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Oregon's tough on birds, Audubon report says


 November 11, 2004


BILL MONROE The Oregonian


Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the National Audubon Society has found that nearly one-third of North America's bird species are in serious trouble.

Or "significant decline," as the society announced recently in a national news release that, sadly, singled out Oregon under the headline "Degraded Environmental Conditions: Oregon's Birds are Suffering."

The society's "State of the Birds" national report, issued in October's Audubon Magazine, says statistically significant declines of bird numbers have been documented nationwide in 70 percent of grassland species, 36 percent of shrub-land species, 25 percent of forest, 23 percent of city and 13 percent of wetland species.

Further, the report says, the declines aren't associated with natural cycles of ups and downs.

It cites the usual culprits, such as loss of native grasslands, overgrazing, development of wetlands, bad forest management, invasive species, pollution, pesticides and poor land-use decisions.

Whew! And all this could be just in Portland metro.

Actually, Oregon's hit list includes Swainson's hawk, sage grouse, burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike, horned lark, black-throated sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, bobolink, pine siskin, Cassin's finch, Brewer's sparrow, willow flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, prairie falcon, and Western meadowlark.

A few may have recently visited your back yard, but even if they haven't, you need to be very, very alarmed.

"Birds are environmental litmuses," said Dave Eshbaugh, state director of the National Audubon Society. "They're the most visible creatures that are sensitive to how we're doing with our environment."

Eshbaugh's office should not be confused with the local birding authority, the Audubon Society of Portland, which is similarly active in monitoring and championing the causes of birds on both local and statewide levels.

The Portland chapter is one of the national organization's strongest affiliates. Its members, leery at first of national Audubon's entry on the local scene more than a year ago -- Eshbaugh's office is in Portland -- now seem satisfied that their turf hasn't been pre-empted or invaded.

In fact, Eshbaugh frequently meets with the Portland Audubon staff about the painfully full slate of issues facing birds and the state's environment.

"Oregon is critically important," he says. "It's got a blend of habitats, and water management issues are bigger here than anywhere in the country."

While the Portland chapter works on other state and local issues, the national society has tackled Klamath Basin as a keystone project.

Draining thousands of square miles and home to seven wildlife refuges in two states, the Klamath marsh, Eshbaugh says, is the largest freshwater marsh west of the Mississippi River and the most important migration stopover on the Pacific flyway between Alaska and Mexico.

What's good for birds such as the long-billed curlew and rare yellow rail in Klamath is ultimately good for rufous hummingbirds at your back door.

"The hummingbird is a great example," Eshbaugh says. "We see them here seasonally feeding from flowers, but during migration, the rufous also depends heavily upon a rich insect environment like that of the Klamath Basin."

It's a vital link in a chain of needs that bring them humming home each spring and summer.

"Every time I drive across the marsh in the summer and fall, I have to get out of the car several times to wipe off the windshield," he says. "That rich food base is important to birds like the rufous hummingbird, flycatchers, Western tanagers and a host of other species."

Eshbaugh encourages people to visit the Klamath. "Let local people know why you're there," he says. "Go into a restaurant and tell them you came to see a bobolink. Those businesspeople are savvy, and they realize where the priorities lie on their incomes."

And, although the Klamath may be a day's drive south of Portland, there's plenty of work nearby to help save the marsh.

Options include supporting state-level conservation referendums, state and federal refuges and wildlife agencies, and joining or volunteering with a local organization, such as the nationally known Portland Audubon chapter.

Bob Sallinger and Jim Labbe of the Audubon Society of Portland wrote in the chapter's February newsletter that 42 percent of the Willamette Valley forest canopy has been lost to development.

That's just one trigger that's brought significant declines to 13 Portland-area birds among the 200 native species that call our yards home, they said.

"Habitat loss and reduction in urban trees are primary causes of diminishing bird populations," the men wrote.

Which brings us to my favorite admonition from Eshbaugh when asked what can we do:

"Just be conscious of the decisions you're making and impacts they have," he says. "Every time you go to a grocery store, you can make a difference, whether it's something like an alternative to buying a can of Raid or using a mousetrap instead of poison."

Bill Monroe: 503-221-8231; billmonroe@news.oregonian.com






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