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April 3, 2009
13th Annual Great Texas Birding Classic Aids Declining Songbirds
Fun Event Beckons Birders, But Highlights New Reports of Birds in Decline
LAKE JACKSON, Texas — Corporate-sponsored teams from across the USA that include some of the nation’s birding elite will once again take part in what organizers call the world’s longest, wildest birding competition along the entire Texas coast April 26-May 3. The Great Texas Birding Classic raises funds to protect bird habitat and promotes the fun and excitement of one of nature’s great spectacles, but it also highlights a growing concern: the decline of migratory songbirds.
To date, the GTBC has contributed $651,000 to avian habitat conservation along the Texas Gulf coast through Conservation Grants funded through team sponsorships and donations. Prior to each year’s competition, various organizations submit conservation project proposals to seek funding through grants awarded by the winning teams. This work focuses on habitat loss caused by human development, the biggest problem facing wildlife in Texas and around the world.
Conservation scientists say the grants could not come at a more urgent time. Last week, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior released the first ever "U.S. State of the Birds" report. This shows nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats. It also shows half of all coastally migrating shorebirds have declined; for example, red knots have declined by an alarming 82 percent, and clapper, yellow, black and king rails are either federally endangered or of high concern. The Interior report reveals troubling declines of bird populations over the past 40 years in all ecosystems — grasslands, wetlands, forests and prairie.
"The U.S. State of the Birds Report is a warning signal of the failing health of our environment," said Carter Smith, Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "At the same time, there is heartening evidence that strategic land management and conservation action can reverse declines of birds as evidenced from the increase of hunted migratory waterfowl and other success stories such as the bald eagle and wild turkey."
An initial motive for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to create the Great Texas Birding Classic was to raise money to arrest the decline of migratory song birds along the Texas coast by funding habitat conservation projects. The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory became the lead partner operating the competition in 2005, working with local communities along the Texas coast.
"There has been a long term, steady decline in many bird species that pass through or reside some part of the year here in Texas" said John Arvin, GCBO research coordinator. "Anything that slows that process is a good thing. Birding Classic conservation grants have made a positive difference for birds at habitat hot spots along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail."
For millions of birds that migrate between North, South and Central America, the Texas coast provide critical stopover habitat, although many natural areas have been lost to human development. The worst losses hit areas most important for birds and wildlife, such as wetlands.
The study "Texas Coastal Wetlands; Status and Trends, Mid-1950s to Early 1990s" was produced jointly by TPWD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Aerial photos and other sources show the 12.8 million-acre study area contained about 4.1 million acres of wetlands in 1955 and less than 3.9 million acres in 1992, a net loss of about 210,000 acres. The greatest losses were of freshwater emergent and forested wetlands, with significant but relatively smaller losses of saltwater wetlands. One of the most sobering trends is the loss of forested wetlands, including hardwood bottomlands along rivers and streams, one of Texas’ most important wildlife habitat types in terms of the density and diversity of species it supports — these declined by 96,000 acres, a 10.9 percent decrease.
For birds, birders and coastal communities, the habitat hot spots which remain are vital — recreationally, environmentally and economically. Research in spring 1992 showed 6,000 birdwatchers visited High Island east of Galveston within a six-week period, spending $2.5 million on lodging and travel-related activities. Total economic impact over a two-month period was estimated at $4-to-$6 million.
The 13th annual birding classic will be celebrated at the contest awards brunch in Corpus Christi on Sunday, May 3. Tickets are available to the Brunch for $20 per person and may be purchased in advance from GCBO at (979) 480-0999 or from the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 678-6232. More information is on the birding classic Web site.
The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory is a 501(c) 3 organization dedicated to conserving coastal habitat for birds through science and international partnerships.
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