[CT Birds] Rentschler Field (and beyond)

Chris Elphick elphick at sbcglobal.net
Mon Jun 1 09:39:55 EDT 2009

I don't want to get into the debate about people's motives, although I think it is perfectly legitimate for Mark to ask us to all question our own actions, as he does his.  We've all pushed the envelope a little at times, especially when seeing a rare bird is involved, and we've all seen others do it too.  So even though most motives are undoubtedly pure, it doesn't hurt to step back and think about the issue every now and again.  Returning to the central debate, it seems to me that there are several key issues.  

First, as Meredith says, the vast majority of the land in question is not owned by Cabela's.   Most of the grassland birds are on the area of Rentschler Field that is not currently accessible, and that is slated for development.  The area around Cabela's is not large enough to support most of the key species, so once that other land is developed this discussion will all become irrlevant.  The only real solution to this situation would be a (very) large influx of money to buy the property (assuming that the seller is willing).

Second, Cabela's as an organization have to be aware of the grassland bird issue because it was a major item that they had to deal with when purchasing the land.  Displays of public sentiment certainly might help raise awareness over how many people are interested in the birds (and may inform individual store employees, who may not know so much), but the birds' presence is not something that is known only to the birding community.

Third, is the concern over last week's mowing, which might not be as bad as it seems.  Most of the nesting probably happens inside the fence, and I suspect that that is where the uplands nest (because the habitat appears to be better there).  I suspect that the uplands have been seen on Cabela's land so much because they are visiting the pond (and because - right after mowing - it has become a very good place for them to feed).  Shorebirds will move quite a distance between nest sites and feeding sites, so there is no reason to assume that the nests have to be right where people are seeing the birds.  Given the early date, it is also quite possible that they are not on eggs yet.  That said, it is not certain that nests will not have been affected (especially for some of the passerines); as is often the case, we simply don't know.

Fourth, and most importantly, as I think Meredith also pointed out, the bigger issue is what is happening elsewhere.  This situation, to me, seems symptomatic of much that is wrong with nature conservation in general.  We are all being reactive long after it is too late to do anything other than patch holes.  Just like health care, effective conservation is far easier (and cheaper, and politically palatable) to achieve when people are proactive and plan ahead.  A few people have been trying to develop more interest in proactive conservation planning in Connecticut - via coordinated state-wide data gathering and monitoring, improved communication among the many conservation groups, systematic conservation planning to prioritize sites for protection, etc., etc.  Sophisticated methods for doing these things exist and have been well-known in the conservation science literature for years.  So far though there has been very little traction to use them in
 this state.  Admittedly, I'm biased as I've been one of the people pushing these ideas, but the evidence from elsewhere is that they will help.

Lastly, several people have asked about what they can do to help.  Well, making phone calls is one thing, and telling legislators what you care about is perhaps the single most important thing.  But, the one thing that only birders can do is to volunteer some of their birding time, and their vast expertise, to things like DEP surveys, BBS routes, and so on, and to carefully follow the protocols to ensure that the survey organizers get exactly the data they need.  Often this is not as exciting as going to Milford Point or the River Road.  But, it is the only way to get the information needed to plan conservation effectively.  

Boy, I'm long-winded (and overly-preachy).... sorry 'bout that.

Chris Elphick

Storrs, CT

elphick at sbcglobal.net

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