It’s a beautiful sunny day at the TomKat Ranch. Carlie, the resident PRBO biologist, stands in front of a group of young students, “Does anyone know why it’s important to study bird populations?” she shouts to the group to get their attention. Alert to the challenge, some of the youngsters shuffle their feet and struggle to come up with an answer while others eagerly offer a variety of possibilities. Finally, a young girl wearing a baseball cap sideways says hesitantly, “So we can understand how the environment is doing?” “Yes!” Carlie affirms and goes on to explain why understanding bird populations can be an indicator of environmental health. The question and answer session goes on like this for a few minutes more. The cries of “I know, I know!” are matched only by the back and forth caws of a pair of ravens high in the trees above. The natural environment as classroom fills the students’ senses and the group moves on to the mist-netting areas to see what birds have been gently caught in the fine nets.
For some PRBO scientists, like Carlie, standing in front of eager students goes hand-in-hand with long isolated hours in the field. Education and outreach are as much a part of PRBO’s mission as understanding bird populations through mist-netting and banding. As they prominently declare on their web site: “PRBO Conservation Science is dedicated to conserving birds, other wildlife and ecosystems through innovative scientific research and outreach.”
As part of their mission here at the TomKat Ranch, besides performing outreach and educational opportunities, PRBO scientists study, monitor, and create reports on issues of bird populations within the context of the overall environmental health of the ranch. Now, going into their second year, PRBO will work with TomKat Ranch staff to develop and implement a far-reaching conservation plan. A large part of that plan will focus on – and work towards – a greater understanding of how sustainable grazing and agriculture practices can make significant contributions to maintaining local and regional biodiversity and provide for healthy ecosystems.
TomKat Ranch and PRBO recognize that agriculture practices can work to support ecological processes, such that agriculture is part of conservation, not working against it. The conservation plan will ensure that management actions on the ranch are addressed in a strategic manner which improves both the agricultural productivity and conservation value of the land.
Together, PRBO and TomKat Ranch will ‘take wing’ towards an environmentally healthier and sustainable future.
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