Oregon Audubon Council Conservation Priorities for Fall, 2020
Oregon Audubon conservation leaders meet each fall to discuss their collective environmental concerns for the coming year. For the first time we met virtually, which made attendance from around the state more feasible than we’ve accomplished in many years.
The following priorities were chosen as important to all, or most, Oregon Chapters and are within our capacity to positively influence during this calendar year. Our Oregon Audubon Council list this year is impressive. For all these issues, we see an advantage in the change in Presidential leadership, and a control of the Senate. Still, none of these issues will be automatically resolved, and indeed given this opportunity we should act with an even greater sense of urgency.
# 1: Defense of Federal Lands and Laws: While some administrative rule changes by executive order are being rescinded, many more will not be so easily reset. Education, participation, advocacy, lobbying and litigation when necessary.
# 2: Klamath National Wildlife Refuge: Chronic water shortages still lead to massive waterfowl die-offs; develop statewide and local constituencies.
# 3: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: Direct and indirect Chapter support of interns, financial, and in-kind contributions, group visits.
# 4: Forests: Participate in Forest Plan development across regions and ownerships; regulatory reforms are now center stage along with salvage logging within the extensive West Cascades wildfire areas.
# 5: Oceans: Monitor and enhance marine reserve system, rocky shore habitats, offshore wind energy development proposals.
# 6: Marbled Murrelets: Advocate for marine and terrestrial habitat protections, federal and state “endangered” listing.
# 7: Greater Sage-grouse: Continue supporting collaborative and regulatory solutions to land use conflicts; advocate for “endangered” species listing.
# 8: California Condors: Educate and support efforts towards reintroduction in southwestern Oregon; reduce lead exposure in proposed reintroduction areas.
# 9: Streaked Horned Larks: Support education and advocacy for better protections of western valley populations and habitat; support research and monitoring; “endangered” listing.
# 10: ODFW Reform and Funding: Recommend new commissioners when vacancies occur; improve fee schedules; legislative funding support.
# 11: Climate Change: Ensure appropriate renewable energy facility siting; oppose new fossil fuel facilities; support atmospheric carbon mitigation and reduction programs.
# 12: Beavers: Ensure adequate regulatory protection for beaver; reestablish beaver as a strategy for restoring ecosystems.
# 13: Dark Skies Initiative: Develop Lights Out Programs for metropolitan areas; establish and expand dark sky sanctuaries for critical migratory times and locations.
# 14: Cats and Birds: Reduce number of free-roaming cats in Oregon; maintain a downward trend over time.
# 15: Columbia River Hydropower System: Assist or lead efforts to recover salmonids in the face of continued dam-induced losses.
# 16: Predator Control: Develop clear, science-based decision-making framework to inform positions involving decisions to kill one species to protect another; include consideration of ethical, ecological, policy implications.
# 17: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Ensure OAC Initiatives are considered through DEI lens and OAC participation reflects the diversity of Oregon and the communities in which Chapters operate.
Jim Fairchild, ASC Conservation Chair
Dead but Alive
Swifts are the most aerial of birds, spending most of their lives on the wing—foraging for flying insects, skimming water from the surface of ponds, mating in midair, and sometimes even sleeping on the wing. Two species occur regularly in western Oregon, both with specialized requirements for the non-airborne parts of their lives. The larger of the two species, Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), nests on rock cliffs behind waterfalls, and only a few regular nesting locations have been found in Oregon. Black Swift is classed as Endangered with key threats believed to include airborne pollutants that reduce aerial insect availability and climate change that could reduce and/or disrupt the seasonal timing of stream flows at waterfalls.
The smaller species, Vaux’s Swift (the first part of the name rhymes with “boxes”) (Chaetura vauxi) is comparatively well-known due to its tendency to use chimneys as roosting and nesting sites. As with its eastern cousin the Chimney Swift, this is an adaptation to large-scale loss of the old-growth forests where large, dead hollow trees once served this function. Much of the population now depends on man-made structures, especially along their southbound migration route through logged and urbanized areas. (Joel Geier)
Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) and Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) winter in our area. Tundra Swans are smaller, far more common, arrive earlier and stay later, and congregate in huge flocks at mid-valley refuges. Trumpeter Swans are the largest wild bird species by weight in North America, with a wingspan close to that of eagles. In our area, wintering Trumpeter Swans typically arrive in mid- to late November and stay through February.
Historically Trumpeter Swans nested across the continent from Alaska to New England and south to the Rio Grande. Early accounts from Oregon suggest that this species was more abundant than Tundra Swans in the mid-1800s. However the population was decimated by hunting for meat, millinery feathers, and skins almost to extinction until a tiny, nonmigratory population was discovered in the Yellowstone area. In 1968 there were still only 3,700 Trumpeters, and in 2015 the population had climbed to 63,000. Although this is an incredible increase, Trumpeter Swans are still missing from nearly two thirds of their original range. Conservation threats include loss of winter habitat, collisions with utility wires, and lead poisoning. Trumpeter Swans are currently Not Listed on the federal Endangered Species List, and no critical habitat or conservation plans are in effect. For further information see the Trumpeter Swan Society website: www.trumpeterswansociety.org. (from Joel Geier, The Chat December 2018)
Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) are stout seabirds that are related to puffins. Their range is from coastal Alaska to Baja. The species was first described in 1789, but it was not documented until 1974 that they nest high in old-growth trees. The birds are secretive, nest singly – not in colonies, and both parents only fly inland at night to feed chicks.
Most of the year you can find Marbled Murrelets near the coast on quiet bays or occasionally on coastal lakes. They do not form flocks, rather they are in pairs, spending most of the day foraging in shallow water for small fish and crustaceans. When startled, they fly away from the noise with very fast wingbeats.
Since the 1850s, their population has declined 50 – 80% as nesting habitat is logged and fragmented. Marbled murrelets are also threatened by oil spills near their foraging areas. They are listed as Threatened federally and Sensitive in Oregon. Oregon State University’s College of Forestry began a study in 2015 to understand the nesting needs and preferences of Marbled Murrelets. Researchers tag up to 100 breeding murrelets with tiny transmitters every spring, Ultimately the researchers plan to advise forest managers about factors that affect nesting success.
Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus) were named because it was thought their melodious song sounded best in the evening. They live in open grassy fields or prairies, foraging for insects and seeds on bare ground around weed clumps. They often dust-bathe on dirt roads or tilled fields. Males defends nesting territory by singing from a perch on a taller plant, while females often mimic an injury to lure an intruder away.
A scientific study is underway to examine two potential factors that may be contributing to Vesper Sparrow population declines: 1) survivorship (Are birds returning after their migrations and wintering?), and 2) recruitment and dispersal (Is there movement of birds between local sites, and if so how far and what are the conditions that facilitate that exchange). Knowledge gained from this effort will help to target how and where to direct conservation actions for recovery.
Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) are the most visible of >350 plant and wildlife species that depend on sagebrush. Their conservation status was determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 to be Warranted for Listing but Precluded by Higher Priorities. Habitat and population fragmentation, coupled with inadequate regulatory mechanisms to control development on public lands, were the primary factors in the listing decision. Approximately 70% of the current sagebrush distribution within the greater sage-grouse range is public land; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing half of the sagebrush within the United States. Less than 1% of the sagebrush is within areas protected from land-cover conversion. The remaining public land is managed for multiple uses that include livestock grazing, energy development, and recreation.
Managers have emphasized sage-grouse as indicators of ecosystem health. … Therefore, research is focused on gaining a better understanding of how sagebrush and sage-grouse populations are temporally and spatially interconnected. These relationships then can be significant factors in developing conservation actions that enhance the long-term viability of sagebrush ecosystems. (US Geological Survey project)
A holdover from prehistoric times, the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is one of our largest and most magnificent birds – and one of the rarest. Soaring over wilderness crags, feeding on carcasses of large dead animals, and reproducing very slowly, condors were not well suited to survival in modern-day southern California. Headed toward extinction in the 1980s, the last birds were brought in from the wild in 1987, to be bred in captivity for eventual release into the wild again. The captive breeding program turned out to be surprisingly successful, and flocks of released condors are surviving in several areas of California and in the region of the Grand Canyon.
Condors roost mornings and evenings and soar on wind currents to forage for carrion during the day. They may find much of their food by watching actions of other scavengers, such as vultures or ravens. Only one egg is laid, and parents trade incubation duties once every 1 – 5 days. Young are capable of flight about 5-6 months after hatching, but may remain dependent on parents for another 6 months. This means that the whole nesting cycle takes more than a year, so condors breed every other year. (National Audubon Society)
Current threats include carcass poisoning and lead ammunition, shooting, and collisions with power lines. California Condors are federally listed as Endangered. Because their range included Oregon, it is a possibility that reintroduction in the state is possible in the future.