Opinion Columns & Blogs

The new silent spring...and summer...fall...winter

For me birds are a symbol of the freedom of flight. The Western Tanager -- with its striking attire of red, yellow, and black -- and the Black-headed Grosbeak -- with its sharply-etched pattern and burnt-orange breast -- are gems of beauty and activity. Even when unseen, the songs of the Swainson's Thrush and Pacific Wren rise out of the depths of our woods and remind us how lightly they live on the planet.

Hence the just released comprehensive "Birds and Climate" report from the National Audubon Society strikes me at a personal level. This report boldly states that if climate change continues on its current trajectory, more than half of the 588 North American bird species studied will lose 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. I applaud John Dodge for his compelling column on this issue in The Olympian, Sept. 14.

In Washington State alone, more than one hundred species of birds may lose 50 percent or more of their range by 2050 and another hundred plus are expected to lose half of either their current breeding or wintering ranges by 2080. While many species will lose much or all of their range, others will expand their range, while still others will shift their range, often to an area further north.

However, such shifts due to climate change will occur far faster than creatures normally adapt by evolution. Many birds are evolved to exploit very specific food sources (for example, caterpillars that appear at a certain time of year or invertebrates or forage fish abundant only in certain areas). Although most species of birds can easily move to a new geographical area, the food supply on which they depend may not be able to move and may not be available in the new territory.

The interactive maps on our state Audubon website (wa.audubon.org) provide a detailed idea of just how the range of each species will change over the course of the present century. They suggest, for example, that Barrow's Goldeneye, a familiar wintering bird on our inlets and estuaries, will mostly disappear from Puget Sound by mid-century. According to the study, Trumpeter Swans, now commonly seen in the Puget Sound region, especially in the river floodplains north of Seattle, will mostly be gone in the Puget Sound basin by the end of the century. Red Crossbills, which periodically appear in our evergreen woods in large numbers, are expected to be nearly gone in our area by mid-century.

To be sure, it is difficult to forecast changes in the ranges of specific species. Ecosystems are extremely complicated and interactions among the many forms of life and numerous variables are complex. But the findings of severe damage to the well being of hundreds of species of one class of living creatures is compelling and cannot be taken lightly.

In the larger picture, the likely extinction of many bird species and the decrease in populations of a huge number of others is but one of the damaging effects of climate change. To rein in these effects of what is perhaps the greatest global challenge and threat to our existence in our time, we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and replace them with alternative sources of energy. This will require both individual lifestyle decisions and collective governmental actions on a worldwide basis. In addition, to preserve wildlife with some semblance of the way we know it, we must engage in concerted efforts to preserve wildlife habitat, which is also our own habitat.

Black Hills Audubon is your local Audubon chapter for Thurston, Mason, and Lewis Counties. Our area includes five nationally recognized Audubon Important Bird Areas: Nisqually Delta, Totten Inlet, Eld Inlet/Mud Bay, the Great Bend (of Hood Canal), and Mima Prairie. The chapter works to protect and preserve wildlife habitat, including wetlands, woodlands, and the unique prairies of our area. We invite you to join with us to work for a better future. Please visit our website www.blackhills-audubon.org for more information.

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