AOU Committee on Conservation
The charge of the AOU Committee on Conservation is to investigate in depth topics relating to the conservation of birds.
The role of the Committee in avian conservation is to provide objective, independent review of science relevant to critical, and often controversial, issues. It operates by identifying significant issues in which evaluation of science is particularly needed and appointing subcommittees consisting of AOU members to investigate the issue and publish white paper reports (usually in The Auk).
Some projects are undertaken at the request of government agencies or concerned parties, while others are initiated by the AOU in response to a perceived need for input from the scientific community. The Committee also assists the Ornithological Council in matters related to conservation when appropriate, and promotes communication of information about science relevant to conservation, chiefly by sponsoring symposia at the society's annual meeting.
The Committee consists of a chair who serves an indefinite term, plus the chairs and co-chairs of the subcommittees responsible for active projects and symposia, who serve until their tasks are completed. The Committee rarely meets as a group. The list of current members is available in AOU Officers, Committees, Staff & Appointments (PDF, 7 pp, 62 kB).
Current Committee Projects
The Committee, at the request of Audubon California, appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel to review the California Condor recovery program. This is the first independent review of the program since another AOU-Audbon review 30 years ago. The Panel's report, Status of the California Condor and Efforts to Achieve its Recovery (PDF, 125 pp, 1.7 MB) was released August 6, 2008.
Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) in Mexican Prairie Dog colony, La Soledad, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Short grassland vegetation can be seen within prairie dog colony in contrast to adjacent desert scrub. Photo by Rogelio Hernandez.
Subcommittee Members: Robert Askins (Co-chair), Carola Haas (Co-chair), Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, Brenda Dale, James Herkert, Fritz Knopf, Peter Vickery
Project: This project was initiated by the AOU in response to widespread declines of grassland birds. This subcommittee undertook an analysis of the bird communities in a variety of grassland types, focusing on population trends, habitat availability, and impact of management techniques, with an emphasis on burning, grazing, and mowing. The subcommittee assessed the status of the various communities, and offered management recommendations for each.
Status: The subcommittee has completed its report: Conservation of Grassland Birds in North America: Understanding Ecological Processes in Different Regions (PDF, 98 pp, 738 kB). The report was published in 2007 as Ornithological Monograph No. 64.
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). Photo by J. Schumacher, courtesy of VIREO.
Subcommittee Members: Mike Reed (Chair), Doug Causey, Fred Cooke, Larry Crowder, Jeremy Hatch
Project: This project was initiated by the AOU in 2001 to evaluate the scientific foundation of a national management plan for Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) being developed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Service was considering how to address alleged adverse effects of increasing cormorant populations on sport fishing, the aquaculture industry, habitat, and populations of other native predators. The subcommittee reviewed the draft Management Plan, and accompanying Environmental Impact Statement and provided comments to USFWS about the use of science in the plan, and responded with additional comments to a Proposed Rule issued by USFWS. The subcommittee is now preparing a report which considers the final EIS, Management Plan and Rule released by USFWS, the use of relevant science in developing these documents, and the response of USFWS to comments from the subcommittee and other members of the scientific community in revising the draft documents to final form.
Status: The subcommittee has completed its report: Review of the Double-crested Cormorant Management Plan, 2003: Final Report of the AOU Conservation Committee's Panel (PDF, 31 pp, 77 kB)
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers - III
Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) foraging on a longleaf pine in the Sandhills of North Carolina. (Photo by James W. Walters).
Subcommittee Members: Reed Bowman (Co-chair), Jeff Walters (Co-chair), Dick Conner, Todd Engstrom, Jerry Jackson, Fran James, Dave Ligon, Craig Rudolph, Pete Stacey
Project: The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a new recovery plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) in 2003. The long-standing subcommittee on Red-cockaded Woodpeckers published reports in The Auk in 1986 and 1991 that were critical of the previous recovery plan because management recommendations were not based on the best available science (see Past Projects). What the subcommittee advocated in these reports has to a large extent been incorporated into the new recovery plan.
To demonstrate the value of basing management on the best available science it is essential to evaluate the results when this is done. Therefore in 2002 the subcommittee undertook a new project in which it will evaluate the relationship between population behavior and management practices. The subcommittee will test the hypothesis that population trend is positively related to the extent to which management practices based on sound science are employed.
Status: The subcommittee has acquired a database from USFWS that includes the amount of each type of management activity conducted each year and changes in population size, for all remaining Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations. Data analysis is underway.More information on the conservation of this species can be found on the USFWS Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery site.
AOU in Conservation Action
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). Photo by G. Bailey, courtesy of VIREO.
Subcommittee Members: Alicia Craig, Terry Rich; other members to be named
Project: The Committee on Conservation is seeking ways to better involve the scientific community generally, and AOU members specifically, in major, active conservation efforts such as the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) and the affiliated Partners in Flight (PIF) program. The AOU is especially interested in facilitating establishment of scientifically defensible habitat and population objectives for birds.
Recent efforts include appointment of Committee chair Jeff Walters to the NABCI Research Working Group, and appointment of Fran James as the AOU representative on a panel assembled to review methods of estimating global populations within the NABCI landbird conservation plan. Broader linkages are being explored, and suggestions are welcome - please contact Terry Rich () or Jeff Walters ().
Previous Committee Projects
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers - I
Subcommittee Members: Dave Ligon (Chair), Pete Stacey, Dick Conner, Carl Bock, Curt Adkisson
Project: The subcommittee, originally known as the AOU Committee for the Conservation of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), was formed in 1983 in response to a request from the United States Section of the International Council for Bird Preservation, to review the status of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, to evaluate the conservation and management practices impinging on the welfare of the species, and to further the AOU's interest in providing scientific advice and suggestions to managers of threatened and endangered species of birds.
The subcommittee published a report in 1986 (Auk 103:848-855, 1986, PDF, 8 pp, 710 kB) in which it concluded that knowledge of the biology of the species was sufficient to develop a management plan that could prevent further declines of the species on public lands, but that the new Recovery Plan for the species, just published in 1985, and the management practices it recommended, were inadequate to achieve this goal. The report had an enormous impact, stimulating a reassessment of management practices for the species and leading many managers to adopt practices advocated in the report rather than those suggested in the recovery plan.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers - II
Subcommittee Members: Dave Ligon (Chair), Wilson Baker, Dick Conner, Jerry Jackson, Fran James, Craig Rudolph, Pete Stacey, Jeff WaltersProject: The subcommittee continued to function, with some change in membership (see above), following publication of its first report, and in 1991 published a second report (Auk 108:200-201, PDF, 2 pp, 172 kB). In this brief report it again pointed out the potential to develop an effective management strategy based on sound science, and discussed the management implications of new findings. It noted that, with some managers continuing to follow the Recovery Plan and others employing the alternate approaches suggested by science and advocated by the subcommittee, population trends were highly variable. Again, the subcommittee's work was highly influential. Within the next two years rapid population increases were reported for the first time, all in populations managed with the new approaches advocated by the subcommittee. Eventually many populations began to grow, and the science-based management strategies advocated by the subcommittee were manifested in a new Recovery Plan for the species, published in 2003. This long-standing subcommittee continues its work, and currently is evaluating the relationship between population trend and management strategy (see Current Projects).
Cape Sable Seaside Sparrows
Subcommittee Members: Jeff Walters (Chair), Steve Beissinger, John Fitzpatrick, Russ Greenberg, Jim Nichols, Ron Pulliam, David Winkler
Project:In 1998 the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and Working Group asked the AOU to assist them in evaluating whether the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis), confined to the Everglades in South Florida, was in imminent danger of extinction and if so, what actions should be taken. The Task Force provided funding that enabled the subcommittee to interact with scientists and managers during a workshop held at Florida International University in February, 1999. Scientists working with the sparrow provided the subcommittee with position papers summarizing their findings and conclusions, and provided additional information in responses to specific questions following the workshop. The subcommittee used this information and the literature to evaluate the science relevant to the sparrow controversy, and published their findings in 2000 (Auk 117:1093-1115, PDF, 23 pp, 267 kB). The subcommittee concluded that the available data supported the conclusion that current water management practices in the Everglades imperiled the sparrow and its habitat, most especially by producing long periods of high water in western Shark River Slough. Water management also resulted in overly dry conditions in the eastern Everglades which, although not as catastrophic in their impact as the flooding in the western Everglades, are not optimal for the sparrow. The subcommittee recommended both short-term and long-term management strategies to alleviate threats to the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. The conclusions reached by the subcommittee are reflected in subsequent water management in south Florida. The major restoration effort now underway, manifested in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, promises to achieve the recommended long-term goals, and current interim management designed to protect the sparrow reflects the recommended short-term goals.See the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow Issues Home Page for more on conservation of Cape Sable Seaside Sparrows, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan for more on the Everglades restoration.
Partners in Flight Species Priorities
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana). Photo by T. J. Ulrich, courtesy of VIREO.
Subcommittee Members:: Steve Beissinger (Chair), Mike Reed, Joe Wunderle, Scott Robinson, Deborah Finch
Project: Partners in Flight (PIF) is a coalition of agencies and organizations, launched in 1990, which is working to conserve the birds of the Western Hemisphere. The AOU was requested by PIF and the National Audubon Society to review the scheme that PIF developed to rank bird conservation priorities. The subcommittee considered whether a prioritization process was needed, whether the process proposed by PIF was scientifically sound, and how the results of the process should be interpreted for conservation planning. In a report published in 2000 (Auk 117:549-561, PDF, 13 pp, 101 kB), the subcommittee concluded that a prioritization scheme was needed and that the approach proposed by PIF was sound, but that PIF needed to develop a clear method for using the results of the process, and subject that method to independent scientific review. The subcommittee also offered suggestions for improving the process.
California Spotted Owl
California Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis). Photo courtesy of R. J. Guttiérrez.Subcommittee Members: Jeff Walters (Chair), Evan Cooch, Ken Pollock
Project: This subcommittee was formed in 2002 in response to a request from the U. S. Forest Service to provide an independent scientific review of a report containing a meta-analysis of the demography of the California Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis). The report promised to serve as the basis for key management decisions affecting large areas of forest. The subcommittee submitted a review of the report to the Forest Service, to which the authors of the report responded with comments. The authors incorporated the subcommittee comments in revising the material for publication. The report was published in 2004 as Ornithological Monograph No. 54.