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Chairman Bentz, Ranking Member Huffman, and members of the Subcommittee – thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today in support of H.R. 4389, the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act.
My name is Julie Wraithmell, and I am the vice president and executive director of Audubon Florida, a state office of the National Audubon Society. With our nearly 2 million members, Audubon works to protect birds and the places they need through our 16 state and regional offices, 32 centers, more than 450 chapters, and by working in ten countries across the Americas.
Over the past few weeks, millions of migratory birds have been passing through Florida, Washington D.C., and communities across the United States during their fall migration. These birds are undertaking awe-inspiring journeys from their nesting habitat throughout America. More than half of America’s birds will fly to Latin America and the Caribbean to spend the winter, including hundreds of beloved species of birds such as orioles, hummingbirds, ducks, shorebirds, hawks, and many more.
It’s only normal for us to think of the birds of our everyday lives—the birds of our neighborhoods and communities as our birds, belonging to that place. But in reality, many of them are only on loan to us, and in fact spend their lives in motion, washing like tides back and forth across the hemisphere.
These lives in motion are made possible by a connected chain of habitats like stepping stones that birds have depended on for thousands of years. In Florida, we can do everything we can to protect the places “my” birds need in the state. But no matter how successful we are, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And if the links to Florida’s south are failing, the birds we bid farewell to in the fall, won’t return to us again in spring.
The presence of migratory birds in our communities provides a deep sense of joy and wonder. Whether it’s birds like Baltimore Orioles gracing our backyard trees and birdfeeders, Purple Martins raising their families in our schoolyards and farms, or waterfowl such as Blue-Winged Teal dabbling in local wetlands.
More than 96 million people participated in birdwatching in 2022, according to the latest survey released by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And consumer spending on bird-feeding, birdwatching equipment, and travel creates more than $100 billion in economic output annually. Birds also provide numerous important ecosystem services, such as pest control, pollination, seed dispersal, and more.
Tragically, bird populations are in steep decline, which means that these benefits to people and communities are also disappearing. A 2019 report found that North America’s bird population has declined by 3 billion birds since 1970: more than 1 in 4 birds on the continent have vanished in less than a lifetime.
Recognizing the need for migratory bird conservation investments, Congress passed the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act in 2000. Since its inception, this program has provided essential conservation funding across the Americas, by catalyzing partnerships and investing in cost-effective projects to improve habitat conservation, promote bird-friendly land use and farming practices, advance research, and more.
Since 2000, the program has supported more than 700 projects across 43 countries, benefitting more than 5 million acres of habitat. Of the $89 million invested by the U.S., partners have brought an additional $346 million to the table.
Audubon supports the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act because it will help address several current needs and opportunities for migratory birds. The legislation will grow its authorized funding to meet the demand for the program and the needs of our declining bird populations. And it will improve the program’s accessibility by amending the matching requirement, which has been identified as an obstacle for partners, especially for smaller organizations that do not have access to large funding resources.
Now is the time to reauthorize and enhance the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act through passage of this legislation. We are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Salazar, Larsen, Joyce, and Peltola for introducing this bipartisan bill, and to the subcommittee for holding this hearing. We encourage the advancement of this bill to support America’s migratory birds so that they can continue to provide significant value to the nation and contribute to part of what makes America special.
Thank you, and I would look forward to any questions you may have.