WCAS has awarded a $13,650 grant to Professor C. Dustin (Dusty) Becker of Kansas State University for her innovative project, "Monitoring Endemic Birds and Educating Local People about Their Importance in Loma Alta, Ecuador." The funding, which comes from our Polly Holden conservation bequest, was approved at the June meeting of the WCAS board of directors.
Dr. Becker's grant request came to us through WCAS board secretary, Dan Longhi, who participated in an Earthwatch Institute project early this year at Dr. Becker's research station in Ecuador. Dan reported that among the many birds banded at the station are some of the species who spend the breeding season in our own area. Since 1994, Dr. Becker has involved teams of students, local people and Earthwatch volunteers in gathering data to determine the conservation value of the Colonche Hills for birds. At the same time, she has been working with indigenous people of Loma Alta to protect forested habitats in their 16,700-acre watershed. In 1996, her team discovered that these fog forests are home to over 200 bird species, including many that are threatened and one of the rarest hummingbirds in the world, the Esmeralda's Woodstar. The Loma Alta villagers have now come to appreciate how important their area is to birds and hope to attract nature tourism which will enhance protection efforts and improve the local economy. In 2001, Dr. Becker's group began to study lowland habitats in the area and discovered that large numbers of endemic and endangered species are present in the relatively deforested areas. They now hope to determine if these areas are sources or sinks for bird populations and also to learn more about their population dynamics.
The WCAS grant will support data gathering by local students and villagers over the course of an entire year. It will also support a Christmas Bird Count to be carried out by a local bird club, which will help promote regional interest in bird conservation and help get Loma Alta Reserve registered as an Important Bird Area. The region is quite poor and local people cannot support this effort themselves.
Approval of this grant request came after considerable discussion among WCAS board members. Several factors led to our decision. First, the study area is the wintering grounds for a number of bird species that breed in our area. We hope to find a project in our area that will address habitat issues for some of these same species and similarly engage various groups in the effort. At the same time, we are considering funding for other local projects. Another selling point is the fact that Dr. Becker has motivated local people to become involved in conservation in their own area. We also liked the idea of forming a partnership with a birding group in the southern hemisphere. Finally, we had excellent recommendations supporting her work from two highly-respected ecologists.
We will share news from Loma Alta with our membership as the project proceeds. You can view a description of Dr. Becker's project at www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/becker.html.
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