ABC and JVs: Collaborating on Six Million Acres
What do you get when you join American Bird Conservancy with Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (JVs) over a ten-year span? Improved conservation management on 6.4 million acres of U.S. bird habitat — an area larger than the state of Maryland!
These regional partnerships work to protect, restore, and enhance habitats, with a goal to recover and maintain migratory bird populations. Given the dramatic decline of North American birds over the past 50 years, the work of the JVs is more important than ever.
The JV program began in 1987 and grew out of efforts to boost waterfowl populations. But since then, JVs have expanded to include bird species in nearly all habitats, both wetland and terrestrial. Species of conservation concern — including Northern Bobwhite and Black Rail — are a particular focus.
Numbering 23, the JVs bring together federal, state, and local agencies, corporations, and landowners, as well as nonprofit organizations like ABC. We're closely involved in 11 of the 23 and employ staff in seven. In some cases, ABC staff lead the JV. In others, we assist across functions ranging from fundraising, coordination, best management practices, communications, policy and advocacy, and habitat conservation planning.
We're proud that, between 2007 and 2017, ABC and JV partners helped improve conservation management on millions of acres of important bird habitat. And this work continues.
“As partnerships uniquely focused on bird habitat, JVs ensure that conservation adds up at the right scale over large areas — yet they are regional, so they can be focused and most effective,” says EJ Williams, ABC's Vice President of Migratory Birds and Habitats. Williams adds that by focusing on science, JVs target the most important species and set population goals, then figure which habitats are needed to meet those population objectives. Williams has worked in JVs for about 25 years, first on the Atlantic Coast JV for the state of Georgia, then for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and finally for the nonprofit Longleaf Alliance, before joining ABC.
Most Joint Venture offices are run through the FWS. But several JVs have primarily ABC staff, including JV coordinator positions, science and habitat delivery coordinators, and communication and GIS specialists. ABC staff sit on 11 JVs' management boards, which provide overall leadership. “To some extent,” says Williams, “ABC stepped up when there were needs for staffing and where we could provide a good fit. All JV staff, wherever they are employed, work for the partnership.”
JVs receive funding from the FWS, state wildlife agencies, partners including ABC, the North American Wetland Conservation Act, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program. (Find out more about the overall JV program on the Migratory Birds Joint Venture website.)
Six of Twenty-three: A Closer Look
Keep reading to explore six JVs where ABC hosts staff and works with partners to ensure a bright future for a wide range of bird species.
See map above for their locations. Please note, under each JV “Fast Facts” section that follows, “acres restored and managed” refers to land impacted by ABC involvement between 2007 and 2017.
Atlantic Coast: Saving Declining Marsh Birds
The Atlantic Coast is one of the most populous regions in the United States and hosts some of the most important wetlands, which are threatened by sea level rise and urbanization.The primary focus of the Atlantic Coast JV is restoring and protecting coastal marshes and species.
The Black Rail is one of these. This tiny, secretive marsh bird has declined by more than 90 percent along the Atlantic Coast since the 1990s. The Atlantic Coast JV's efforts to save the rail include two major mapping projects identifying ideal Black Rail habitat throughout the Southeast, and adaptive management and pilot projects aimed at quickly targeting and spearheading a rebound for this declining phantom of the wetlands.
This JV includes partners from across the full extent of U.S. Atlantic marshes, from Maine to Florida, and also includes Puerto Rico.
- Focal species include: American Black Duck, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Black Rail
- Acres restored and managed: 600,000
Appalachian Mountains: Managing Bountiful Forests
Spanning the mountains from central New York to northeastern Alabama, the Appalachian Mountains JV works across a range of habitats and elevations, from old fields and small forested wetlands to oak-hickory forests and high-elevation spruce-fir stands, to help declining bird species.
Challenges to bird habitats in the region include lack of diverse forest structure, the loss of once-predominant tree species, deer over-browsing, invasive species, and energy development. Various strategies are employed, including active management, restoration, and protection of forests.
ABC is one of more than 55 partners working together to bring back and maintain native forests for the benefit of birds and other wildlife in the Appalachians.
- Focal species include: Cerulean and Golden-winged Warblers, Wood Thrush
- Acres restored and managed: 930,000
Central Hardwoods: Midland Mosaic
In this JV, 11 partner agencies and organizations work together to manage bird habitat and ensure the long-term survival of native bird populations, both west and east of the Mississippi River. From Indiana to Oklahoma, the Central Hardwoods JV spans eight states rich in varied habitats, including forests, open pine and oak woodlands with grass and shrubby understories, open grasslands, and wetlands.
More than 193,000 acres of habitat were improved in 2018 alone. This habitat restoration included prescribed fire and tree-thinning in woodlands to promote the growth of shrubs, young trees, and forbs, and seeding nonnative grasslands with native species.
- Focal species include: Red-headed Woodpecker, Prairie Warbler, Henslow's Sparrow
- Acres restored and managed: 1.14 million
Lower Mississippi Valley: Birds on the Bayou
This JV includes dozens of partners and is guided by a management board representing 17 of them. It protects, restores, and manages habitats for declining birds in the Lower Mississippi Valley and West Gulf Coastal Plain/Ouachitas regions.
All told, 60 percent of North America's migratory birds breed or winter in, or migrate through, this region. It is, for example, the continent's most important wintering area for Mallards and Wood Ducks.
Species requiring large habitat tracts, such as the Swallow-tailed Kite, have benefited from this JV's efforts to work with partners on assessing, managing, and restoring core forest areas and wetlands throughout the region. After years of partnership, the Lower Mississippi River Delta has seen a net gain of 1 million acres of hardwood forest since 1992.
- Focal species include: Swallow-tailed Kite, American Kestrel, Prothonotary Warbler
- Acres restored and managed: 3.45 million
Oaks and Prairies: Getting a GRIP
Many declining grassland species call the Oaks and Prairies JV home. The partners of the Oaks and Prairies JV created and implement a Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP) to restore and maintain habitat for these species, providing incentive payments to private landowners who implement grassland bird habitat improvements to their land. Since 2013, more than 75,000 grassland acres in central Texas and more than 5,000 in central Oklahoma have been restored, much of it through prescribed fire, prescribed grazing, brush management, and replanting native grasses and forbs.
Two of North America's most localized songbirds, the Endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo, nest within portions of the Oaks and Prairies JV, benefiting from the partners' management and restoration work.
- Focal species include: Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Meadowlark,
- Acres restored and managed: 120,000
Rio Grande: Wrangling Diverse Habitat
Working in West and South Texas and northern Mexico, the Rio Grande JV brings together conservation partners to enhance habitat in one of the continent's most biologically diverse areas. The Rio Grande JV has projects in the Chihuahuan Desert, Tamaulipan Brushlands, and the Gulf Coast Prairie Bird Conservation Regions, where priorities include enhancing and conserving grasslands and riparian woodlands.
The partnership emphasizes working with landowners and stewards to help sustainably manage these habitats through various practices, including carefully planned livestock grazing, controlling invasive species, and planting native grasses, wildflowers, and trees so that birds, pollinators, and other wildlife can thrive.
- Focal species include: Common Black-Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Red-crowned Parrot, Thick-billed Longspur, Baird's Sparrow
- Acres restored and managed: 146,000
The "Last JV"
In 2020, ABC was involved in the launch of another JV, the California Central Coast JV (C3JV). It's the seventh where ABC hosts staff, but more significantly, the C3JV is the final piece of the JV "puzzle," providing JV coverage of the entire United States. It represents a bittersweet accomplishment: One of ABC's most long-tenured staff members, David Pashley, was the driving force behind the JV concept and worked tirelessly to ensure that migratory bird habitat across the country could be more effectively conserved. Pashley passed away in 2018. The C3JV is dedicated to his memory.