By M. Keith Hudson, Wildlife Biologist

Wildlife organizations interested in bird conservation across North America are flocking together…so to speak. A new effort to study, manage and conserve our continent’s birds is bringing together a partnership of state, federal, private and academic organizations to study, manage and conserve birds. These efforts are called “Joint Ventures” (JV).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defines JVs as “a self-directed partnership of agencies, organizations, corporations, tribes or individuals that has formally accepted the responsibility of implementing national or international bird conservation plans within a specific geographic area or for a specific taxonomic group and has received general acceptance in the bird conservation community for such responsibility.” Working both collectively and independently, JV partners conduct activities in support of bird conservation goals cooperatively developed by each partnership.

Rather than divide the country along political boundaries (like states or counties), JV boundaries are divided by broad habitat types important to the particular birds found within them. These are called Bird Conservation Regions or “BCRs.” In the United States, Canada and Mexico, 67 BCRs encompass deserts, mountains, forest systems and tundra – all the major continental habitat types.

Alabama is incredibly rich in its diversity of birds and the habitats they occupy. Land within the state contains parts of five separate BCRs. They are the East Gulf Coastal Plain, the Gulf Coast, the Central Hardwood, the Appalachian Mountain, and Piedmont Joint Ventures. Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Section wildlife biologists actively participate with other natural resource organizations within each BCR.

Joint Venture BCRs are usually guided by a management board of public/private representatives, and some may employ a coordinator who facilitates cooperation within the JV region. JVs may use a Management-Board-approved Implementation Plan that establishes BCR priorities. The Implementation Plan typically includes goals and objectives from a variety of national and international bird plans. Examples of some of these plans include the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Partners-In-Flight, United States Shorebird Conservation Plan, Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan, North American Grouse Management Strategy, Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and many others.
The FWS provides basic administrative funding to JVs to cover costs associated with coordination, planning, monitoring, evaluation and applied research, communications and outreach, and project development and implementation. Joint Ventures may provide federal assistance to partners within these categories to achieve each venture’s goals. However, the FWS does not fund the entire scope of JV operations, and partners are expected to contribute matching funding. Leveraging FWS dollars provided for JV administration is a critical component of the program.
Currently, the continent’s JVs are in various stages of development. Some have moved beyond initial administrative setup and have begun active projects to rank birds, identify key habitat and locate areas critically important to their region’s birds. Other JVs have begun proposing specific bird projects, with emphasis on funding given to the rarer birds, groups of birds, or projects that will span several states.

In coming years, it is expected that much will be done to conserve Alabama’s birds via Joint Venture efforts, as many conservation organizations work cooperatively. Joint Venture partners help one another – birds of a feather, flocking together.