The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Audubon Society Chicago Region and other Illinois state and city partners hosted a celebration on August 12 to recognize the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial and their local conservation program Bird Your Park. August 16, 1916, is the exact date the treaty was signed by the United States and Great Britain (for Canada), with later singings by Mexico, Japan and Russia.
The Regional Centennial event in Chicago included a host of speakers as well as Federal Duck Stamp displays, a Centennial youth art contest featuring 2015 Duck Stamp artist Joe Hautman as one of the judges, and more.
The Chicago area was selected to host the Midwest Regional event because it is a great example of partnerships in bird conservation that are built to have lasting successful results. Those taking part in the event included Ducks Unlimited, Audubon Chicago Region, the Chicago Parks District, Chicago Wilderness, the Cook County Forest Preserve, Federal Duck Stamp Artist Joe Hautman, and Lincoln Park Zoo.
“Chicago, one of the original Urban Bird Treaty Cities, is founded on great partnerships, most notably the Chicago Park District, Chicago Wilderness, Audubon Chicago, and the Forest Preserves of Cook County,” the Service’s Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius said. “We’re honored to be in Chicago to pay tribute to the great accomplishments in bird conservation during the last 100 years since the Migratory Bird Treaty was signed.”
Throughout the Midwest Region, the Service has worked with their partners to celebrate the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial at local events across the region, including state fairs where every state agency in the Midwest will feature the Centennial as part of their displays, youth and adult hunting events, bird festivals, and other gatherings that relate to birds.
A century ago, on August 16, 1916, the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) signed the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds or Migratory Bird Treaty, from which four resulting Migratory Bird Treaties were signed. “These treaties form the cornerstones of our efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders,” said Tom Cooper, the Service’s Midwest Region Migratory Birds Chief. “Celebrating the Centennial of the first treaty allows us to honor state, federal, private, non-governmental, tribal, and international partners who share a long, successful history of conserving and protecting migratory birds and their habitats. This Centennial is a unique opportunity to create awareness and increase support for migratory bird conservation through promoting key actions and engaging the public in Centennial-related activities.”
Historically speaking, by the early 1900s, the wildlife conservation movement began to pick up steam, partly in response to the unchecked take of migratory birds. Many states began enacting legislation to set hunting seasons in response to declining game populations including migratory birds. President Theodore Roosevelt established the Pelican Island Federal Bird Refuge as a nesting sanctuary for waterbirds. Congress passed the first federal wildlife protection law, the Lacey Act, which made it illegal to transport or sell a bird in one state when it was illegally harvested in another state in 1900. The Lacey Act was an important step in ending the era of market hunting in the United States. Even with this conservation momentum, the passenger pigeon, historically one of the most abundant birds in North America, went extinct in 1914 when “Martha” died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
A combination of these events reinforced the need for increased cooperation in conserving our shared bird resources, especially those that cross state and international borders. In that spirit, the United States and Great Britain, on behalf of Canada, signed the “Treaty on the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada and the United States” on August 16, 1916, which we now refer to as the Migratory Bird Treaty. The Treaty was ultimately extended to include Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and Russia in 1976.
Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 to formally implement the provisions of the Treaty. Specifically, the Act prohibited the hunting, killing, capturing, possession, sale, transportation, and exportation of birds, feathers, eggs and nests. It also provided for the establishment of protected refuges to give birds safe habitats and it encouraged the sharing of data between nations to monitor bird populations. In fact, the establishment of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in 1924 is directly rooted in the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.