Ecological Assessment of NRCS's Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative in Reponse to BP's Gulf Oil Spill

Author(s): Kaminski, R.

Science should guide conservation of natural resources to promote effectiveness, efficiency, and economy of management actions and policy development. Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) established the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI). Working with owners and managers of private croplands, aquaculture ponds, and Wetland Reserve Program easements, NRCS and conservation partners managed thousands of acres of wetlands and agricultural lands in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) and Gulf Coast regions to provide wetland and upland habitat inland from potentially oil-impacted coastal wetlands. In fall 2010, scientists and graduate students from Mississippi State University, Arkansas Tech University, and University of Missouri began designing and implementing local and landscape scale surveys to (1) estimate use of MBHI managed wetlands and comparable non-MBHI wetlands by shorebirds, waterfowl, and other waterbirds, and (2) assess relative effectiveness of different MBHI practices for providing habitat and food resources for migrating, resident, and wintering waterbirds. Currently, researchers are working in the MAV in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri and the Gulf Coast Prairies in Louisiana and Texas. Our presentation will summarize estimated bird use and food abundance on MBHI and compared study areas and report future directions for completing the MBHI assessment by 2013. Generally, avian abundance and diversity have been greater on MBHI-managed than other areas, although complexes of managed and other wetlands are providing wetland habitat for waterbirds among seasons. For example, when managed wetlands are dewatered in spring-summer to promote emergent vegetation, wetlands lacking such hydrological management provide habitat for waterbirds. Our study will aid future habitat conservation and adaptive management on private and public lands inland from the Gulf, which is a proactive need considering continued decline of continentally important coastal wetlands.

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