The Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) is partnering with the University of Massachusetts to address threats to tropical forests and water resources in the coffee producing regions surrounding national parks in the Department of Yoro, Honduras. Expanding coffee production throughout the region is replacing tropical forests, including cloud forest, rain forest and pine-oak forest; impacting the headwaters for watersheds. Compounding the problem is the use of firewood from tropical forests to provide the thermal energy required for the industrial drying of the annual coffee harvest.
MDI is pleased to announce the first sale of carbon offsets in support of a new model of sustainable coffee production linking land-sparing, forest-friendly coffee production with processing using renewable energy technology. The initial sale of 4,092 metric tons of carbon dioxide offsets to Bewley’s Limited, a coffee company based in Dublin Ireland, is a major milestone for an alternative model of sustainable coffee that is being promoted by the Yoro Biological Corridor Initiative in Honduras—an Initiative to scale up the technology and production method using public/private sector collaboration.
The over-the-counter sale provides a market incentive for the adoption of Integrated Open Canopy™ (IOC) coffee farms, which conserve and/or regenerate an area of forest habitat at least equal to the area under coffee cultivation. The Yoro Biological Corridor Initiative will promote the transition to IOC coffee farms at a landscape level to provide habitat for biodiversity and protect the headwaters of threatened watersheds that provide drinking water for municipalities and water for the nation’s largest hydropower utility (300MW) at the El Cajon Reservoir. IOC production is combined with the industrial use of solar and biofuel energy, which eliminates the use of firewood (and its associated emission of carbon dioxide during combustion) derived from tropical forests for the drying of the annual coffee harvest, creating a high-quality carbon transaction.
The sale of carbon offsets represents approximately 25% of the net income derived from coffee revenue for the typical coffee farmer. This innovation rewards farmers who are conserving and/or regenerating forest habitat on their property.
Expanding coffee production is the primary threat to cloud forest throughout the region, with Central America being the second largest coffee producing region worldwide, and Honduras the largest coffee producer in Central America. The project will help Honduras to meet its commitments to reduce the use of firewood by 39% and establish one million hectares of forested/reforested area in accordance with the 2016 Paris Accord on climate change.
MDI has partnered with UMass Amherst’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the US Forest Service over the past 15 years in researching and refining the IOC production method, and in studying IOC’s benefit to biodiversity through its impact on the migratory Golden-Winged Warbler, with breeding grounds in northeastern United States and Wintering grounds that include the coffee regions of Honduras. In addition to benefiting the environment, coffee produced and processed through the program, branded as Café Solar®, is exported to the US, Canada, Ireland, and Sweden, creating new high-value markets for producers. The coffee is served in cafés and cafeterias at UMass Lowell and Amherst. According to surveys conducted in the US and Europe through UMass Lowell’s Social Psychology department, nearly 80% of coffee consumers are unaware that firewood is the energy source for conventional coffee drying, nor of its contribution to deforestation in Central America.
As the Yoro Biological Corridor Initiative advances, so too will the research, training, and education efforts that allow UMass and the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) students and faculty to collaborate in the development of the Yoro Biological Corridor in partnership with the Fair Trade coffee cooperative, COMISUYL.
MDI and Cooperative COMISUYL are designated as Co-Managers of Pico Pijol National Park by the Honduran Forest, Park and Wildlife Services in order to address the threats to clouds forest and national parks posed by expanding coffee production and processing.
In addition to purchasing carbon offsets, Bewley’s is also purchasing coffee processed at Cooperative COMISUYL’s Off-Grid Processing Facility using technology patented by UMass Lowell Alumni to dry the coffee harvest using solar/biomass energy, eliminating the burning of tropical forest as the thermal energy source for coffee drying, and reducing electricity consumption by 80% as compared to conventional wood-burning dryers. Additional importers in Sweden (Nordiska Kafferosteriet), Canada (Merchants of Green Coffee) and the US (Red Barn Coffee Roasters) are promoting the Café Solar® brand of coffee processed with renewable energy and promoting the adoption of forest-friendly IOC farming.
The North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) published today The State of North America’s Birds 2016, the first comprehensive report assessing the conservation status of all bird species that occur in Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico. The report was released by NABCI partners at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada, on behalf of all three countries, with a simultaneous event at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, in partnership with International Migratory Bird Day. NABCI was created by Canada, the United States and Mexico as a tri-national commitment to protect birds and their habitats.
“This report will allow us to base conservation actions on the best available science on the status of birds and their habitats in North America,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Catherine McKenna. “It is an unprecedented continental analysis, drawing on the efforts of tens of thousands of citizen-scientists from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.”
This report shows that more than one third of all North American bird species need urgent conservation action and calls for a renewed, continent-wide commitment to saving our shared birds and their habitats. One example of urgent conservation action taking place is in temperate forests, where the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture is planning for a mix of forest types from New York to Alabama. By integrating bird conservation objectives into forest management plans, it will diversify habitats across the eastern U.S.
Healthy environments for birds also provide benefits to other wildlife and people, such as clean air and water, flood and erosion control, and coastal resilience. When bird populations struggle, our natural resources are stressed.
Birds in ocean and tropical forest habitats are in crisis. More than half of the bird species in these ecosystems are on the Watch List, which designates species that are most at risk of extinction without significant action. Small and declining populations, small ranges, and severe threats to their habitats threaten species in these two habitats; for example, ocean pollution and invasive species on islands are problematic for ocean birds, while deforestation is a major challenge for tropical forest birds. Steep population declines also threaten birds in coastal, aridland, and grassland habitats. In particular, long-distance migratory shorebirds and species that migrate from the Great Plains of Canada and the U.S. to Mexico’s Chihuahua grasslands have lost, on average, almost 70 per cent of their continental populations since 1970.
Despite the many challenges faced by North American birds, this report also shows that conservation works. Waterfowl and other waterbirds are doing well, thanks in part to effective investment in conservation of wetlands through programs like the Duck Stamp, which allows hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts to contribute funding to purchase and protect wetland habitat, and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, a tri-country initiative to coordinate waterfowl protection efforts. Continued investment in wetlands conservation is needed to ensure that waterbirds will continue to thrive- and ensure that clean water exists for all species, including humans.
The report evaluates the conservation status of all native North American bird species across all major habitats —nine key ecosystems. It is based on the first-ever conservation vulnerability assessment for all 1,154 native bird species that occur in Canada, the continental U.S., and Mexico, and reflects a collaboration between experts from all three countries. The overall conservation status of each species takes into account its population trend, population size, extent of breeding and nonbreeding ranges, and severity of threats to populations. Methodology information, the complete assessment database, animated maps and other resources are available at stateofthebrids.org.
“This report is a superb demonstration of the power of birds, and the growing power of citizen science. Tens of thousands of Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans contributed bird sightings to help produce an unprecedented continent-wide assessment of North America’s birds,” added Dr. John W. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Because birds are sensitive barometers of environmental health, I encourage leaders across our three nations, in both government and industry, to consider the findings in this report, which is based on the best available science about our bird populations. Across the continent, it is the will of the people that these species and their habitats be conserved for the future.”
The State of North America’s Birds Report is being released during the Centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada that promised collaborative conservation to protect the migratory birds of North America. In 1936, twenty years after the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty, Mexico and the U.S. committed to a similar treaty, connecting all of North America in its efforts to protect our shared species. This report reflects a groundbreaking collaboration to evaluate bird populations across the continent. It calls for a renewed commitment to continental bird conservation agreements to keep our shared birds safe and healthy for the next 100 years.
For more information and to read the full report, visit www.stateofthebirds.org.
Learn more about the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial celebration at: www.fws.gov/birds/MBTreaty100.
For more ideas about how you can support bird conservation, visit www.stateofthebirds.org/change
It’s hard to protect a bird’s habitat when you don’t know where it lives half of its life. And the Wood Thrush needs all the help it can get—the species’ population has declined by about two percent each year since 1966, according to Breeding Bird Survey data, leading conservation scientist Peter Marra to fear that the Wood Thrush will be “the next passenger pigeon.”
Marra, who heads up the Smithsonian’s Migratory Connectivity Project, suspects that habitat disruption, climate change, cats, or other anthropogenic disturbances are responsible for the threatened bird’s decline, but at this point it’s impossible to nail down the cause(s) definitively. That’s because even though we know the little birds head south to Latin America for the winter, no one’s exactly sure where in that area they end up. “We need to figure out where they’re dying, but it’s hard to find these birds,” he says. So a couple years ago, Marra started talking with Matt Jeffery, deputy director of Audubon’s International Alliances Program, about a citizen science project to help the birds.
For Jeffery, the project provided an opportunity to practice an approach to conservation that he’s long been interested in: connecting bird-lovers in the States to bird-lovers abroad. After all, birds don’t know or care what country they’re in, and the people trying to protect them shouldn’t stop their efforts just because they run into a border. So Jeffery recruited two chapters—North Carolina’s Forsyth Audubon Chapter and New York’s Bedford Audubon Chapter—and set to work.
But before they could start making international connections, Jeffery and Marra had to figure out where exactly the Wood Thrushes winter. The latest generation of geolocator tags, which use the same technology as a portable GPS, can pin a bird’s location to within 10 meters. That’s a huge upgrade from the next-best tracker, which pins birds within a 100-kilometer radius, with a margin of error almost that big. (This kind of technology, which was used in a recent study to track Prothonotary Warblers, is useful for a species whose ultimate winter destination was previously completely unknown, but the data take a lot more time to interpret and are ultimately less actionable.) With the latest trackers, you go from having an idea of what country the bird visits to knowing exactly what habitats and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) they’re using, and at what times, says Jeffery—pretty useful information if habitat protection is on the conservation agenda.
The problem is that these geolocators are pricey—$465 each—so, as is often the case, the first step in the project was raising the dough. Fortunately, says Kim Brand, Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator for Audubon North Carolina, the idea that “we were going to find something out that no one else knew about these birds,” really inspired people. It also apparently convinced them to open their checkbooks. Ninety chapter members ended up contributing, and the Forsyth Audubon Chapter raised $15,000, enough to fund the research for two full years. Up in New York, Bedford Audubon, had the benefit of having a banding station already up and running, so though they raised a little less, they were also ready to take on the project.
Researchers from Marra’s team headed out to each location to oversee the research, and with banding permits and equipment borrowed from their state office, 27 Forsyth chapter members logged more than 500 hours last year helping to band. “It was seven days a week,” according to Brand. Some people even took days off work to help with the program.
“For many people, this was the first time they held a bird in their hands,” Brand says.
Toting their pricy new packs, the birds took off for their winter hideaway, and the volunteers went back to their normal lives. Then, when spring finally came, the real work began, as the chapters had to recapture the same birds and remove the data-laden backpacks. (Weighing in at less than two ounces, the Wood Thrush couldn’t handle the relatively heavy antenna that could have tracked their location in real time.)
Recapturing a banded bird is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, except the needle keeps flying around and the haystack is infinite—Wood Thrushes don’t have high site fidelity, which means they flit around to slightly different breeding locations year after year. Of the 22 tagged thrushes in each location, each chapter was only able to recapture two birds, and one of the geolocators Forsyth Audubon managed to collect had a dead battery (they’ve sent it back to the manufacturer, and they may receive data from it eventually). But it didn’t really matter, because one GPS is really all you need—plug it in, and voila! The bird’s whereabouts for the past 12 months are immediately available.
That’s how Forsyth Audubon figured out that their tagged bird had spent its winter in Belize. That was well inside the expected range—in fact, it was almost comically on-the-nose. Chapter members had suspected their birds might go there, and in 2014, they had traveled to Belize to collaborate with the Belize Audubon Society on a series of other projects. Now they had proof. During the 2014 winter trip, says Jeremy Reiskind, former president of the chapter, the North Carolina Auduboners and the Belize society members connected over the Wood Thrush, even though the North Carolinians didn’t realize the birds they were spying on could be the same birds that flitted about their own homes in summer. When the Forsyth Auduboners realized that the Belize Auduboners had never heard the Wood Thrush’s mating song—the bird only mates on the North Carolina side of its life— Reiskind and the group played it for them, to great applause.
Bedford’s birds, meanwhile, traveled to Nicaragua. Once they got their data, Janelle Robins, executive director of the chapter, showed it at a board meeting, and she’s still struck by “the look on their faces when they saw the map,” she says. “It’s something that’s so tangible, that speaks to anyone, no matter if they’re a scientist or not.” The chapter is currently researching the best way to help protect the habitat down there.
Monitoring of these habitats is particularly important right now—climate change threatens 80 percent of the Wood Thrush’s summering ground in the States, according to Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change report. And even though we tend to think of climate change as something “just happening up north,” Marra says, climate-induced changes to precipitation may be a threat to the bird’s wintering grounds, too, so any extra monitoring of the birds and their habitat will help.
Along those lines, Forsyth Audubon is already planning a trip down to Belize to help out with the Christmas Bird Count this winter. They’re also working to create a series of signs to be displayed in the Wood Thrush’s Belize habitat that will tell the birds’ story and encourage people to protect the habitat.
The project has turned something abstract into something concrete, Jeffery says. Now they know that “our bird in our backyard travels to this forest in Belize, and if we want that bird to return, we have to invest down there.” Reiskind says hopes to return to Belize this winter. “To me, what we have done is really the essence of citizen science,” he says. Hopefully he’ll see some familiar faces—both bird and human—when he’s there.
Article by the National Audubon Society.
For the past 50 years, the number of wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) that breed in the United States has decreased more than 60 percent. However, because wood thrush migrate thousands of miles each year between their breeding grounds in eastern North America and wintering grounds in tropical forests from southern Mexico to Colombia, scientists have had trouble pinpointing which part of the iconic species’ annual migratory cycle is causing that decline. Scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have found that the steepest regional declines have likely been the result of loss of habitat on breeding grounds in North America.
“Researchers have long suspected that forest loss in Central America has been the primary driver of wood thrush declines because the rate of forest loss in much of those countries is far higher than the rate of forest loss in North America, where the birds breed,” said Clark Rushing, an SCBI postdoc and primary author of the study published Jan. 27 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “While habitat loss in Central America does play a role in the observed declines across the species’ breeding range, we were surprised to find that loss of habitat on breeding grounds in North America seems to be contributing even more to the declines in several wood thrush populations.
”The study also found that when individual wood thrush overwinter in southern Mexico and experience low-quality habitat as the result of dry winter conditions, they may be less successful at reproducing when they come back to breed the following year. Scientists call this cause-and-effect a “seasonal interaction,” and this paper provides strong evidence of seasonal interactions driving declines at the population level.
Although the diverse patterns revealed by this study paint a complex picture of population declines for wood thrush, ultimately the research will help conservationists determine whether to focus resources on breeding or wintering habitat for specific populations. Using these results, SMBC is working as part of the Wood Thrush Conservation Alliance to develop a conservation plan to guide on-the-ground management for wood thrush.
“The wood thrush is an umbrella species for other migratory birds and non-migratory species that depend on eastern deciduous forest,” Rushing said. “There’s a whole suite of species that have similar habitat requirements, so protecting wood thrush in these places will be beneficial for these other species too.”
SMBC has been studying wood thrush for more than five years, but could only begin to piece together this piece of the puzzle recently thanks to satellite data, GPS geolocators and advances in remote sensing technology.
“Advanced tracking technology allowed us to link breeding and wintering wood thrush populations,” said Pete Marra, head of SMBC and co-author on the paper. “This was essential for us to then be able to take the next step to look at how climate and land-use change in these linked areas affected populations.”
Article by Smithsonian Institution.