Why Bird Conservation?
Executive Director Andrew Mackie states that birds are great tools to help achieve the goals of a land trust, since the bird conservation community “has a certain structure and funding mechanisms” that land trusts can leverage. In turn, land trusts can also help birds. The habitats protected by the Central Colorado Conservancy (CCC) have broad significance to birds and other wildlife. For example, CCC focuses on conserving riparian zones because of their importance to a high diversity of bird species.
Spotlight Resource: Conservation Plans
For the CCC, conserving land is a two-step process. The first step is to determine which lands to prioritize. Mackie often begins this process by reviewing regional plans focused on birds, scenic byways, or corridors. Bird-specific plans are often highly useful, as they provide detailed information, and protection for birds often benefits plants and other wildlife. Another resource that can be helpful during this process is the Intermountain West Joint Venture, which not only provides bird conservation information, but also connects land trusts with partners that can help to build capacity.
After determining what lands are most important, the second step is to see if the property is a good match for the land trust. In some cases important parcels are already protected or unavailable. For example, in the case of the Brown-capped Rosy-finch, conservation plans call for protecting high elevation forests. But, according to Mackie, much of this land is already National Forest land. The trick is to use high priority bird species that are reliant on private lands to guide prioritization and acquisition of important properties. After properties have been identified, CCC uses a fine-tooth comb to evaluate each site. Mackie explains they will walk a potential property and fill out a very specific checklist with distinct conservation values. Then, with the aid of the land committee, CCC decides whether or not the property will support the mission of the land trust and fulfill the needs of target bird species.
“While it doesn’t sound very exciting, we always need more money,” Mackie states. In order to complete projects, the land trust needs resources like time devoted to developing the project, and money to execute a project or acquire land. The operating budget, including staff costs, is primarily funded by individual charitable donations. The capital budget is the money used to fund programs, to buy a conservation easement, or to do a conservation project. For this budget, there are three major sources of funding available. The lottery ticket sales in Colorado fund Great Outdoors Colorado, and land trusts can apply for these funds. At the federal level, farm and ranchland protection programs, such as those administered by NRCS, are funded through the Farm Bill. Lastly, at the state level, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Habitat Protection Program also provides funding.
Through partnerships with land trusts in coastal Alaska, Wings over Western Waters, Audubon Alaska, Partners in Flight, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, and Intermountain West Joint Ventures, the CCC is provided with a limitless amount of resources and information. Building these clusters of bird conservation organizations around certain geographic areas allows for the support network that is important and influential to a land trust.
Advice for Other Land Trusts
Mackie says that building partnerships is the way to go. “There is a lot of bird conservation stuff out there, and it can be overwhelming. It’s hard to get a handle of where to start, especially if no one at your land trust has a background in birds,” says Mackie. Through partnerships, land trusts can gather technical support and feedback. It also helps to scale up a land trust’s bird conservation impact, since a single land trust is usually working on a small scale.
“Even if your land trust isn’t gung-ho on birds, using birds to achieve your other goals is helpful,” Mackie adds. For the CCC, birds can be used to save traditional ranches and grazing areas, as these lands are highly beneficial to birds. Riparian zones benefit birds as well, and are also important for both biodiversity and their provided ecological controls. “Those are goals that you can use,” Mackie says regarding conserving ranchlands and riparian zones, “and you can tap into the vast amount of funding for bird conservation initiatives.”
What’s Next For Us?
For the CCC, forming a cluster of land trusts for a partnership project is a main focus. Mackie details the idea of trying to form a cluster in the area with ten land trusts and bird conservation organizations in order to come up with priority areas, priority species, and to seek out funding that “wouldn’t necessarily be available to me and my little land trust.”
Note: The Cornell Lab is proud to have Executive Director Andrew Mackie serving on the Advisory Team of our Land Trust Initiative. We appreciate the helpful advice from this experienced land trust leader.