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In an otherwise very good and very important article on the threats to migratory shorebirds, the entire point is diminished by the obligatory implication of climate change. Now, of course, climate change is going to change the location and content of marshes, estuaries, shorelines, and more. And climate change will slowly change the timing of when various food sources will appear, but climate change is most surely not the most serious risk, or near the top of risks, that these migratory shorebirds face.

Seriously, look at the picture leading off the article, it is a snipe caught in an illegal net.

Yet, in paragraph two, the FIRST item listed as the major threat?

These declines represent the No. 1 conservation crisis facing birds in the world today. Climate change, coastal development, the destruction of wetlands and hunting are all culprits. And because these birds depend for their survival, as we do, on the shorelines of oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes, lagoons and marshes, their declines point to a systemic crisis that demands our attention, for our own good.

It’s not until paragraph twelve, long after most casual readers have lost attention, does the article get to the major challenges for these amazing creatures, and these are challenges well understood in the ecological community:

By far the greatest threats facing long-distance migratory shorebirds lie at the mid-migration stopover sites — wetlands and rich tidal mud flats serving as crucial refueling stations for millions of migratory shorebirds.

And then:

Areas along the Yellow Sea are being drained, dredged and filled in to create land for industry. More than 50 percent of the wetlands along China’s and South Korea’s coast have been eliminated.

And then:

The 20-mile-long Saemangeum sea wall, which closed off an estuary along South Korea’s southwest coast, directly caused the loss of tens of thousands of great knots, about a quarter of the global population.

And then:

Bird hunting remains rampant. Along the coast of China, illegal nets are erected every fall to capture shorebirds for human consumption.

And then:

Shorebirds also face increasing threats to their southern wintering grounds, mainly from relentless coastal development and habitat loss. The coastal habitats where bar-tailed godwits winter are being invaded by a rapidly growing human population. One study found much of the intertidal shorebird habitats here are not within environmentally protected areas.

I found the nest hatching times to be really interesting. My sense of course is that over a period of time, the nests will be populated earlier, in response to the earlier insect hatching – you even see a little of that in the chart, and we don’t see the last 6 years for what happened, which would be very interesting. Is this happening for the other 18 threatened species, or is this insect issue a problem for a few?

In any event, I think one of the major environmental issues that is least discussed and would likely deliver a lot of bang for out effort is managing land use and land use changes. I don’t think that is sexy and I don’t think land use is something that can easily be pinned upon some particular disfavored group, so it’s not as sexy an explanation as climate change.

But look, my wife and I love birds – our very first dates were at the Cornell Lab of O lectures delivered by famous Puffin expert Steve Kress, but if you love birds you really would be best served to better appreciate the risks. Tossing climate change into a list of far more serious and immediate threats is both going to turn people away from the issue (either because they are frustrated that everything is caused by climate change or because they know that we won’t do much about climate change and so the birds are toast) of how best to take care of bird populations but it is also going to undermine support for climate change. I wonder whether there was editorial pressure to add it in, because I think a very dramatic headline would have been, “Human Land Use and Destruction of Bird Habitat Pushing Shorebirds to Brink” would make a lot more sense. In any case, we continue along with the environmental head fakes, and we should not be surprised that more and more people are turning away from being interested.

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