Audubon to the North Fork: What You Can Do to Protect Birds from Climate Change

Scarlet Tanager, a bird that might no longer summer in New York given climate change. | Matt Stratmoen photo for Flikr Creative Commons

Since their 2014 report on the impact of climate change on birds, outreach crews from the National Audubon Society have been spreading the word of the potentially devastating impact of a warming planet to Audubon Society chapters all over the country.

The Audubon Bird and Climate Report documented the potential climate changes affecting 588 North American species, 314 of which they found would be either threatened or endangered as the planet warms.

With the first phase of their outreach now into its third year, the Audubon Society is launching a second phase, reaching out to local Audubon groups with a plan for what birders can do to help.

National Audubon Society Deputy Director of Climate and Strategic Initiatives Lynsy Smithson-Stanley will discuss Audubon’s new Climate Initiative with North Forkers at a special presentation, “A Bird’s Eye View of Climate Change,” sponsored by North Fork Audubon this Sunday, March 12 at 2 p.m. at the Peconic Lane Community Center in Peconic.

Admission is free and the program is open to the public.

“I called the first two years ‘spreading the word,’ with localized presentations about the report,” said Ms. Smithson-Stanley in an interview March 8. “We’re now in the activation phase, launching four campaigns.”

“Bird people are all about habitat loss and habitat fragmentation,” she said. “Before, birders didn’t realize climate change was a bird issues, so we’ve been working to connect it to birds they see and love locally.”

The four point campaign includes fostering native plant gardens and rooftop solar power, training climate ambassadors to help bird lovers become bird advocates and engaging citizen scientists in documenting the shifting range of birds.

The native plant campaign, she said, is important because it will help provide robust habitats for birds as their ranges and habitat competition change as the earth warms.

“The stronger these bird populations can be going into the warming, the more resilient they will be,” said Ms. Smithson-Stanley. “At a community level, we want to encourage people to use open spaces to transition to native grasses and plants.”

The Audubon Society has backed rooftop solar panels as an important component of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, though Ms. Smithson-Stanley said they are not opposed to ground-mounted solar panels, as long as they aren’t concentrated voltaic panels and aren’t placed in a prime bird habitat.

“We’re fine with community solar, as long as it’s sited properly,” she said.

“We feel like rooftop solar is a win-win,” she said. “We’re trying to get more bold about alternative energy but it makes birders deeply uncomfortable.”

She said the National Audubon Society plans to be involved in the conversation about properly sited wind power, after decades of discord between wind power advocates and people who don’t want to see birds killed by turbines.

“We want to make sure wind turbines are sited in good places, and there are folks working to map important bird areas against high wind potential,” she said. “I’ve seen birders get really upset because they don’t want to see any birds die, but we might have to lose a few birds if it keeps the populations healthy, especially with population-level threats like climate change.”

Ms. Smithson-Stanley said she’s hoping birders who become climate ambassadors will work at the local and state level to encourage their representatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We don’t see any federal movement in the short term, but we are still hopeful there will be a federal solution in the next four to six years,” she said. “In New York, it’s all about accountability. We want Auduboners to tell Governor Cuomo this isn’t just a progressive issue. Audubon has a bipartisan membership. We believe in climate change and want to do something about it. He’s set aggressive emissions goals and we want to make sure he’s held accountable. New York State is a leader in its commitment to clean energy and a model for what a solution can look like, but when you live in a state that’s so aggressive about its goals, people can get complacent.”

The final piece of the initiative is a new program, still being beta tested, called Climate Watch, a semi-annual bird count, starting with bluebirds and nuthatches, being conducted by Audubon chapters across the country.

“We want to look at their shifting ranges and phenology, or timing,” she said. “Birds are indicator species. When they’re on the news, we know things are amiss in the whole ecosystem.”

More information on Sunday’s presentation is online here.

The correct time for this event is 2 p.m. on March 12. An earlier version of this story said the presentation would be held at 2:30 p.m. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

 

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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