Road to Recovery
(Sharing Our Shared Birds)
Instituting a Strategic Process to Restore Bird Populations
A well-respected team of scientists published a 2019 landmark publication in “Science” documenting the loss of almost three billion birds, almost one third of the North American breeding avifauna, over several decades. This eye-opening scientific work and subsequent headlines in nationally recognized popular publications has motivated key leaders in the bird conservation community to reimagine its efforts to strategically use science to direct focused actions to recover bird populations. The Road to Recovery Initiative was established in 2020 and gained substantial momentum and endorsement from all segments of the conservation community. The Road to Recovery has a diverse Organizing Committee that has organized and executed three large virtual workshops to bring new technology, tools, and a conservation paradigm shift to hundreds of bird conservation professionals. The team has developed a functioning process that will lead to the restoration of bird populations throughout North America. R2R will sustain this momentum and make measurable progress in reversing declines of bird populations through activating the research and conservation communities.
Although broad general threats to birds have been well-documented (e.g., habitat loss, anthropogenic causes of mortality, invasive species) we still cannot pinpoint either the specific causes of declines for most bird species or the specific conservation actions that would effectively address those causes and reverse declines. Despite decades of sound biological science and landscape and habitat planning protection and monitoring, many bird species continue to decline precipitously. This trajectory of demise signals an eventual listing of 60 bird species under the ESA, the invocation of regulations economically affecting landowners and the public, and the species coming closer to extinction. Urgently needed is a path forward that leads to population stabilization and recovery and avoids listing under the ESA these 60 bird species. This requires understanding the limiting factors causing the bird declines and where in their annual life cycles these limiting factors exist.
We must understand human behavior and structural constraints (e.g., legal, regulatory, political will) as they are often at the root of the limiting factors driving bird population declines. Further, recovery efforts must carefully consider social and economic feasibility of conservation actions to promote human behavior change through effective conservation interventions, while being sensitive to the cultural appropriateness and ethics of promoting the target behavior (e.g., will it harm livelihoods or clash with cultural practices?). Understanding the social and ecological causes of the current situation in these complex human-natural systems, as well as the capacity to create change, is essential. The R2R process integrates social science information and considerations of environmental and social justice with limiting factors biological science.
The R2R process is built on a commitment to science co-production among social and biological scientists, conservation decision-makers, stakeholders, and rightsholders. Through science co-production these conservation players work together throughout the process from defining a conservation science problem to conducting research to implementing results, overcoming the well-known research-to-implementation gap. Such co-production requires genuine collaboration, built on a foundation of shared interests, mutual trust, and fostering collaborative learning. Collaborations must expand outside traditional bird conservation partnerships to include new partners, such as community organizations, indigenous communities, and advocacy groups focused on social or environmental justice efforts. The conservation community must strive to avoid power imbalances (e.g., placing local communities on equal footing with national and international organizations) and recognize cultural and individual differences in people’s relationship with and interest in birds.