Report: Climate Change Threatening a Third of North American Bird Species

Tufted puffin. Photo by Jeff Mondragon.

Secretary Salazar Issues Timely Reminder of Climate Threat

The issue of forest protection, species survival and climate all come together in a just-issued report from the US Department of Interior. “State of the Birds” is a timely reminder of the looming threat of Climate Change to Hundreds of Species. Documentation of the steady drift north of the average range of American birdlife is a more reliable barometer of climate change than snap judgments about the meaning of a snowy month in DC or a snow-less Olympics.

Latitudinal movement by habitat graph.













Overall, the average shift over 40 years was 35 miles north. Some birds and many other species of wildlife are not able to shift rapidly in response to changing temperatures. If climate continues to change, future wildlife communities will look very different from those of today.

These are not just interesting statistics. “Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change,” said Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Most at risk are island-nesters such as puffins or albatrosses, but the risk from climate-change is elevated for a third of the nation’s over 800 bird species, from coastal species like terns to high alpine or tundra species such as the ptarmigan.

Northern Spotted Owl. Courtesy USGS.That is why The Wilderness Society continues to press for a comprehensive climate and energy bill that ends the free dumping of global warming pollution into the air by our utilities, industrial facilities and cars. And it is why we are pushing new resources devoted to natural resources adaptation and for recognition that the same old growth trees on which so many bird species rely, such as the Spotted Owl or the Marbled Murrelet, help store immense amount of carbon safely out of the atmosphere for long periods of time. Some of our temperate rainforests store more carbon than the average tropical rainforest, according to a recent analysis by The Wilderness Society. The State of the Birds report also makes this point clearly — “Preservation of forests with the highest carbon stores, such as the moist mature and old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest would prevent vast amount of carbon from reaching the atmosphere if these forests were logged.”

Tufted puffin. Photo by Jeff Mondragon.
Northern Spotted Owl. Courtesy USGS.