New law is historic victory for birds – Daily Press

Congress recently passed and President Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act through a budget process that did not require any Republican to vote against climate change. The law could have been better and contains big freebies for energy companies, but because it’s an effort to curb climate change, it’s a big step for people and birds. There has never been a law that has invested so much money in projects that will help the birds.

The greatest threat to birds of all time is the rapid loss and degradation of their habitat due to climate change. We have lost a third of all birds in this country since the 1970s, mostly due to habitat degradation. Much of this was the early effects of climate change, undetected over the past five decades. Bird populations have often served as canaries in the coal mine for environmental problems, such as DDT and mercury pollution. This time they were literally telling us there was a problem with the coal emissions, but no one was listening as the chanting fell silent.

Much of the new federal funding (several billions) will go to alternative energy tax credits, which will reduce carbon dioxide production and slow the devastation of bird habitat by rising seas, floods , fires and extreme temperatures. Also, for the first time, the law is funding a substantial consideration of methane, the far more destructive cousin of carbon dioxide which is still largely unmetered and unregulated.

Additional dollars will go towards fighting drought and wildfires in the west of the country, some of which will be obtained by improving habitats for wetland birds. Western birds are adapted to fire and drought, but the continued frequency and intensity of extreme events overwhelms many of the forests the birds depend on.

People who care about birds on their own property will receive billions in aid to voluntarily manage farms more sustainably or better conserve wildlife in grasslands and forests.

Some funding (in the millions) has even been included specifically for birds, through the Endangered Species Act program, and to improve national wildlife refuges and state game management areas.

Through loans, tax credits, and better funding for agencies that manage bird habitat, the Cut Inflation Act will directly improve habitat for birds and the people who watch them. Hopefully this leads us in the direction of reduced carbon burning in this country, a greater chance of survival for many species of birds, and a better quality of life for our children.

Dan Cristol teaches in the Biology Department at William & Mary and can be contacted at dacris@wm.edu. For local birding opportunities, visit http://williamsburgbirdclub.org/.

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