Valley Voices

Robert Snow: Researchers: climate change threatens Valley’s native birds

If you’re not familiar with birds, you might be excused for thinking that someone had let loose a giant flock of exotic birds into the oak woodlands around Fresno.

These glorious white and black birds with the yellow beak and iridescent tail look more like something on a Jimmy Buffett album cover than a bird one would find on an oak tree at Kearney Mansion.

But the delightful yellow-billed magpie is in fact native to this area, and such a local treasure that the Fresno Audubon Society has named its newsletter The Yellowbill for more than 50 years. Because the bird is only found in the Central Valley of California, birders from all over the world come here to see it, providing a small boost to the local economy.

There has been an improvement in magpie numbers of late, as the bird recovers from its devastation by West Nile Virus, and we are now seeing them again around Fresno, but not in great numbers.

But now the birds face an even greater threat: climate change. The oak trees that these birds rely upon — and that we enjoy — are in decline, and researchers predict that the bird could go extinct in the coming decades as our environment changes.

The National Audubon Society estimates that 170 California birds in all face a similar fate if we don’t address the problem.

The California State Senate recently approved a slate of bills that would reduce our use of fossil fuels and set ambitious targets for renewable energy use. These bills are important to Fresno not just because of the predicted impacts of global warming on birds, but because of what air pollution is doing to our community and our environment right now.

The most recent report from the American Lung Association shows that the San Joaquin Valley remains home to some of the most polluted air in the nation. In Fresno County and Kern County, it is unhealthful to go outside nearly 70 days a year. The air quality here has been amongst the worst in the nation for many years and has improved so slowly that, as the Bee reported on June 7, the EPA is now considering taking over the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Fresno Audubon is one of many groups in this area that seek to enrich the lives of Fresno residents, young and old, and of all different backgrounds, by introducing them to the natural wonders around us. But what does it say about our community if the air is actually too dangerous to go outside and look at birds?

The core of the state Senate climate package — Senate Bills 32 and 350 — are working their way through the Assembly now. For the sake of the yellow-billed magpie, and our entire Fresno community, it would be great to see this legislation reach the governor’s desk. Please urge your representatives to support these measures.

Robert Snow is president of the Fresno Audubon Society.