
During the first winter rains, the spawning fish swim 33 miles from the open ocean into Tomales Bay and up the creek through the redwood-studded valley to lay their eggs and die. The females lay their eggs only after they've found the place where they were born three years before. The decline this year is alarming given that 190 redds were counted in 2005 when the parents of these coho laid their eggs.
 The plummeting coho numbers exacerbate a near catastrophic decline in the overall population of salmon along the West Coast. So few chinook salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system last year that ocean fishing had to be banned in California and Oregon.
 The number of coho eggs throughout the state declined about 70 percent last year. The low number of coho in the Lagunitas watershed in 2007 was shocking given that a record 496 redds were counted in 2004, the year they were born.
 "We had our best year class in 2004," Bouley said. "What happened is our best year class turned into our worst year class."
 This year is looking even worse.
 Fisheries biologists believe the primary cause is the unusually dry weather in Northern California, which has prevented salmon from swimming up the creeks. The rains in December were barely enough to breach sandbars on most beaches, forcing salmon up and down the coast to circle in the open ocean where they are vulnerable to sea lions and other predators.
"It's not looking good," said Sean Hayes, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist who monitors salmon in Scott Creek, the southernmost coho run in California, north of Davenport (Santa Cruz County). "The fish have been hammered a couple of years in a row now. If it doesn't rain, there could be a spawning failure this year, which would be catastrophic."

Threat of extinction -
Bouley said a big rainstorm could turn things around, but hardly any rain is expected in the next two weeks. If things don't improve, she said, this year's cycle of fish may go extinct.
The lack of salmon in Lagunitas Creek is a major concern, she said, because the watershed is a statewide model for fisheries restoration. The first winter rains normally bring schools of coho wriggling up the creeks, drawing tourists, schoolchildren and naturalists to watch the fish leap from the foaming rapids.
 "The Lagunitas population is critical to the viability of the entire central California coho population. It is the keystone watershed along the coast," Bouley said. "Fisheries agencies look to Lagunitas as the key to the recovery for neighboring watersheds. We won't have any streams left to seed them if this one is gone."
The watershed is unique in that the primary spawning grounds are in the middle of developed communities. Since coho were listed as endangered in 2005 under the Endangered Species Act, many residents have taken a proprietary interest in the fish. Schools have become involved, organizing work parties and teaching children about the historic coho migration.
 More than a century ago, about 6,000 coho spawned in the system of streams every year. At that time, the salmon swam from Tomales Bay virtually to the top of Mount Tamalpais, spawning in tributaries all along the way. But industry started taking a toll almost from the day Joseph Warren Revere spotted the valley in 1846 and saw "a copious stream, fed by mountain brooks."
 The redwood forests surrounding the creek were logged between 1860 and 1900. Subsequent homes and roads built along the waterway removed about 60 percent of the original riparian habitat.
The first major dam, which created Lake Lagunitas, was built in 1873. Six more dams were constructed over the next century, the largest being Peter's Dam at Kent Lake, finished in 1953 and then raised 42 feet in 1982. The dams blocked 50 percent of the historic salmon habitat, reduced the amount of gravel and increased sedimentation in the creeks.
 But the decline was slow. Old-timers told how they used to spear fish from decks or garage hatches overlooking the creek. In 1959, when the habitat was already in serious decline, the largest recorded coho in state history, a 22-pounder, was fished out of Lagunitas Creek.

Lobbying the county -
The restoration effort began in the early 1980s when a group called Trout Unlimited began lobbying the county to stop the decline of the fishery.
 SPAWN, which was created in 1996, sponsors salmon-watching creek walks during spawning season and has saved more than 15,000 juvenile salmon and steelhead from drying pools during the summer. The Marin Municipal Water District, which is required by the state to help the coho as mitigation for raising Peter's Dam, started counting coho redds in the early 1990s and now works with SPAWN to monitor releases from the dam, install woody debris in the creeks and replant vegetation.
"This is the beacon of hope for the California watershed," Bouley said, but "the fish are missing. They are gone."

A male and a female steelhead trout swim under a bridge at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. No coho salmon were seen.
Photo: Frederic Larson / The Chronicle