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THE NORTH AMERICAN BIRD BANDING PROGRAM: INTO THE 21ST CENTURY

I. INTRODUCTION

I. A. Background

The North American Bird Banding Program [BBP] has for many years been administered by the Bird Banding Laboratory [BBL] at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, in conjunction with the Canadian Bird Banding Office [BBO] in Hull, Quebec. The BBL was transferred from the U.S. Department of the Interior's [DOI] Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] to DOI's newly established National Biological Service [NBS] in November 1993. (In October 1996 the NBS itself was transferred intact [as the Biological Resources Division, or BRD] into the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS].) The creation of the NBS thus became the catalyst for a review of the scientific underpinnings of the BBL, and by extension the entire BBP, including consideration of its staffing and computer equipment needs. This review is especially timely considering the revolution in computer access and the development of worldwide electronic communication that has occurred during the past decade, and which can be expected to expand considerably in the 21st century.

I. B. Panel Composition

To this end, P.A. Buckley was asked by the NBS Directorate to assemble a Panel to address the question of the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of the BBL (reformulating them if necessary), and then to enumerate what is required to bring the BBL/BBP into line with a new BBL/BBP mission statement and with prevailing (and especially future) data management practices.

It was clear from the outset that representation by individuals familiar with the diverse aspects of the banding program would be essential for the broad view required. Thus, the Panel as finally composed consisted of the following persons:

Dr. P.A. Buckley (Chair): Senior Scientist, Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey, Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI, USA.

Dr. Peter Blancher, Chief, Migratory Bird Populations Division, Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Centre, Hull, Quebec, Canada.

Dr. Peter Cannell, Director and Science Editor, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. David F. DeSante, Founder and Director of The Institute for Bird Populations, Point Reyes Station, California, USA.

Dr. Charles M. Francis, Senior Scientist, Bird Studies Canada / Long Point Bird Observatory, Port Rowan, Ontario, Canada.

Dr. Chandler S. Robbins, Research Wildlife Biologist, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.

Dr. Graham Smith, Chief, Population and Habitat Assessment Section, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.

All members of the panel are or have been active banders, and collectively represent nearly 200 person-years of hands-on experience with bird banding in all its aspects. The panel has members experienced in working with most groups of birds, including passerines, gamebirds (especially waterfowl), raptors, colonial waterbirds, and shorebirds. Nearly all of us currently have, or have had in the past, direct connections with the non-scientist banding community. The interests of both the U.S. and Canadian governments were represented, as well as those of various other entities, including the flyway councils, universities, bird observatories, and private research institutes. Lastly, we are all active research scientists (many of us having university affiliations) with hands-on experience analyzing banding data for publication in the scientific literature, as well as applying them to management questions.

I. C. Objectives of the Panel

Our charge was to make recommendations of a programmatic and conceptual nature, designed to allow the BBL/BBP to better fulfill its mission. The list of specific items we would address was agreed to interactively with the NBS Directorate, with subsequent modifications by the Panel as we proceeded with our discussions.

Within this framework, we set the following objectives:

  1. to articulate the scientific, philosophical, and legal rationale for a North American banding program in terms of its purposes, justifications, and broad-scale costs;

  2. to provide a new Mission Statement and a new Role & Function Statement for the BBL/BBP;

  3. to define where we believe the BBP should be heading, and provide some attainable goals;

  4. to provide guidelines, within the context of the Mission Statement, on issues such as bander training, permitting, data editing, and data storage;

  5. to recommend any needed changes in the overall BBL/BBP operations and practices;

  6. to bring data management at the BBL in line with present and future standards, especially recognizing the growing computer literacy and increased availability of personal computers;

  7. to make recommendations about BBL staffing and equipment needs and changes;

  8. to reassess and, if necessary, expand the role that the BBL should play in a broad, integrated Western Hemisphere banding program.

We did not consider budgetary aspects in our review, or the question of agency location of the BBL within the Department of the Interior; we had no mandate to do either. However, we did consider the overall cost-effectiveness of the measures we were proposing, especially in the context of the cost of the entire Bird Banding Program.

The Panel did not specifically address the workings of the Canadian Bird Banding Office. Nonetheless, the principles and recommendations we enunciate for the BBP and BBL are equally applicable to the BBO.

Other potential topics intentionally not addressed included: collecting permits (and their possible relation to banding permits); decisions concerning individual BBL staff and other issues related to implementing our recommendations; any matters involving the relationship and interactions between individual banders and the BBL (e.g., instances of permit denial or revocation); and details of future relations among the BBL, the Migratory Bird Management Office, and the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey.

I. D. Operation of the Panel

Early in the process, the NBS Directorate agreed with our request that all groups actually or potentially affected by our recommendations have the opportunity to respond to them, and that, moreover, our recommendations would be circulated while still in draft so users' reactions and comments, if appropriate, could be incorporated. It was also agreed that the final document would be disseminated as widely as possible, including circulation to banders (potentially through the BBL's series of communiqu?s entitled "Memo to all Banders," known colloquially as MTABs), electronic publication (such as on the OSNA or Patuxent web pages), and, if the document seemed suitable, through publication in one of the North American ornithological journals.

We assembled for our first meeting at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in May 1995, and followed that with a second at Cape May, NJ, in October 1995 in conjunction with the Partners in Flight conference being held there. Announcements about our existence and requests for comments were placed in various ornithological and banding outlets (both print and electronic); presentations were made at scientific and banding organization meetings; and comments were solicited verbally from interested parties on any topics related to the banding program and the banding lab. We were also provided with access to the minutes/transcripts of previous meetings to discuss the future of the BBL.

We received verbal input in person and by phone, and written input by mail, fax, and email; everything able to be copied went unedited to all Panelists. Material was still coming in as late as May 1996, and every suggestion we received was considered by the Panel. Space and other restrictions prevent us from going into detail on possible recommendations that were never made.

A preliminary presentation of the Panel's recommendations was made to the NBS Directorate in Washington DC by the Panel Chair in March 1996, and a draft report was presented to the agency in October 1996, after extensive review by panel members, to ensure that it was representative of the views of all members. This draft was widely circulated for review both within and outside of the agency, and numerous comments were received, both supportive and critical. In July 1997, the panel reconvened for two days at Patuxent to consider the reviews. In many cases, this led to clarification of our ideas and more detailed expression of them, and in a few cases to minor changes in our recommendations. These changes were presented verbally to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Director during the meeting, and have been incorporated into this final document.

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