conservation

Only birders can stop the slaughter of migratory shorebirds in the Caribbean

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Take a look at this video of hunters killing shorebirds in Guadaloupe.  This is an outrageous and irresponsible slaughter that should offend anyone, hunter or nonhunter. These killers, sanctioned by French law, are slaughtering many of the same birds we are trying to protect including the whimbrel, Machi.  She died at the wrong end of a gun after heroically flying through Hurricane Irene.  There are conservation groups, like Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and Birdlife International, that are trying to stop it.  But they face mountainous odds mostly because the French consider this slaugter a tradition and the Government of France allows this killing via a legal hunting season on shorebirds.

So why is this so hard to fight?  Some bring up the lack of data, others the difficulty of international relations, but for me there is one main problem — why don’t the people who love birds care enough to unite and act?

It’s true that birders participate in activities in which they appreciate birds.  They will often take costly trips to exotic places, buy expensive equipment to see the beauty in birds and photograph it in fine detail.  They like to gather with other like-minded people to share stories of appreciation or listen to someone wax enthusiastically about the oddity or rarities they’ve seen.   So I am not saying birders don’t appreciate birds.

But what would you say about a parent who appreciates his kids but fails to take care of them, ignores their basic needs or abandons them when they are in danger?

Paradoxically, hunters would not allow the wanton slaughter of a game animal (shorebirds are not game animals) because hunters take their stewardship responsibility seriously.  They kill wildlife, to be sure, but they pay for the right to hunt through the purchase of permits and duck stamps, and they voluntarily tax their equipment.  They do this to underpin a game management system that is the envy of the world, far outclassing the pitiful system patched together to conserve non-hunted (or “nongame”) wildlife.  Ironically, buying a gun achieves conservation while buying an expensive pair of binoculars or spotting scope achieves little or none.

The most important aspect of the system that protects game animals is that licenses and permits encourage the organization of hunters and, as a result, they have great influence.  In NJ alone the Federation of Sportsmen Clubs speaks with the voice of over 600,000 members (in a state of about 8 million people).  Politicians not only hear but cater to the interest of hunters and fishermen — they serve them — and hunted animals benefit.

Birders talk of their love of birds but their voice is politically weak.  There are over one million people in NJ who identify themselves as bird lovers, but they won’t voluntarily tax their equipment or require of themselves even the most modest of licenses or wildlife stamps.  Moreover, while they enjoy birds, use public lands, buy very expensive equipment, take very expensive birding vacations, and make more money than the average American, they silently standby while whole species groups, like shorebirds, circle the drain into oblivion.

When I say this to birders (and I have given the attached slideshow to New Jersey Audubon Society members), the resounding cry is “your right!  I want to help!”.   Yet they don’t.   Instead many expect the general public to do something about this knowing that we as citizens have many other important problems to wrestle with these days.  The sad fact is, this is a job for the one group of people who care most about birds.  These animals need a strong voice that will protect them in the same way that hunters protect game species.

The killing swamps in the Carribean are a screaming cry for help.  Time for action is growing short.  Soon we will look back and wish we had done more and done it sooner.  Now is the time for birders to organize — to become a voice that could rival all others.