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Linking Sites and People…

…through migratory birds

A number of BirdLife Partners in the Americas network, together with the global Rio Tinto – BirdLife Programme successfully completed the implementation of three years of conservation efforts for migratory birds along the Western Hemisphere Flyway. In particular, this has built on an existing conservation commitment at three key sites in North America: lake complexes in Saskatchewan, Canada; the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA and Marismas Nacionales in Nayarit, Mexico.

Populations of many migratory bird species are in imminent decline. These population reductions are related to a wide range of land-use and development challenges that humanity is facing. Effective conservation of migratory birds requires actions beyond political boundaries. BirdLife International is adopting a regional approach to tackle conservation based on a flyways approach so as to conserve these bird populations and their habitats through linking key sites with the people whose livelihoods are directly associated with them. Under this Programme, management and conservation plans for sites were developed; the requirements for effective environmental education and communication have been assessed, and are being used to implement Environmental Education programs at all selected sites. Protocols for monitoring species have been agreed and 3 years of consecutive monitoring data is now available.

National partners have established agreements with local governmental and non-governmental organizations to strengthen existing initiatives. An ecotourism program at the Marismas Nacionales was developed with the local communities and implemented, building strong constituency support for the conservation of that site. Recognising that a whole flyway approach is important, BirdLife Partners have created a regional team of flyways conservation practitioners sharing experiences and lessons learned along the flyway.Since 2009, with the support of the USFWS Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA), Rio Tinto and other strategic partners, BirdLife has been working to promote neotropical migratory birds conservation on a flyways scale, identifying key sites (Important Bird Areas, or IBAs) considered critical for a suite of migratory waterbird species, and implementing urgent conservation actions, research and environmental education, through links established between the communities living near or within these IBAs along the flyway.

The “Linking Communities” project historically began in 1998 with three Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve (WHSRN) sites sharing common species of waterbirds. These sites are Chaplin Lake and other associated waterbodies of Saskatchewan in Canada, the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA and the Marismas Nacionales in Nayarit, Mexico. Linking Communities was a consortium of interested NGOs, universities and other institutions, which developed the working model. USFWS NAWCA funded the initiative during its earlier phase. At the end of 2008, a Rio Tinto company - Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation (KUCC) - directly associated with Great Salt Lake and its many stakeholders, assumed an important role in the program as a strategic partner through its relationship with BirdLife International and the Rio Tinto – BirdLife programme.

Building on the Linking Communities model and on such strategic corporate relationship, BirdLife sought to realise an opportunity to extend its flyway conservation efforts to address conservation needs at passage and wintering sites for three of the five focal species associated with Great Salt Lake (Wilson’s Phalarope Steganopus tricolor, Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri and Franklin’s Gull Larus pipixcan). With funding from both the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act and Rio Tinto, BirdLife initiated a first phase of conservation programs at 4 sites in South America: in Argentina, at Laguna Mar Chiquita and Rio Saladillo; in Chile, at Humedales Rocuant-Andalien and in Peru at the Virrilá Estuary.

Subsequent funding for a second phase has now included two new sites in Paraguay: the Tinfunque and Sanidad National Park and at Chaco Lodge and Teniente Rojas Silva, both important sites for Wilson’s Phalarope. This second phase no longer supports the Virrila Estuary, as NCI has successfully progressed a separate funding relationship with NMBCA, following the same line of activities undertaken during the first phase of the project.In this process of flyway-wide collaboration, a number of BirdLife Partners and other organizations have been involved in the conservation of these migratory species: a) in the northern hemisphere, Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan, Linking Communities, National Audubon Society, Linking Communities and Pronatura Noroeste in Mexico; b) in the southern hemisphere Aves Argentinas, CODEFF, Nature and Culture International -Peru and Guyra Paraguay.

The results demonstrate that the project is having a very significant impact in terms of habitat conservation of these species along the flyway, at sites recognized as being critical for their survival.
Such actions include:

• ensuring the conservation of large areas of wetland at Andalien-Rocuant following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2010, and

• establishing agreements with local and environmental authorities at Mar Chiquita to establish a proper management system of the wetland – the fifth largest saline lake in the world, as well as training programs for researchers, environmental authorities, park guards, among others, who have all participated in different activities developed by the project managers.

• developing protocols for species monitoring at all sites as well as environmental education and communication programs.

• Undertaking restoration and bird banding at Rocuant Andalien and at Mar Chiquita, with new surveys being undertaken to redefine the boundaries of the Rio Saladillo IBA.

Now the challenge is to act on critical threats to the species and show that the project directly targets these threats, helping to ensure the survival of these migratory species throughout the flyway.
The project activities will culminate in the northern hemisphere sites in 2013, and have funding for the southern hemisphere sites until 2013. Right now alternatives to continue the activities at the sites and to ensure the conservation of these and other species over the long term funding are being sought.

No doubt this project is an important and valuable learning experience for the BirdLife Partnership in the Americas and we expect to build on this experience new projects along other flyways, for other species.

4th July 2014