Jon Atwood, PhD
Department of Environmental Studies
BirdLife International's Important Bird Area (IBA) Program scientifically identifies critical locations used by birds. This international program is designed to focus conservation efforts on IBA sites. The IBA Program operates under the umbrella species theory; through the protection of IBA sites other plants and animals gain similar protection. To be nominated (i.e. identified and accepted) as an IBA, the site must satisfy at least one category and receive the approval of a technical committee. In Massachusetts, 79 sites have been nominated. TO further focus conservation efforts within the state, a methodology was developed to serve as a course-filter rank of all IBA's. This methodology was based on Geographic Information System (GIS) data and included four indices; Level of Vulnerability, Ecological Importance, Development Pressure and Importance to Birds. Steps to standardize and re-evaluate current boundaries were also developed. Using a qualitative compassion with the Environmental Protection Agency's Ecoregions and the major drainage basins in Massachusetts, the IBA sites represent the major habitats found within the state. When compared to other delineations if important habitats, BioMap Core Habitat and Areas of Critical environmental Concern, the IBA Program captured 34% and 29% respectively, of these areas. Although a useful tool, caution should be exercised when interpreting the results of the coarse-filter ranking methodology; sites with a higher rank are not necessarily more important than lower ranked sites. The knowledge of biologists and local birders should also be considered. If future IBA sites are nominated, efforts should be made to expand ecologically significant areas, to engage private landowners and to quantify the effectiveness of the program in conserving other taxa.