Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are Bird/Wildlife Festivals Green?

So why did the Great Egret cross the road? So she could get away from those pesky Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival participants (like me) trying to take her picture. Seriously though, is the overall environmental effect of such a festival positive? What in the world could be wrong with a nature festival? A discussion of the Morro Bay festival might be useful and relevant for all such festivals.
First, many participants and vendors for the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival came from out of the area. Most were from in-state, and drove to the festival. The out-of-state individuals (including some from europe) likely flew here, which has a more profound environmental effect than cars. Many of the field trips used vans, cars, and diesel powered boats. The carbon footprint of this festival was not insignificant. To its credit, the Morro Bay festival reduced its carbon footprint by using vans loaded with people and by carpooling when cars were used. Bottled water for participants was replaced with water stations for refilling individually owned reusable bottles. The festival also offered green trips which involved walking, kayaking, or canoeing only. (The Kern Nature Festival has compostable eating utensils and plates.)
Second, the possible negative effects on birds and other wildlife as they are pursued by participants is of possible concern. Since almost none of the birds at the Morro Bay festival were nesting, and since leaders generally kept participants a safe distance from any sensitive species, this effect was likely minimal.
Was the carbon footprint of this festival offset by positive effects on the environment? I am not aware of any trips at our festival that rescued birds, picked up litter, restored habitat or otherwise directly helped the environment. What about the indirect benefits to the environment? Education of participants through field trips, workshops, and other presentations, probably made them more aware and informed about species and issues involving species' existence as well as more sympathetic toward these species. Hopefully, the participants will take this information and sensitivity back to their home communities which may effect local environmental policy. This is obviously hard to measure.
Additionally, there was the effect of ecotourism generated by this festival. Many participants stayed at local lodging, ate meals in local restaurants, etc. Some will return at other times of year. This boost to the local economy gives another reason for local businesses and others to work to protect the very natural attractions that brought the festival participants to the area in the first place.
Last, the local environmental groups who sponsored this festival, made money from it. These groups do purchase, restore, and maintain sensitive habitat and rescue birds. They do influence local county and city environmental policies. So what is the net effect? This is a question that should be considered by organizers of these events and the negative effects should certainly be minimized where possible. Morro Bay is to be commended for its efforts to so mitigate.
Personally, I was not as conscious about these concerns as I should have been when I first volunteered to help with the festival. Next year at this festival I will try to lead more "green" trips. I have proposed a nearby all day sea watch at one location with no driving except to get there. I may also try a walking or biking trip. (Then I can also count the species I see on my BIGBY!)
I did get one new BIGBY species on Saturday, after leading an all day
driving(!) big day festival field trip. I rode my bike from home to the Morro Bay Sate Park bike trail area, near South Bay Boulevard (see my map), to see Short-eared Owls. This ten minute pedal was well worth it. I sat on a hill and watched the sunset sky over the back-bay as the western horizon turned yellow, and the clouds turned orange and purple over a powder blue sky, with pink cotton-ball patterns stretching across to the other horizon. All of this color was reflected in the pools and channels of water that snake through the pickleweed flats of the back-bay. Just as the color faded from the sky, a couple of Short-eared owls started hunting over the fallow pasture land - bouncing over the grass and bushes, dropping to the ground, and back into the air for more hunting and brief aerial acrobatic interactions with each other as their paths crossed. It is magical moments like this that make my BIGBY well worth the effort.

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