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Migratory Birds, Bats and Butterflies
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Community Partnerships Get it Right

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by Jim Chu, Michael Rizo, Margee Haines, and Guadalupe del Rio Pesado


Forest Service

Working with partners in innovative ways, the Forest Service is conserving the grassland homes of many birds in South America. A good example is current work to expand an organic beef campaign in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

Jim Chu is a migratory bird program specialist for the Forest Service, International Programs, Washington, DC; Michael Rizo is the Latin America, Caribbean and Canada Urban and Community Program Specialist for the Forest Service, International Programs, Washington, DC; Margee Haines is the Latin America, Caribbean and Canada program specialist for the Forest Service, International Programs, Washington, DC; and Guadalupe del Rio Pasado is the President of Alternare, A.C. in Mexico.


"A thing is right,” Aldo Leopold wrote, “when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” These words are true for the human community as well. Partnerships based on conserving migratory species strengthen human bonds by building biotic communities.

Western Hummingbird Project

Hummingbirds are the feathered jewels of the migratory bird world, but some species appear to be in decline. In response, the Forest Service worked with the Hummingbird Monitoring Network to develop the Western Hummingbird Project, an effort to build international partnerships to protect hummingbirds and their habitats across Western North America. The project will include monitoring, research, education, and outreach through a broad coalition of universities, nonprofit organizations, and State/provincial, as well as Federal, agencies in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The partners will work together to fill gaps in knowledge about hummingbirds: What do they need to survive, to successfully reproduce, and to sustain viable populations? Based on the answers, the project will prepare conservation action plans and make recommendations to land management agencies. In April 2009, the first Western Hummingbird Project workshop was held in Arizona to create a common understanding of hummingbird conservation, identify knowledge gaps, and recommend actions and projects that might best advance hummingbird conservation.

Take, for example, an initiative named for Alaska’s Copper River delta, one of the world’s richest feeding grounds. Each spring, up to 5 million shorebirds pass through the delta on their way to summer breeding grounds, some coming from as far away as Chile and New Zealand. Founded by Ducks Unlimited and Forest Service International Programs, Pacific Northwest Research Station, and Chugach National Forest, the Copper River International Migratory Bird Initiative is based on the belief that migratory bird habitat should be protected throughout the birds’ range. The partners have funded various projects, including shorebird surveys, habitat restoration, capacity building, and conservation education. They have added to scientific understanding of the birds that use the Copper River delta while forging lasting bonds with communities half a world away.

Another example of reaching across continents for migratory bird conservation is the Grassland Bird Initiative, designed to protect birds that come from as far away as the pampas of Argentina to breed on the Great Plains of Canada and the United States. Partners include Forest Service International Programs, and Northern, Rocky Mountain, and Southwestern Regions; The Nature Conservancy; Pronatura; and Birdlife International. Projects have included survey/monitoring and conservation education in Mexico and expansion of an organic beef campaign in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Such programs bring communities together across borders to protect the birds they care about in their own backyards.

In yet another example of an international partnership for migratory species protection, the Forest Service brought a community group in Chicago together with a group in the Mexican State of Michoacán, winter home of the monarch butterfly. El Valor, the Chicago group, is a nonprofit organization that serves the Latino community. Since 2001, it has been partnering with the Forest Service’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Chicago to help connect Latino youth and their families to the land.

El Valor takes a keen interest in monarch butterfly conservation because the species migrates in the summer through Chicago neighborhoods where many immigrant families from Michoacán reside. In January 2008, a group of four Mexican-American students and two instructors from the Chicago area spent a week in Michoacán near the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, an oyamel fir forest, where the butterfly overwinters on trees. Their host was Alternare, a local nongovernmental organization that trains community members in conserving butterfly habitat while honing such skills as raising livestock, growing organic fruits and vegetables, reforesting cutover lands, building energy-efficient stoves, and constructing buildings from homemade adobe bricks rather than wood. The group from Chicago worked on community service projects while exploring the connection between the Reserve and the local community—and the family and cultural connections between Michoacán and Chicago. The students formed lasting friendships with their Mexican hosts while gaining a new appreciation for monarch conservation and its connection to rural development.

In August 2008, Alternare sent five community instructors and a project coordinator to Chicago as part of their training to be future conservation leaders. The instructors witnessed monarch butterfly conservation, including community monarch gardens, and learned about El Valor’s educational and outreach programs, noting community connections to Mexico. At the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, they saw the role that public lands play in urban areas, learning about community and government partnerships with conservation organizations. The interpersonal and international bonds formed through these exchanges will last for years to come.

In Seattle, WA, yet another community group is using migratory species conservation to build community ties. The International District Housing Alliance, formed to meet the housing needs of low-income Asian immigrants, also seeks leadership opportunities for young people from the Asian community. What better way to help unite the community than to bring youth together with the elderly to enjoy the wonders of the wild?

In the nearby Cascade Mountains, the Housing Alliance joined the Forest Service in a partnership to do just that—to connect Asian youth with their elders, giving both the learning experience of a lifetime. The focal point is the bald eagle, a magnificent migratory bird that gathers seasonally on the Mt. Baker–Snoqualmie National Forests to catch migrating salmon. The partners take young people to the Skagit River to watch eagles feed, teaching them all about the eagle—its habitat needs, its migratory patterns, and its relationship to salmon. The youth, in turn, lead groups of elderly citizens to see the eagles, passing on all they have learned in their native tongues, including Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. For many elderly visitors, it is their first experience of a national forest, let alone of a bald eagle—and for two youth leaders, it became a career pathway into the Forest Service. By capitalizing on Seattle’s rich outdoor heritage and its wealth of migratory species, the partnership is not only building community ties, but also strengthening community interest in conservation.

Partnerships like these, whether spanning continents or communities, get it right. They help preserve the “integrity, stability, and beauty” of the biotic community while doing the same for the human community. Through such partnerships, the Forest Service is forging stronger ties between urban and rural communities, helping people reconnect with the land. Aldo Leopold would be smiling.


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