Monitoring to Conserve Midwestern Birds
By Tom Cooper and Katie Koch, USFWS Midwest Migratory Bird Program
A century ago the conservation landscape across North America was much different for migratory birds. In the 1800s, the unregulated killing of migratory birds put many species at risk throughout North America. Feathers from waterbirds such as egrets and herons were highly prized by the fashion industry; while other species, including waterfowl and shorebirds, were pursued extensively by market hunters.
By the early 1900s, the wildlife conservation movement began to pick up steam partly in response to the unchecked take of migratory birds. Many states began enacting legislation to set hunting seasons in response to declining game populations. President Theodore Roosevelt established the Pelican Island Federal Bird Refuge as a nesting sanctuary for waterbirds. Congress passed the first federal wildlife protection law, the Lacey Act, which made it illegal to transport or sell a bird in one state when it was illegally harvested in another state in 1900. Even with this conservation momentum, the Passenger Pigeon, historically one of the most abundant birds in North America, went extinct in 1914 when “Martha” died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
A combination of these events reinforced the need for increased cooperation in conserving our shared bird resources, especially those that cross state and international borders. In that spirit, the United States and Great Britain, on behalf of Canada, signed the “Treaty on the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada and the United States” on August 16, 1916, which we now refer to as the Migratory Bird Treaty. The Treaty was ultimately extended to include Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and Russia in 1976.
Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 to formally implement the provisions of the 1916 Treaty. Specifically, the Act prohibited the hunting, killing, capturing, possession, sale, transportation, and exportation of birds, feathers, eggs, and nests. It also provided for the establishment of protected refuges to give birds safe habitats and it encouraged the sharing of data between nations to monitor bird populations.
The landmark Migratory Bird Treaty and Act have paved the way for migratory bird conservation over the past 100 years. These efforts, along with others, have helped manage and conserve millions of acres of wildlife habitat benefitting migratory birds and the American public. Throughout 2016, we will be commemorating this Centennial in every state across the Midwest Region. Highlights will include:
The Migratory Bird Centennial offers an unprecedented opportunity to raise the visibility of migratory bird conservation in North America and provides us a great springboard to launch us into the next 100 years! We invite you to visit http://www.fws.gov/birds/MBTreaty100/ for more information and to access downloadable materials to use at your own events, including an informative timeline that outlines bird conservation over the past 100 years.