Thursday, September 13, 2007

IBA Program Update

Important Bird Areas Program

The Important Bird Areas Program continues to make strides in the identification, prioritization, and conservation of essential bird habitats throughout the U.S. To date, over 2,100 Important Bird Areas in 41 states have been identified, encompassing more than 220 million acres of bird habitat (twice the size of California) (Figure 1). Important Bird Areas have been recently identified or officially recognized in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Beyond the identification of IBAs much work is underway to coordinate with states to prioritize state-level IBAs as globally significant. Approximately 120 sites from 26 states are currently being prepared for review by Audubon’s U.S. IBA Committee. Over the next six months national staff will be sending these sites to the committee for approval as Global IBAs. It is expected that as many as 800 state-level IBAs may be recognized a globally significant when this prioritization process is completed.

Figure 1. Important Bird Areas in the United States

While there is always a lot to do in the area of site identification and boundary delineation, the IBA Program is preparing to slightly increase its focus on assessing the status of existing IBAs and ensuring that those sites are adopted by local conservation groups. The IBA Program will soon be announcing the availability of a position to coordinate the IBA Site Assessment Process. The Site Assessment Coordinator will be responsible for finalizing the BirdLife/Audubon approach that includes monitoring birds, evaluating habitats, assessing threats and evaluating the impact of conservation actions at IBAs. The coordinator will be engaging Audubon field staff directly in the development of this tool and working with the field to train IBA Adoption Groups to use the tool.

Audubon’s IBA Database implementation is ongoing as national staff work with states on data entry and web presentation. A large proportion of the identified IBAs are now represented in the IBA Database, with information for more than 2,900 sites from 49 states entered. Of these, 1,518 sites can be viewed on Audubon’s website by using the web search tool (i.e., http://iba.audubon.org/iba/siteSearch.do). Since the last report, four more states have updated their state profiles, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Vermont, bringing the total to 29 completed state profiles (e.g., http://iba.audubon.org/iba/viewState.do?state=US-LA).

The website is a focal point for the IBA Program’s outreach activities. State and national IBA web pages are used to highlight events, post announcements and fact sheets, and feature particular IBA news. For specific examples, see Louisiana and Vermont state profiles and the national IBA home page (http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/index.html). Updated materials continue to be added to the internal IBA Resources website, the latest of which is a directory of staff expertise for the IBA network. (http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/iba_resources/documents.html).

This quarter, IBA staff participated in a number of events and meetings. In May, national IBA staff participated in a meeting hosted by BirdLife International for IBA Coordinators throughout the Western Hemisphere to discuss issues related to IBA criteria, site identification, data management, IBA mapping, IBA monitoring and IBA Adoption. The IBA Program Director, along with others throughout Audubon, participated in the BirdLife Americas Partnership Meeting in June, which focused significantly on defining strategies and projected outcomes for achieving IBA conservation throughout the hemisphere over the course of the next four years. Audubon staff initiated efforts to coordinate with the BirdLife’s Mexican partner Pronatura at the Partnership meeting. Next steps include a follow-up meeting between Pronatura and Audubon’s IBA and International staff to discuss collaboration possibilities through IBAs.

National IBA staff are working with states in a number of capacities. During this quarter IBA staff assisted with the transition of the LA IBA Program to Audubon’s Gulf Coast Initiative, spoke at a recognition event of Ossabaw Island in Georgia, participated in a strategic planning meeting for Audubon Connecticut, lead a workshop at the education staff meeting, lead a workshop at Audubon’s Hog Island Leadership retreat, and assisted with an Audubon hosted reception at the National Association of State Park’s Directors meeting.

IBA Field Programs Coordinated and Managed by Audubon Science and Field Operations

Georgia (Mary Elfner)
The Georgia IBA Program continues to research match sources for the pending National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant. Potential sources include the Georgia Ornithological Society, The Sapelo Foundation, The Savannah Presbytery, The Wormsloe Foundation, and others. The NFWF match needs to be 2 to 1, and must come from non-federal sources.

Alison Huff, Judy Yuknavech, Mary Elfner and Jim Sheehan continue to work on entering site and species data into the National Audubon IBA database. We now have close to 35, out of 49, sites entered into the database. We have completed a list of global, continental, federal, and state listed species to distribute to site managers on the 14 sites that will be nominated for Global IBA Status: Altamaha River Delta (already in review), Cumberland Island National Seashore, Forts Benning and Stewart, Harris Neck NWR, Jekyll Island SP, Kennesaw Mountain NBP, Little Tybee SNA, Okefenokee NWR, Ossabaw Island SHP, Piedmont NWR, Savannah NWR, St. Catherine’s Island, and Wassaw NWR.

Georgia IBA outreach reach activities include an upcoming IBA recognition of the Georgia Botanical Gardens IBA. The event is being planned by The Oconee Rivers Audubon Society and is tentatively scheduled for May 17, 2008. A presentation on the Georgia IBA program will be made to the Georgia Chapter of the Wildlife Society on Friday, August 31, 2007, in Athens, GA. Also, the University of Georgia Outreach magazine printed an announcement of the State Botanical Gardens and Whitehall Forest as a Georgia Important Bird Area in the Summer 2007 edition.

Indiana (James Cole)

The Indiana IBA Program collaborated with volunteers from Amos W. Butler Audubon to design and implement bird surveys at three priority IBAs in central Indiana – Eagle Creek Park, Fort Harrison State Park, and Big Walnut Nature Preserve. A variable distance point count regime was used to sample the breeding bird populations at these locales, with over 150 stations and 10,000 acres of habitat surveyed. Also, the survey at Big Walnut Nature Preserve was funded by a grant from IDNR’s Heritage Program, so this represents a nice collaboration between the IBA Program and the state’s efforts to inventory threatened species’ populations for their heritage database. The hope is that this survey program will serve as a model for other local chapters to become more involved with citizen science efforts at IBAs.

As projected in the last board report, the Indiana IBA Program completed the third round of IBA evaluations in late May 2007. Forty sites are now recognized as IBAs in Indiana. Entry has been completed for the sites in the national IBA Database, and a GIS database for each of the new sites has been developed. Currently files for the newest IBAs are being integrated with the previous shapefiles to create a comprehensive GIS layer for all Indiana IBAs, which will include data on location, ownership, size, priority species, etc., for each of our sites.

In late spring, the program received a grant of $8,000 from the Amos W. Butler Audubon Society in support of the Indiana IBA Program. Also, an initial grant application ($25,000) was submitted to the Wildlife Conservation Society in late July proposing the development of a statewide spatial data model to assist in the implementation of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) State Wildlife Action Plan. The proposed model would use GAP data and GIS techniques to identify the locations of both habitats and distributions of bird species that are of conservation concern or stewardship need in Indiana, with the eventual goal that the analysis would further allow IDNR and its partners to prioritize areas that require protection or restoration. The model would also help with the identification of the next round of IBAs.

Nevada (Robin Powell)

Over the last 6 months visits have been made to 20 of the 39 NV IBAs to look at the habitat and meet with the stakeholders which are comprised of interested parties, land managers, and land owners. Technical support has been provided to the Nevada Department of Wildlife for implementation of the state wildlife action plan, BLM for Greater Sage-Grouse habitat improvements, several Native American tribes for bird habitat issues, and several other organizations for miscellaneous support. Currently, work is ongoing to develop information sheets for each IBA for distribution and outreach activities. These information sheets will be made available on the Lahontan Audubon Society website upon completion.

In the area of fundraising state bond money has been obtained for bird conservation. Other grants that have been submitted and still waiting for final approval include Greater Sage-Grouse conservation on a regional scale and an Intermountain West Joint Venture proposal for the restoration of a rookery on the Carson River. The NV IBA Program is continually fundraising and networking to ensure its long term sustainability.

Virginia (Aimee Weldon)

Since May of 2007, the Virginia IBA program has involved over 30 volunteers in systematic surveys on IBAs. Targeted Cerulean Warbler surveys were initiated in partnership with the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy to assess the status of the Cerulean Warbler population in the northern portion of the Upper Blue Ridge Mountains IBA. Collectively, these volunteer surveys, along with 3 USGS BBS routes resulted in 31 Cerulean Warbler detections. Surveys will be extended to other areas of the IBA in upcoming years. Volunteers also conducted the first ever systematic surveys of the newly identified Culpeper Basin IBA. These surveys emphasized the importance of this area to Virginia’s grass and shrubland birds. Additional pilot surveys were conducted at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant IBA, which supports Virginia’s last population of Henslow’s Sparrows. Although no Henslow’s were detected, volunteers tallied over 40 Bobwhite Quail on just two routes.

Other activities included the release of the third installment of the IBA newsletter and a public workshop in the Lower Rappahannock River IBA to teach private landowners how to identify and remove invasive plant species. The event was attended by nearly 50 citizens and was in partnership with 5 conservation organizations. There are plans to host additional workshops in other areas of the IBA.

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