Teaming up for science

The Northeast Region Conservation Science Team

Randy Dettmers is a senior migratory bird biologist and chair of the Northeast Region Conservation Science Team.

Randy Dettmers is a senior migratory bird biologist and chair of the Northeast Region Conservation Science Team.

Ten years ago I was working on compiling one of the first all-bird conservation plans in the country.

We knew some of these species faced severe and growing threats to their survival. But we didn’t have an approach that would accurately visualize these threats and their impacts.

The plan covered the Atlantic Northern Forest Bird Conservation Region and was based on a wealth of knowledge and input from a broad array of partners. It highlighted birds of highest concern across all bird groups, including waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds and landbirds, and it identified priority conservation and management actions necessary to maintain desired populations.

Some of these species, such as the American black duck, American woodcock and piping plover, are relatively well known. Others, such as the bay-breasted warbler, Bicknell’s thrush and red-necked phalarope, are familiar only to ornithologists and the most die-hard bird watchers.

Although I was helping to pull together information for all bird groups, my particular interest and experience is with neotropical migrants, birds that spend the summer in North America and winter in Central or South America.

The Northern Forest region, which covers portions of Massachusetts and New York north to Quebec and New Brunswick, provides important breeding habitat for many neotropical migrants, including several of those species identified as highest priority in the region, such as bay-breasted warbler, Bicknell’s thrush, and Canada warbler.


The cerulean warbler breeds in mature forests in eastern North America and migrates each year across the Gulf of Mexico and through Central America to winter in South America. From April to September, cerulean warblers are concentrated in the mountainous Appalachian regions of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

At the time, we knew there were some major, landscape-scale threats on the horizon for these species, such as climate change and impacts of changing forest management practices. But we struggled with how to gather the appropriate information and apply the best science to assess what the potential impacts from these threats might be.

Having a better understanding of the threats across the Northeast landscape and the different science available to address them would have been really helpful. Making this process easier would have helped us plan for the management and conservation of these species and their habitats in the Northern Forest.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working toward a better understanding of those landscape-scale threats and the science needed to address them. We are using the strategic habitat conservation (SHC) framework and leading the effort to develop the science necessary to address major, landscape-scale conservation threats through landscape conservation cooperatives (LCCs).

Our programs within the Service are collaborating and coordinating more on issues that affect all trust resources, and we continue to develop and promote partnerships with states, other federal agencies, partnerships like joint ventures and non-governmental organizations.

randy dettmers birding in scotland

Randy Dettmers birding in Scotland.

These new structures and levels of integration across and among agencies are making it easier to assess potential impacts of and plan for the daunting conservation challenges we face in sustaining the species the Service is entrusted to maintain for the benefit of the American people and future generations.

Because of these new structures and levels of integration, I am excited to be participating in the Northeast Region’s Conservation Science Team. A representative from each Service program was nominated to participate in the team, which is charged with helping the programs better collaborate on addressing common science needs and to inform LCCs of each programs and the regional science needs.

I am already seeing benefits of working through the Science Team and the North Atlantic LCC.

For example, the team recently recommended funding a collaborative research project between the U.S. Geological Survey and the Service’s Migratory Birds and National Wildlife Refuge programs to assess how birds breeding in the forests of northern New England are responding to current forest management practices.

Additionally, the North Atlantic LCC is funding a project to model impacts of large, landscape-scale stressors such as climate change and urban development on habitat quality and quantity.

These two projects will provide critical information for helping the Service and our partners develop and implement better conservation actions for sustaining high priority bird species, such as the neotropical migrants of the Northern Forest region that I mentioned earlier.

These efforts are examples of the innovative approaches the Service is undertaking. We are leveraging science to address landscape-scale threats. We are becoming even more of a science-driven conservation organization, and we are working effectively and efficiently to address the conservation challenges of the 21st century.

Read more from this series!

2 thoughts on “Teaming up for science

  1. Pingback: The right science in the right places | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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