Snowy Egrets at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS
August 16 marked the 100th anniversary of a treaty signed between the United States and Canada, a treaty that has led to a century’s worth of conservation efforts aimed at protecting some of Earth’s most precious animals: migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty signed by these two nations (actually, Great Britain signed for Canada) in 1916 was the first of its kind and has proved to be a worthwhile investment.
A century ago, birds were in trouble. Feathered hats were all the rage and wild birds were popular menu items in restaurants. Overharvest, combined with habitat loss, devastated populations. The demise of the passenger pigeon stands as an enduring example of the result. Luckily, the United States and Canada recognized the resounding need to protect these precious species and shared natural resources before other birds met the same fate. The result: an agreement to cooperatively manage and protect birds that migrate internationally.
The treaty was not only the first of its kind to protect migratory birds, but actually among the first to protect ANY wildlife! And it has yielded real results, especially for waterfowl and wading birds. Nevertheless, the recent release of the report on The State of North America’s Birds highlights the many challenges that still lie ahead such as human population growth and climate change. For this reason, taking the time to celebrate this landmark treaty is particularly necessary.
And a 100 years’ worth of commitment to this international partnership is truly cause for celebration. It allows us the chance to reflect on what our lives would be like if we were to lose these beautiful creatures. Imagine a world without ducks, hawks, songbirds.
Plus migratory birds are important! They provide essential ecological and economic benefits to communities and the economy, whether it be by controlling pest populations (saving billions of dollars on the need to use toxic pesticides) or generating billions of dollars from plain old bird watching. Plus, their abundance, variety and accessibility combined with their beautiful songs and stunning colors, provide a means to connect people with nature. But, selfish though it may be, in the end, the presence of migratory birds in our skies can also be valuable indicators of environmental health which is crucial to our own wellbeing. So celebrate this treaty, if not for migratory birds, for yourself!
The fight for the future of these birds continues alongside partners that include Mexico, Japan and Russia. You can be a partner, too. This month, the United States and Canada are highlighting many ways that citizens can participate in conservation of our shared bird life. You can visit https://www.fws.gov/birds/index.php to learn more. Here’s to another 100!
By Alexander Nicolas, External Affairs