Bird conservation strategy for region 5: Northern Pacific rainforest, appendix 2

Appendix 2

General Methodology for Compiling the Six Standard Elements

Each strategy includes six required elements to conform to the national standard. An extensive manual (Kennedy et al. 2012) provides methods and other guidance for completing each element. The six elements provide an objective means of moving towards multi-species conservation efforts that are targeted to species and issues of highest priority. The six elements are:

  1. identifying priority species - to focus conservation attention on species of conservation concern and those most representative of the region
  2. attributing priority species to habitat classes - a tool for identifying habitats of conservation interest and a means of organizing and presenting information
  3. setting population objectives for priority species - an assessment of current population status compared to the desired status, and a means of measuring conservation success
  4. assessing and ranking threats - identifies the relative importance of issues affecting populations of priority species within the planning area as well as outside Canada (i.e., throughout their life-cycle)
  5. setting conservation objectives - outlines the overall conservation goals in response to  identified threats and information needs; also a means of measuring accomplishments
  6. proposing recommended actions - strategies to begin on-the-ground conservation to help achieve conservation objectives.

The first four elements apply to individual priority species, and together comprise an assessment of the status of priority species and the threats they face. The last two elements integrate information across species to create a vision for conservation implementation both within Canada and in countries that host priority species during migration and the non-breeding season.

Element 1: Species Assessment to Identify Priority Species

The Bird Conservation Strategies identify “priority species” from all regularly occurring bird species in each subregion.  The priority species approach allows management attention and limited resources to focus on those species with particular conservation importance, ecological significance and/or management need. The species assessment processes used are derived from standard assessment protocols developed by the four major bird conservation initiatives.Footnote 1

The species assessment process applies quantitative rule sets to biological data for factors such as:

The assessment is applied to individual bird species and ranks each species in terms of its biological vulnerability and population status. The assessments can be used to assign sub-regional (i.e., provincial section of a BCR), regional (BCR) and continental conservation priorities among birds.

In BCR 5, a species was considered as “regularly occurring” within the BCR and assessed for priority status if there are 10 or more records in the past 10 years, occurring every year or almost every year. Records were obtained from The Birds of British Columbia (Campbell et al. 1990, 1997, 2001), preliminary data from the British Columbia Atlas of Breeding Birds, eBird Canada, NatureServe, the Pacific Coast Joint Venture’s Strategic Plan and Biological Foundation (Martell 2005), the Atlas of Pelagic Seabirds (Kenyon et al. 2009), Bird Studies Canada’s British Columbia Coastal Waterbird Survey dataset (1999-2007) and expert opinion. Federally or provincially listed species were also considered, even if there were fewer than 10 records.

Priority species were initially identified based on the following two criteria: (a) whether they were listed by the pillar plans for the species group (landbirds, waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl) or (b) whether they were designated “At Risk” by provincial or federal processes. Landbirds, waterbirds and shorebirds were also added to the list as species of regional concern or stewardship based on the criteria outlined below.  The resulting initial list of priority species was then screened by local experts, and additional species of conservation concern were added to the list.

Partners in Flight criteria for landbirds

Landbird species identified as being of Continental Concern or Stewardship in BCR 5 by the PIF species assessment database (Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory 2005) were added to the priority list in the Canadian portion of BCR 5.

The process for identifying Regional Concern and Regional Stewardship landbird species in the Canadian portion of BCR 5 included a reassessment of the BCR 5 Threats to Breeding (TB), Threats to Non-breeding (TN), and Population Trend (PT) scores appearing in the 2005 PIF species assessment database to reflect data specific to the planning area. TB and TN scores were reassessed by local experts, and PT scores were reassessed based on 1968-2007 Breeding Bird Survey trend data for the Canadian portion of BCR 5 and the PT scores criteria described in The Partners in Flight Handbook on Species Assessment (Panjabi et al. 2005). Where a change in score was made, the highest of the BCR-wide and sub-BCR scores was retained. New Regional Combined Scores for the breeding (RCS-b) and non-breeding (RCS-n) seasons were calculated using Breeding Distribution (BD), Non-Breeding Distribution (ND), Population Size (PS), Breeding Relative Density (RD-b) and global PT scores from the PIF species assessment database, Non-breeding Relative Density (RD-n) scores provided by Peter Blancher (CWS-National), and TB, TN, and regional PT scores from the regional reassessment (see formulas below).

Birds that occur in the Canadian portion of BCR 5 only during the breeding season:

RCS-b = BDglobal + PSglobal + PTBCR 5 + TBBCR 5 + RD-bBCR 5

Birds that occur in the Canadian portion of BCR 5 only during the non-breeding season:

RCS-n = NDglobal + PSglobal + PTglobal + TNBCR 5 + RD-nBCR 5

Birds that occur in the Canadian portion of BCR 5 during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons (residents):

RCS-n = NDglobal + PSglobal + PTBCR 5 + TNBCR 5 + RD-bBCR 5

The criteria used by Panjabi et al. (2005) for identifying Regional Concern and Regional Stewardship species were then applied to prioritize species in the Canadian portion of BCR 5 (see below).

Regional Concern: Species must meet all criteria in the season(s) for which it is listed:

Regional Stewardship: Species must meet all criteria in the season(s) for which it is listed:


For waterfowl, the prioritization by the 2004 Strategic Guidance to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan: Strengthening the Biological Foundation(North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Plan Committee 2004) was used as a criterion for identifying waterfowl priority species in the Canadian portion of BCR 5. Species that scored Moderate
High, High or Highest for either Breeding or Non-breeding Need in WCR 5 in the NAWMP prioritization were selected as priority species.

Waterbirds and Shorebirds

Unlike waterfowl, the pillar plans for waterbirds and shorebirds reflect a national scope and do not list priority species by region and unlike landbirds, no standardized methods exist to adjust species lists to reflect species of regional concern or stewardship.  We have therefore developed a technique to allow for the assessment of waterbirds and shorebirds at a regional scale.  These methods are loosely based on those developed by Schonewille et al. (2007) but were somewhat modified to reflect the data available in our region.

For Waterbirds:
PT, PS, TB, TN, BD and ND scores are taken directly from Wings Over Water Canada’s Waterbird Conservation Plan (Milko et al. 2003; WOW). Species in categories 1 (highly imperiled) and 2 (high concern) in WOW are automatically added to the priority species list. To regionalize we used the percent of the species range that occurs within the BCR. The percent range scores were calculated using range data from NatureServe and included the portions of the range where each species is listed as Extant and/or Possibly Present. The categories of data used from NatureServe include:

The highest of the 4 scores were used to assign the species to one of 5 categories that reflected the percent of the species’ range in the BCR.

The regional combined score (RCS_BCR) is:

RCS_BCR = PT + PS + TB + TN + BD + ND + % Range in BCR

If RCS_BCR ≥18 then the species is added to the priority species list. Species that have a RCS_BCR ≥18 are considered to be regional stewardship species.

For Shorebirds:
Species in categories 4 (species of high concern) and 5 (highly imperiled) in the Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan (Donaldson et al. 2000) were automatically added to the priority species list. As above, to regionalize we used the percent of the species’ range that occurs within the BCR. If the percent of the species’ range in the BCR falls into categories 4 or 5 (above) then the overall score given to the species in the Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan was increased by one.

If the new score is ≥4 then the species is added to the priority species list. Species that have ≥25% of their range in the BCR are considered to be regional stewardship species.

Species at Risk

Among the species occurring in the Canadian portion of BCR 5, those that were Red- or Blue-listed in British Columbia or had a COSEWIC status of Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern were identified as priority species.

Screening by Experts

The list resulting from the assessment described above was screened by experts. The Band-tailed Pigeon, Black-bellied Plover, Common Loon, Dunlin, and Western Sandpiper were added on the basis of expert opinion.

Element 2: Habitats Important to Priority Species

Identifying the broad habitat requirements for each priority species in the breeding and non-breeding season allows species with shared habitat-based conservation issues or actions to be grouped. If many priority species associated with the same habitat class face similar conservation issues, then conservation action in that habitat class may support populations of several priority species. In BCR 5, a maximum of two broad-scale habitat associations were identified for each priority species. Habitat associations do not indicate relative use, suitability ratings or rankings, nor selection or avoidance; this could be a useful exercise to undertake in the future.

In order to link with other national and international land classification schemes and to capture the range of habitat types across Canada, habitat classes for all priority species are based, at the coarsest level, on the hierarchical approach of the international Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) developed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2000). Some modifications were made to the LCCS scheme to reflect habitat types that are important to birds that are not included in the classification (e.g., marine habitats). Species often are assigned to more than one of these coarse habitat classes. To retain the link to regional spatial data (e.g., provincial forest inventories, etc.), or to group species into regionally relevant habitat classes, individual BCR strategies may identify finer scale habitat classes. Finer-scale habitat attributes and the surrounding landscape context were also captured when possible to better guide the development of specific conservation objectives and actions.

Element 3: Population Objectives for Priority Species

A central component of effective conservation planning is setting clear objectives that can be measured and evaluated. Bird Conservation Strategies set objectives based upon the conservation philosophies of national and continental bird initiatives, including the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), that support conserving the distribution, diversity and abundance of birds throughout their historical ranges. The baselines for population objectives used in this planning exercise (those existing during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s for eastern waterfowl) reflect population levels prior to widespread declines. Most of the four bird conservation initiatives under the umbrella of NABCI have adopted the same baselines at the continental and national scale (waterfowl, shorebirds and landbirds; national and continental waterbird plans have not yet set population objectives). Some regions in the current planning effort have adjusted baselines to reflect the start of systematic monitoring. The ultimate measure of conservation success will be the extent to which population objectives have been reached. Progress towards population objectives will be regularly assessed as part of an adaptive management approach.

Population objectives for all bird groups are based on a quantitative or qualitative assessment of species’ population trends. If the population trend for a species is unknown, the objective is usually “assess and maintain,” and a monitoring objective is set. Harvested waterfowl and stewardship species that are already at desired population levels are given an objective of “maintain.” For any species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) or under provincial/territorial endangered species legislation, Bird Conservation Strategies defer to population objectives in available Recovery Strategies and Management Plans. If recovery documents are not available, objectives are set using the same approach as for other species within that bird group. Once recovery objectives are available, they will replace interim objectives.

For BCR 5, population objectives for waterfowl were taken from the Pacific Coast Joint Venture’s Strategic Plan and Biological Foundation (Martell 2005). Population objectives for landbirds, waterbirds and shorebirds were assigned based on the species’ population trend (PT) score. For each priority species, the PT score for the entire BCR was provided by Partners in Flight, and the PT score for the Canadian portion of the BCR was calculated from BBS data following PIF protocols (Panjabi et al. 2005). Conservatively, the higher of the two PT scores was used to assign a population objective. Priority species exhibiting declines (PT = 4) were set an objective of “increase population by 50%,” while strongly declining species (PT = 5) had an objective identified as “increase population by 100%.” For species with PT = 3 (uncertain or unknown trend), objectives were set as “maintain and assess.” Finally, species with stable or increasing populations (PT = 1 or 2) had an objective set to “maintain current.” Priority species which no longer breed in the BCR but continue to occur as occasional non-breeding individuals or small wintering populations had interim objectives set as “increase”, with the goal of eventually re-establishing breeding populations. Population objectives were not set for priority species which only occur in the BCR on migration and do not breed or winter in the region.

Element 4: Threat Assessment for Priority Species

Bird population trends are driven by factors that affect reproduction and/or survival during any point in the annual cycle. Threats that can reduce survival include, for example, reduced food availability at migratory stopovers or exposure to toxic compounds.  Examples of threats that can reduce reproductive success may include high levels of nest predation or reduced quality or quantity of breeding habitat.

The threats assessment exercise included three main steps: 

Each threat was categorized following the IUCN-CMP threat classification scheme (Salafsky et al. 2008) with the addition of categories to capture species for which we lack information. Only threats stemming from human activity were included in the threats assessment because they can be mitigated; natural processes that prevent populations from expanding beyond a given level were considered and noted, but no actions beyond research and/or monitoring were developed. Threats were ranked by assessing the scope (the proportion of the species’ range within the subregion that is affected by the threat) and severity (the relative impact that the threat poses to the viability of the species’ populations) of the threat. The scores for scope and severity were combined to determine an overall magnitude low, medium, high or very high.  These magnitudes were then rolled up by threat categories and sub-categories across habitat types (see Kennedy et al. 2012 for details on this process). The threats roll up allows for comparison of the relative magnitude of the threats among threat categories and habitat types. The scoring and ranking of threats not only helps to determine which threats contribute most to population declines in individual species, but also allows us to focus attention on the threats with the greatest effects on suites of species or in broad habitat classes.

Element 5: Conservation Objectives

Overall, conservation objectives represent the desired conditions, within the subregion that
will collectively contribute to achieving population objectives. Objectives may also outline the research or monitoring needed to improve the understanding of species declines and how to best take action.

Currently, most conservation objectives are measurable using qualitative categories (e.g., decrease, maintain, increase) that will allow an evaluation of implementation progress but they are not linked quantitatively to population objectives. Implementation that incorporates an active adaptive management process is an underlying principle of this conservation effort and will allow for future evaluation of whether or not reaching conservation objectives contributed to achieving population objectives.

Whenever possible, conservation objectives benefit multiple species, and/or respond to more than one threat. However, where necessary, they focus on the specific requirements of a single species.

Conservation objectives generally fall into one of two broad categories:

Ideally, habitat objectives would reflect the type, amount and location of habitat necessary to support population levels of priority species outlined in the population objectives. Currently, there is a lack of data and tools at the BCR scale to develop these specific quantitative objectives. Threats-based objectives present the direction of change required to move toward the population objectives using the best available information and our knowledge of ecosystem management strategies within broad habitat types.

Element 6: Recommended Actions

Recommended conservation actions are the strategies required to achieve conservation objectives. Recommended actions are usually made at the strategic level rather than being highly detailed and prescriptive. Actions were classified following the IUCN-CMP classification of conservation actions (Salafsky et al. 2008) with the addition of categories to address research and monitoring needs. When possible, more detailed recommendations can be included, for example if beneficial management practices, ecosystem plans or multiple recovery documents are available for a subregion. However, actions should be detailed enough to provide initial guidance for implementation.

The objectives for research, monitoring and widespread issues may not have actions associated with them. These issues are often so multi-faceted that actions are best designed in consultation with partners and subject-matter experts. Implementation teams will be better positioned to address these complex issues, drawing input from various stakeholders.

Recommended actions defer to or support those provided in recovery documents for species at risk at the federal, provincial or territorial level, but because these strategies are directed at multiple species, actions are usually more general than those developed for individual species. For more detailed recommendations for species at risk, readers should consult recovery documents.

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