President Bush on Saturday discussed a new strategy for protecting the 800 species of migratory birds that live in, or fly through the United States. The strategy focuses on protecting birds as habitat is lost to development outside of the National Wildlife Refuge and National Park systems.
The new policy is called "recovery credit trading," which allows landowners who improve habitat for birds and other species, place their land under a conservation easement that governs future maintenance and restricts future development. In exchange, they earn recovery credits that they can sell. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service organized a pilot project using this approach to conserve warblers and vireos in Texas, and this new policy will formalize this practice for recovering species.
The program is dependent on tax incentives that must be approved by Congress. For more details, see this White House fact sheet.
President Bush hasn't been viewed as a strong environmentalist during his time in the White House, and several policies -- restricting the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers' jurisdiction over small wetlands, for instance -- have been seen as harming bird habitat. However, Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group of fowl hunters, has had a strong influence at the White House, and several policies have been modified or improved because of that group's influence. Few other environmental groups have been as well received.
Two-thirds of the bird species that breed in or migrate through the U.S. have declining populations, according to the American Bird Conservancy, which praised the president's new policy. Habitat loss and poor habitat management threaten these species, and without improved effort they will continue to decline, according to the group. For instance, the cerulean warbler, which breeds in the eastern forests of North America and winters in South America, has declined 80% in 40 years.
Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, the decline of so many bird species is an indicator of the many environmental challenges society now faces, George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy, said. But, as the recovery of the American Bald Eagle has proven, we can reverse population declines with concerted effort, cooperation, and a can-do spirit.
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