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WILDLIFE - Sea birds get a boost off Baja California

State and federal wildlife agencies on Tuesday announced a major initiative to boost seabird populations on the islands of Baja California using $4 million from funds set aside for environmental restoration.

The initiative includes building bird nests on several islands, using decoys to attract birds and mirrors to trick birds into thinking there are many others around.

Improvements at the nesting grounds will create more stable and viable populations of seabirds in the United States and Mexico, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those agencies help to oversee spending from money paid by polluters to make up for their environmental damage.

The seabird restoration program will be run by a partnership of the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (GECI) and the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature. It will build on a program conducted by GECI on the same islands over the past 15 years.

The work starts in January and will target Coronado, Todos Santos, San Martín, San Jerónimo, Natividad, Asunción and San Roque islands.

It will focus on boosting populations of California brown pelicans, Cassin's auklets, ashy storm-petrels and Xantus's murrelets. Threats to the birds include non-native species, nest and burrow destruction, and disturbances from lights. Most of the seabird colonies in Mexico form part of a larger population that breeds, forages and disperses into California.

Jennifer Boyce, a seabird biologist for NOAA, said the plans are designed to encourage breeding in places where the birds don't currently nest by tricking or luring them to the sites. "They are hesitant to recolonize an island if there aren't any of their own kind there," she said.

Boyce said similar tactics were first used to rebuild populations of puffins and terns in Maine and now are common worldwide. She said it's increasingly common for NOAA to do bird restoration work in other countries because it's important to bolster habitat throughout their ranges.

Money for the project comes from payments related to the Montrose Chemical Plant, which discharged hundreds of tons of DDT into Los Angeles County sewers that drained to the Pacific Ocean in the 1940s to the 70s. It also includes payments related to bunker fuel releases from a ship that sank in the 1950s near San Francisco.

[S.S. Jacob Luckenbach Oil Spill]

[Montrose Settlements Restoration Program]


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