Friday, February 15, 2008

On bird data and the DNR

Most birders collect data, at least at a basic level. It may be limited to a daily checklist, or it may consists of counts of each species organized by location, weather, viewing conditions, other observers, and other details. This information, particularly that in the latter category, has great value beyond just calculating life lists, and many of us don't fully appreciate this fact.

The IBA program requires solid bird data for the identification of all IBAs, for example. This information comes from all kinds of sources (scientific literature, publications, birder data, eBird, etc.) and requires lots of time and effort to locate and compile. This time commitment is a limiting feature for many conservation organizations, including government agencies.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, for example, relies on the Natural Heritage Database maintained by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) for guiding its management decisions. If they are going to know about a rare species they need to protect, this is where they'll find out about it. As it turns out, they just do not have time to query other sources of information. You may assume that because you entered your observations into eBird and the Michigan Audubon Seasonal Survey compiler that the DNR would have full access to it, but it's not currently true!

There are many reasons why these and other biological databases do not share data freely. But my point here is that we really need to make sure our observations of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern species (and not just birds!) are submitted to the right places and are thus utilized to the fullest extent. In the case of the DNR, please download the appropriate MNFI form and see to it that it is submitted. It may be extra work on our part, but this will go a long way to guiding good conservation in our state!

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