The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is celebrating the Migratory Bird Treaty centennial this year. Jerome Ford, a 29-year Service veteran, has been assistant director for the Migratory Bird Program since 2011. Here are excerpts from a recent Refuge Update interview with him.

Q. What are the most critical threats to migratory birds in North America?

A. Loss of habitat is at the forefront. Birds utilize different types of habitats. Even though we see them in a particular place and we may think that’s where they carry on their entire life cycle, that is not the case. The other threat is climate change. Because of sea-level rise, bird habitat along the seaboard is going to be inundated with water. Also, climate change is causing drought in other places where birds need moisture to find invertebrates for food and specific vegetation for cover. Climate change and habitat loss are probably the two greatest threats to birds.

Q. What impact has climate change had on migratory birds? Can you give an example?

A. In 2014, the red knot was listed [as a threatened species], and I think it is the only bird to ever be listed where climate change is a reason. Climate change has thrown out of sync the prey/ predator relationship that the red knots need, especially on the northern Atlantic seaboard, where they feed upon horseshoe crab eggs. The effects of climate change now have horseshoe crabs completing part of their life cycle earlier [in the year] than they have in the past. By the time the red knots migrate up from South America to where the horseshoe crabs are, the egg stage of the crabs’ life cycle has completed. So red knots don’t get a chance to use the horseshoe crab eggs to replenish their fat supply before they continue their migration into their breeding grounds northward. The lack of sufficient fat reserve will cause many red knots to perish eventually.

Q. What are a couple of important things the Migratory Bird Program is doing this year to conserve bird populations?

A. We are now doing what we have been doing for a very long time, and we do it fairly well — monitoring, surveying and using great science to model a variety of conservation scenarios. But I’d like to modernize our program by evaluating how we’ve done our business over the past 30 or 40 years and asking, “Is there a need for change?” We’re calling it our modernization approach to become more effective and efficient. My hopes are that the resulting efficiencies and [financial] resources we save will translate into more on-the-ground conservation… The other notable thing is the Migratory Bird Treaty centennial. Birds are often taken for granted a little bit among the general populace. I think people put all birds in one bucket. They don’t know there are 1,027 species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I believe people often see birds and hear them singing and conclude that birds are healthy and safe. In fact, some of the birds they hear may be imperiled. What we’re trying to do with the 100th anniversary of the first Migratory Bird Treaty, which will be in August of this year, is to heighten awareness of the treaty and the protection it affords birds by creating opportunities for people to get engaged in the welfare and conservation of birds.

Q. What role do national wildlife refuges play in protecting migratory birds, and how has that role changed in recent years?

A. Most refuges, if I’m not mistaken, were established in part to protect migratory birds — in a lot of instances, waterfowl. I see wildlife refuges as being the hub for bird conservation within the Fish and Wildlife Service. Once we demonstrate what we’re doing on our own Service lands, it’s easier to start talking to our partners and other stakeholders about extending conservation initiatives across the landscape. And I don’t think that’s changed over the past few decades as the Service has tried to lead by example. However, I would like to see us increase the sales of the Duck Stamps at national wildlife refuges. So, if we can strengthen that relationship between the Migratory Bird Program and the Refuge System, then that would be a win-win for both programs and for wildlife.

Q. How can we better engage young people in bird conservation? How did you get involved with conservation?

A. We believe in conservation through art. That’s a mantra of our Junior Duck Stamp program. Kids love to doodle, draw and create with color. You look around my office [at framed wall drawings], you see three different pictures of the wood duck. They’re colorful, beautiful birds. I think if we can get to youth early on and allow them a chance to experience the beauty of birds and how majestic birds can be in flight, then kids will make a lasting connection to the out-of-doors. It’s that genuine connection to nature that I believe will keep kids forever interested in some form of conservation. I grew up on a small farm in northern Louisiana. We were taught that the land and all the animals that it supported was a gift to us and we should respect it all and keep it healthy. I feel that I have an obligation to give back to the land.

Q. How do states, nongovernmental partners and private landowners help the Service protect migratory birds?

A. There is very little, if anything, that we do alone in the Migratory Bird Program. Everything that we do for bird conservation is done with partners. We develop hunting regulations with our state partners, and we coordinate hemispheric bird conservation as a member of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative [NABCI]. Whether it’s Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, American Bird Conservancy, the state partners, we’re all part of a larger cooperative and collaborative conservation effort.