Is traveling beyond our immediate backyard in search of birds detrimental to avian species? Some folks have suggested birding is bad for birds! Here‘s their reasoning: as we pursue our interest, enjoying birds, and even racing around Ohio (or the region, or the country) building our bird lists, we are also burning fossil fuels—lots of them—adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists believe global greenhouse gasses have already negatively affected bird habitats and migratory patterns.
What can birders do?
First of all, we should not guilt-trip each other to stop birding, but we should do something to address the issue itself. That‘s where a new initiative, the Carbon Offset Bird Project (COBP), flies into action this September at the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS) with the Ohio Ornithological Society and Bird Watcher’s Digest as major players.
The COBP is an experimental, voluntary effort to offset birding-related carbon emissions through financial contributions. Funds will be used to se- cure quality bird habitat—vital migratory bird habitat—in Ohio. This project is modeled loosely after other carbon offset programs involving air or vehicle travel, but is among the first specifically tailored to birders and local birds at a birding event. That‘s why a local carbon-offset support effort will be launched at MBS benefiting local habitat preservation at Meadowbrook Marsh.
There are already numerous carbon offset programs underway, involving laudable mitigation and renewable energy campaigns. These often include carbon reforestation projects in developing countries, renewable energy projects in the United States such as solar or wind, and renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries. At the same time, there is a growing movement at both the corporate and individual levels toward offsets: mitigating our remaining footprint by reducing or displacing the CO2 we help emit, in some other place or by an alternate method. But the COBP at the MBS is intended to offset a particular behavior with a particular local solution directly related to our birds, breeding or migrating through Ohio.
First, a few basic principles. Participation is encouraged, but is totally voluntary. Participants will be encouraged to offset 100 percent of their individual bird activity-related emissions. If successful, the COBP could serve as a model for other Ohio festivals, bird clubs, and even supporting companies to make a difference for birds and combat CO2 emissions. A broader COBP might eventually be launched nationally, acquiring and securing local valuable habitat for nesting, migrating, and wintering birds of many species.
How does COBP work?
With the use of the COBP-approach at MBS, and the role of OOS, we will support a great habitat conservation project through donations. The offset project is the transformation of about 15 acres of idle cropland at the "Boss Unit" at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge into fine shorebird and grassland habitat. This area is currently accessible to birders during all daylight hours, and it has proven its worth.... for birds and birders. It should be become an even better site with these important vegetative habitat improvements.
You can find more information on the COBP and the Boss Unit restoration here: COBP-MBS2013.