The Rocky River Important Bird Area conservation initiative was really more about people than birds because it would study the impact of conservation on the quality of life of people who lived in the Rocky River watershed.
Our collaboration with Cleveland Metroparks
In 2005, I called Dr. Dan Petit of the Cleveland Metroparks System and told him that Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society (WCAS) was going to adopt the Rocky River Important Bird Area (IBA). I asked him if he could use our help conducting bird surveys there.
Dan replied, “I’ve been waiting for a force of volunteers to offer their help. How many people do you have?” He was astounded when I boldly told him I could muster 60 people, many of whom were skilled birders.
Cleveland Metroparks was targeting an expanse of land between Hinckley Reservation and Mill Stream Run Reservation along the East Branch of the Rocky River. This critical habitat was largely private property.
Metroparks had a plan to acquire this property piece by piece in order to help create a contiguous parkland around Greater Cleveland, Ohio. Metroparks needed our data to bolster proposals for funding to purchase these parcels. This became our goal and our destiny.
WCAS adopted the Rocky River IBA in order to monitor bird populations in the East Branch as an indicator of the health of this ecosystem. Our goal was to collect credible data to help Cleveland Metroparks sustain the natural resources of the Rocky River watershed for future generations. We did this by collecting several years of data that described avian communities in three Cleveland Metroparks reservations.
The National Audubon Society recognized the importance of the Rocky River East Branch by designating it as an IBA in 2000. However, a survey of such magnitude of bird populations had never been done before, and thus no data existed.
Year Two of the bird survey (2007) featured a vegetation survey in order to make statements about the kinds of habitat where birds tend to breed.
We selected 62 computer-generated points on the ground to conduct the survey. The methodology we used to conduct the survey was called point counts.
The rest of the story
The Rocky River Important Bird Area was the most important conservation initiative WCAS could undertake. It was really more about people than birds because it would study the impact of conservation on the quality of life of people who lived in the Rocky River watershed.
We did not a lot of money to survey an IBA, but we needed some. We became active in fundraising and raised funds with a strategy called earned income. This strategy included techniques such as annual appeals, direct appeals, sales of products, fundraisers, and public appearances.
This period of our history is replete with examples of how members of WCAS reached out to our community as citizen scientists. These examples demonstrate how we made a transition from serving as a local chapter of the National Audubon Society to becoming one of the most active citizen-based environmental groups in northeastern Ohio and a model program for other Audubon chapters.
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In 2009 and 2010, we held workshops by eight stakeholder organizations to determine where our efforts would be best needed in the future. The consensus of the workshop was that WCAS is best positioned to market the IBA through public outreach, and we continue to fill that role.
As a result of our efforts, WCAS developed a cadre of 100 members and friends who were trained and experienced in conducting bird and vegetation surveys. Rightly called citizen scientists, we were and remain on call to respond to requests from Metroparks and community organizations to survey bird populations. We also establish sanctuaries and offer advice on preserving habitat. We are truly ambassadors to the community.
Our project was a success because our board stuck with it through thick and thin. Other chapters that want to run IBA projects will find ways that work for them. They will have to recruit and train volunteers, some of whom must already be expert birders and be able to follow protocols. Other will have to raise funds, educate the public, and garner the support of elected officials, things we learned to do ourselves.
Learn more about the Western Cuyahoga Audubon Rocky River Important Bird Area conservation project here.
Learn more about the Rocky River Important Bird Area at the WCAS Archive website here.
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The Feathered Flyer blog publishes human interest stories about birding and habitat conservation.
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