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More habitat lost to McMansions than industrialized agriculture

As if it weren't enough that Greenpeace, PETA, and other anti-farm groups blame agriculture for every ill known to man, now comes the respected Audubon Society with the pronouncement that “the spread of industrialized agriculture” is a major reason for a sharp decline in the population of “common birds.”

The 20 species included in the report — among them several types of sparrows, the northern bobwhite, the eastern meadowlark, common terns, whippoorwills, and little blue herons — are said to have declined, on average, 68 percent over four decades.

“These are not rare or exotic birds,” says Carol Browner, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who now is the Audubon Society's chairperson. “These are birds that visit our feeders and congregate at nearby lakes and seashores, and yet they are disappearing day by day.”

Overall, the report says, agricultural and development pressures have driven grassland birds to some of the worst declines, followed by shrub, wetland, and forest-dependent species.

“Direct habitat loss continues to be a leading cause for concern,” says Greg Butcher, Audubon bird conservation director and author of the study. This is further compounded, he says, by “the added impact of large-scale environmental problems and policies,” global warming, and “mounting demand for corn-based fuels (that) is expected to result in increased use of marginal farmland that currently serves as important habitat.”

Yes, well, while “commercial” or “industrialized” agriculture makes a catchy epithet for TV sound bites and/or press releases, one wonders where a lot of these folks have been for the last quarter-century.

Does it not occur to them that a substantial portion of the habitat for birds/wildlife is on land owned by farmers?

Did they somehow miss the “restructuring” of agriculture that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, taking millions of marginal acres out of production, much of which went back into grass, trees, or other habitat-enhancing uses?

Haven't they heard about the “greening” of federal farm programs that has encouraged farmers — already among the nation's leading conservationists — to take further measures to preserve existing habitat and to create new grassland/brush/wetland areas for wildlife/birds?

There's a whale of a lot more habitat on farms for birds and all manner of God's critters now than in the fence-row to fence-row agriculture of the 1970s boom years (and not many farmers will risk an expensive corn crop on marginal land).

Far more farmland, and thus more habitat, has been lost to intense development, particularly in areas bordering cities and along seashores, lakes, and rivers, than to “industrialized” agriculture.

Much of this development, along with climate change that has brought warmer winters, has caused displacement or migration of species. In wetlands in the northwest Mississippi Delta agricultural area, there are now all manner of wading birds that, 40 years ago, were only seen 300 miles away in Gulf of Mexico coastal areas.

Estimates are that as much as 60 percent of the land for urban expansion comes from bordering farmland — and there ain't a lot of habitat in shopping malls, parking lots, seashore condos, or suburban developments crammed with cookie-cutter McMansions.

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