WASHINGTON, D.C.—On May 1, USDA Forest Service International Programs and Environment for the Americas recognized exceptional efforts in advancing conservation with its annual Wings Across the Americas 2018 Conservation Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The Wings Across the Americas awards recognize the achievements of Forest Service employees and their partners in bird, bat, butterfly and dragonfly conservation. The work is critical because of unique ecological roles that many migratory species play. The Forest Service invests heavily in protecting habitat for migratory species, many of which spend the winter in Latin America and the Caribbean. If habitats in these areas are not protected, the U.S. domestic investment in conservation is wasted. The Forest Service works extensively in the winter ranges of many critical species to develop capacity to better manage the winter homes for these animals—a small investment with a big impact. Despite their value, many birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies unfortunately continue to face a multitude of threats.
Associate Deputy Chief for Research and Development Monica Lear and Greg Butcher from International Programs presented awards in the following four categories: international cooperation, research partnership, habitat conservation partnership and urban communities in conservation.
The International Cooperation Award went to the Western Hummingbird Partnership—a tri-national network of partners who have built an effective and sustainable hummingbird conservation program. The work is timely: there’s growing interest in the interactions between hummingbirds and their food resources because of the potential impacts of climate change. Much of the partnership’s focus is on the Rufous hummingbird, a widespread species that has a declining population and breeds farther north than any other hummingbird. The work centers on science-based monitoring, research, habitat restoration and enhancement, and a wide range of education and outreach efforts. The idea is to identify what hummingbirds need to survive, successfully reproduce and maintain thriving populations, and then to inform land managers, policy makers and the public so habitats can be managed in ways that help hummingbirds and their communities thrive.
The second award of the evening, Research Partnership category, went to the Ecology of the Mexican spotted owl. For more than 35 years, a large team of researchers led by Rocky Mountain Research Station and land managers has worked cooperatively to conduct research on the ecology of the Mexican spotted owl, Strix occidentalis lucida, and translate the results into management recommendations. This research has collectively influenced management across millions of acres of forests in the American southwest and Mexico. The management approaches recognize the importance of balancing short-term needs of protecting current habitat while ensuring the long-term sustainability of owl habitat in the future.
In the category Habitat Conservation Partnership were two award winners. The first was the Lime Lake Fen and Community Forest. The Forest Service Community Forest Program and partners collaborated to acquire the Portman Nature Preserve—a significant milestone in conservation at many levels. Nationally, it protected the third largest remaining populations of one of the most critically imperiled butterflies, Mitchell’s satyr, Neonympha mitchellii, as well as habitat for a federally threatened rattlesnake. Fewer than 15 populations of Mitchell’s satyrs remain in the world. This project helped ensure that a site rich enough to support captive rearing efforts will endure. Regionally, the preserve is important for wetland functionality and habitat value in the St. Joseph River Watershed. This collaborative project protects 189 acres of critical habitat for wildlife and eight different natural communities, including globally imperiled prairie fen. Plans developed by conservation partners such as The Nature Conservancy, Berrien and Van Buren Conservation Districts, Two Rivers Coalition, local nature centers and many others have identified the Paw Paw River as a priority for conservation for over a decade.
The second Habitat Conservation Partnership award went to the Hazel Creek Acquisition. Through the Forest Legacy Program, the acquisition of the Hazel Creek tract added 937 acres to the Warren Prairie Natural Area-Wildlife Management Area. The area is the keystone of a 90,000-acre conserved forest corridor along the Saline and Ouachita rivers that stretches north from the Arkansas–Louisiana border to the Ouachita National Forest in west-central Arkansas. The tract encompasses four declining ecological systems and contributes to the protection of five federally listed species. As recently as 2001, the tract supported red-cockaded woodpeckers and will easily do so again following prescribed fire and timber harvests to reduce tree-stocking levels. In addition to protecting these beloved birds, conservation of this tract also guarantees full public access for recreation, perpetuates a working forest, facilitates water-quality protection of a river and preserves Arkansas's most endangered forested ecosystem.
The final award of the evening went to Birds in My Neighborhood in the Urban Communities in Conservation category. This volunteer-driven program was launched in 2013 in partnership with Audubon Great Lakes to acquaint Chicago public elementary school students and teachers with birds that inhabit their local communities. Participating schools are already part of the Openlands’ Building School Gardens Initiative, which aims to foster a connection between CPS students and their local environment. Birds in My Neighborhood deepens this connection with the belief that both school gardens and birds can spark a long-term passion for nature in youth. Volunteers work with second- through fifth-grade students to educate them about the common birds in their school gardens, neighborhoods and the city.