Study Shows Emergency Effort to Help Birds During BP Spill Worked

Criticizing government programs is the most popular past time in America—second only to criticizing politicians.

So it’s always news when something works, especially when it’s something rushed into service during an emergency.

That’s apparently the verdict for the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative—a $40 million Farm Bill conservation effort under the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reduce the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on migratory birds.

Sportsmen will remember the oil was gushing just 50 miles off the great estuary of the Mississippi River. That just happens to be the habitat that either winters or provides critical resting zones for 70 percent of all migratory waterfowl in North America, countless shorebirds, and all 110 species of the continent’s neo-tropical songbirds.

With the oil still spewing as fall approached, wildlife managers feared many birds could fall victim to the oil beginning to soak marshes and beaches in Louisiana and other Gulf states. So a plan was hatched to offer the birds attractive alternatives outside that traditional stopping and wintering zone.

The funds were used to work with private landowners such as rice farmers to make their property bird-friendly. Eventually, 470,000 acres were treated in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

And just this month, a Mississippi State University study showed the program worked.

Some of the early findings:

  • Rice fields flooded early through MBHI were home to an average of 15 migratory birds per acre, compared to two birds per acre on rice fields not flooded.

  • Catfish ponds flooded early showed heavy biodiversity with 40 species of ducks, shorebirds and other water birds visiting them.

  • Over seven times more migrating shorebirds were observed on shallowly flooded idled catfish ponds enrolled in MBHI than on other catfish ponds.

  • MBHI-enrolled catfish ponds in Mississippi met nearly all the established shorebird migration habitat goals for the region.

  • BHI-managed habitats provided up to 28 percent of the winter waterfowl food energy needed in the Mississippi Delta and up to 25 percent needed in southwestern Louisiana.

Data is still being collected and, of course, no one can say for sure how many birds might have been saved an oil-coated death.

But having proof that an emergency government action for wildlife worked is the type of good news sportsmen don’t hear very often.