This yr was marked by unbelievable progress by way of Audubon’s priorities for water conservation within the West, and but, we now have a lot extra to do for the birds and individuals who depend on clear and dependable water. In my lifetime, North America has misplaced greater than 3 billion birds—a disaster reaching a tipping level. If we act now, we will reverse this development and defend individuals and birds within the arid West. And whereas daunting, we’re making an influence.
Generally we hesitate to rejoice or name an achievement a “win” as a result of the work is so huge and ongoing, with local weather change and drought nonetheless current, and the threats going through the rivers, lakes, and wetlands—and the important habitats they supply to birds—are rising. Including extra water into the Colorado River, Rio Grande or Nice Salt Lake can really feel tiny in comparison with what they want, or what they as soon as have been, or may very well be. However we’re seeing birds reply. These victories add up and present decision-makers that new options can work, particularly when scaled up. Because of our supporters and companions, we’ve directed and secured extra conservation funding from federal and state governments to those iconic watersheds, we’ve modified public insurance policies and water administration the place it was outdated and not serving at the moment’s wants, and we proceed to push for higher outcomes for valuable water sources within the West.
A lot of the work we do is usually behind the scenes due to complicated technical and authorized necessities (akin to water transactions to profit Nice Salt Lake or modeling to find out optimum timing for fowl surveys). Due to this, it may be difficult to seize the influence we’re making. On high of that, this work might be politically messy—even whereas we preserve nice relationships with many legislators, authorities officers, and companions.
Regardless of the challenges, the momentum continues to construct in our work across the West and in Washington, D.C.
In 2023 alone, we:
The vary of Audubon’s work is huge: from implementing innovation and market-based options, to mobilizing science companions that handle information gaps for precedence birds, and to thought management in water insurance policies and administration choices. Right here’s a high-level view of that work:
Nice Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Belief in its first yr
At Nice Salt Lake, Audubon, together with The Nature Conservancy, has been co-leading the Nice Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Belief (aka the Belief)—a key effort amongst many options wanted in defending and enhancing the water amount and water high quality for the lake and its wetlands. These are among the most crucial habitats for birds in North America. The Belief, working with the State of Utah’s Divisions of Forestry, Hearth and State Lands and Wildlife Sources, have facilitated, offered transaction prices, and contributed funding to water transactions for greater than 50,000 acre-feet of water for Nice Salt Lake. The majority of this water was donated or partially donated, together with what’s believed to be the largest-ever permanent water donation of water to Great Salt Lake from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The wetlands surrounding Nice Salt Lake present essential habitat for tens of millions of migratory birds, leisure alternatives, and plenty of different public advantages together with defending water high quality.
The Belief additionally awarded $8.5 million in grants for the restoration and protection of approximately 13,000 acres of wetlands surrounding the Nice Salt Lake ecosystem to profit the lake’s hydrology, with the initiatives bringing greater than $6.5 million in matching contributions.
This yr is only the start, as we’ll safe extra water for Nice Salt Lake in 2024 and past. Within the face of local weather change, unpredictable drought, and growing water calls for, the Belief, and plenty of different events might want to work collaboratively to deliver extra water to the lake.
Intermountain West Shorebird Surveys after a 30-year hiatus
Understanding how migrating shorebirds are responding to habitat adjustments as saline lakes face the specter of desiccation resulting from local weather change and water diversions has been a necessary driver for our work with companions within the regional Intermountain West Shorebird Surveys. Now with three seasons below our belt (Fall 2022, Spring 2023, and Fall 2023), Audubon and Level Blue Conservation Science purpose to fill information gaps for at the least 30 species of shorebirds and their susceptible habitats in an space bounded on the West by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and on the East by the Rocky Mountains. Circumstances have dramatically modified because the final main effort like this was undertaken over 30 years in the past, and the necessity for up to date data is extra vital than ever. We teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a number of Tribes, 11 state wildlife companies, 35 Audubon chapters, tons of of volunteers, non-public landowners, and plenty of different non-profit organizations to depend shorebirds of their peak migration home windows at 200 websites throughout the West—and we’ll achieve this by way of 2025—to tell shorebird conservation.
Within the time since we’ve kicked off this monumental survey effort, extremes of “climate whiplash” have made for fascinating outcomes. As an illustration, August 2022 was the height of this mega-drought; Spring 2023 had record-breaking runoff; August 2023 had the West Coast’s Tropical Storm Hilary. We’ve additionally seen stunning statistics up to now, together with a record-breaking most depend of shorebirds on the Salton Sea. The earlier max depend was 105,000 and the newest survey counted over 250,000 shorebirds.
We purpose to fill extra information gaps, however extra sources and collaborations are wanted to make sure a sturdy understanding of those species wants. From American Avocet to Wilson’s Phalarope to Snowy Plovers, many species that depend on saline lakes all through their lifecycle are benefitting from succesful partnerships like this, growing our shared information and permitting for extra centered administration and safety of their distinctive habitat wants.
Colorado River at a pivotal second to cut back water use whereas together with the wants of birds
The lifeblood of the American West obtained a lifeline this yr with an above common winter—however the decades-long overuse issues stay. We all know that it might take a decade or extra of above common winters to revive the primary Colorado River reservoirs to pre-2000 ranges. The general development is that the out there water within the Colorado River is declining, even whereas the US and Mexico, Tribes, state governments, cities throughout the basin, and farmers are doing more than ever to make sure out there water provide for subsequent years.
We all know that to save lots of the Colorado River, we have to use less water. And because the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation continues long-term and short-term planning on the Colorado River, it’s vital to keep in mind that whereas the Colorado River is unpredictable, planning for that future may help all of us in the long term. These plans have to additionally contemplate the big third-party impacts of decreasing water makes use of within the Colorado River. Thanks to the Audubon community members who despatched greater than 31,000 feedback to the Bureau of Reclamation in 2023 in favor of higher outcomes for individuals, birds, and the setting.
Wrapping up 2023 and looking forward to subsequent yr
We remind ourselves that birds aren’t solely important elements to a wholesome ecosystem, birds are each day reminders of our interconnections. This yr, a tagged Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a federally threatened fowl, taught us somewhat little bit of humility and awe when it passed through at least six protected areas on its international journey south. For these riparian-dependent birds, overuse and over-allocation of water in a drought and local weather careworn area has led to a precipitous decline of their inhabitants. This one migrating fowl had the ability to remind us that the water work we’ve prioritized and progress we’re making issues.
As we transfer in to 2024, Audubon will proceed to advocate for a safer future for water within the West. Our livelihoods, the environment, and the well-being of future generations require that we proceed this difficult work now in hopes of stopping catastrophes later. And for migrating birds, holding the water wanted for the community of conserved, restored, and undeveloped habitat throughout the Southwest provides up at the moment and in the direction of long-lasting options. Whereas the work is vital, huge, and generally unsure, we stay devoted and even hopeful that our work and the work of our companions will end in higher outcomes for individuals and birds.