While Maine’s diverse habitats serve an important role for over 400 bird species—some threatened, endangered, or of regional conservation concern—the state’s not immune to a growing list of threats that puts these birds at further risk. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation due to development, toxins such as mercury and lead, oil spills on the coast and inland waters, and climate change are top among them.
In the face of these threats, a crucial step in conserving Maine’s birds is to identify the areas of the state that are most important for breeding, wintering, and migration. After several years of working toward that goal, Maine Audubon has recently completed the first phase of its Important Bird Areas (IBA) program, identifying 22 areas across Maine that are vital to state—and even global—bird populations.
In September 2001, Maine Audubon, together with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, initiated an Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program that will identify and prioritize the most important areas for bird conservation in Maine. Maine Audubon will then help plan for the conservation and management of these bird-rich areas.
Part of a global initiative by BirdLife International, Important Bird Area Programs began in the late 1980s to identify and conserve high-priority bird habitat.
Thousands of IBAs have been identified in over 100 countries around the globe, which has helped promote much-needed conservation action. In the mid 1990s, the first U.S. IBA Programs were launched in Pennsylvania and New York, and there are now over 30 states engaged in the process.
“What really makes the IBA program a good match for Maine Audubon is that it’s a great avenue for engaging the public, which is something we are always trying to do,” Gallo said. “It shows people that the special places they care about in Maine are also important for birds.”
Audubon’s National IBA Program Director John Cecil couldn’t agree more. “We see this as a locally driven, grassroots, bottom-up process,” he said. “Local engagement is a cornerstone of the IBA program’s success in the United States.”
With a goal of someday having 3,000 IBAs across the country, the IBA program is a pillar of Audubon’s bird conservation work, Cecil said. “Many of these are places everyone in the country has a chance to see. If we can engage people in conserving their local places, then we can get them to think about the bigger picture.”
The IBA program offers an important resource to conservation activists on the ground, said Jillian Liner, di- rector of bird conservation for Audubon New York. New York’s IBA program has been up and running for over 10 years, and includes 136 IBAs with publicly and privately owned habitat from the Adirondacks to Central Park.
“IBAs may not be regulatory, but they’ve proved to be influential in furthering land-protection efforts and helping to pass important legislative policies in New York,” said Liner, including a state bird conservation area program.
Liner said that when a large development was proposed near a Hudson River IBA, a local Audubon chapter became involved, studying the development’s impacts to short-eared owl habitat. IBA information was critical in mobilizing the members and convincing the state to protect core areas of the IBA, she said.
“In New York the program has really been successful and has a lot of support from local residents and conservation partners,” said Liner, hoping to expand the program to work with private landowners proactively to improve and ensure protection of IBAs.