Obama-Trudeau Summit Is Chance to Celebrate, and Grow, U.S.-Canada Conservation Successes

A gray jay takes wing in the boreal forest near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Credit: Katye Martens/The Pew Charitable Trusts

From birds to boreal forest, nations have long history of cooperation to protect environment

A gray jay takes wing in the boreal forest near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
Credit: Katye Martens/The Pew Charitable Trusts

When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads south on March 10 for his first official visit to the United States, his plane may well pass directly over some of the billions of birds migrating north from points throughout the U.S. to Canada.

While Trudeau’s visit is momentous—it will include discussions with President Barack Obama on bilateral climate change policy and the first White House state dinner for a Canadian leader in 19 years—the bird migration, an annual phenomenon that involves hundreds of species, is also remarkable.

More notably, the mass migration and the Trudeau-Obama meeting are intertwined: One major reason the birds have welcoming habitat on both sides of the border is the 100-year history of conservation collaboration between Canada and the United States.

A century ago, many migratory bird populations in North America were in trouble. Unregulated hunting of birds for commercial sale in particular, coupled with loopholes in import and export laws, had allowed massive and unsustainable harvesting of many bird species. Public awareness campaigns launched by Audubon societies in the early 1900s raised alarms over the drastic drop in bird numbers and over the need to stop killing them for use in the commercial millinery trade and for market sale.

The crisis came into sharp, tragic focus with the plight of two once-numerous North American species, the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet. The world’s last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914; the last Carolina parakeet perished at the same zoo in 1918.

A common merganser lifts off from First Cranberry Lake in the boreal forest of Manitoba.
Credit: Katye Martens/The Pew Charitable Trusts

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