Thank you to our Citizen Scientists across Canada for acknowledging the importance of doing what is best for the health of our population and temporarily halting their important efforts.
Your passion and commitment to bird conservation are awe-inspiring. Thank you all for bearing with us.
While we have received numerous endorsements for the difficult decision to adopt the policy of suspension, we have also heard from those disappointed and critical of it. Here are some clarifications as to why our decisions were made, what they mean, and how we plan to react moving forward.
- What is Birds Canada’s policy on bird surveys and field work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Birds Canada has suspended, until further notice, all field work and bird surveys by staff, contractors and volunteers, where travel is involved, until science-based, public health guidelines allow for relaxation of some restrictions. See our health and safety policy here.
- When will the restriction on field work and bird surveys be lifted?
We expect to relax restrictions when health authorities advise such measures are appropriate and justified, in their province or territory. They will also determine when provincial and municipal parks and other natural areas reopen. The federal government will determine when national parks, national wildlife areas, and migratory bird sanctuaries reopen. It is impossible for us to be specific about dates or locations for such openings, until government health experts advise and allow such.
- Aren’t bird surveys and related monitoring an “essential service” that should continue?
Provinces have defined “essential services” that may continue during the pandemic. While we do regard environmental research and monitoring as essential, in the general sense of the term, it is difficult to justify bird surveys as fitting the restrictive, legal definitions in public health directives. In most jurisdictions, we would be breaking the law or disregarding guidelines, if we were to encourage surveys and research requiring travel.
- Isn’t this policy decision principally driven by the needs of large urban areas, where most cases seem to be occurring? Isn’t this unfair to rural regions?
Public health directives and guidelines have been province-wide and territorial-wide in nature, though municipalities have often issued additional, more restrictive orders or guidelines. Birds Canada is a science-based organization, but we are not health experts. We respect – and must abide by – all health-related laws, regulations and guidelines.
- Many rural areas where surveys occur have few to no COVID-19 cases, so why shouldn’t we be surveying in those places?
Government health restrictions are not distinguishing between urban and rural regions, at least so far. It is not always clear, without widespread testing, whether areas are truly low in cases; indeed, if they are in fact low in infection rates, then restrictions on travel are likely to have helped keep them low. In other words, we are all doing our part by avoiding the travel that isn’t essential. Everyone who travels brings some additional risk of infection to themselves or others, through use of gas stations, grocery stores, washrooms, and other services, as well as potentially stressing very busy police, fire and paramedic services. None of us would want to be the vector of the disease to a community as yet unaffected, and particularly to a more vulnerable northern or remote indigenous community where health services may be strained.
- Shouldn’t an individual’s discretion be sufficient to judge if a survey is safe to do?
Most jurisdictions have strong directives or guidelines discouraging travel and promoting ‘stay-at-home’ practices. In many cases, it would be illegal, as well as an unwise health risk, for Birds Canada to promote surveys and field work involving travel. But what can be done within one’s safe orbit? What opportunity can we find in the situation? We encourage you to focus intently on birds and other natural phenomena you can observe in your backyard, on your farm or ranch, from your balcony, on your daily exercise walk, and out your windows! Make it a challenge to survey and observe more intensively where you can, not extensively where you shouldn’t.
- Aren’t you sending the message that bird data and monitoring are not very important, if you support suspending them?
Everyone’s health and safety, as well as that of their family, neighbours and friends, are top priority. Most surveys are long-term, so are robust enough to withstand occasional lack of data. While we all enjoy doing surveys, it’s the long-term nature of them that is key, not data in any one particular year. That’s a good thing! Many areas normally surveyed – parks, public forests, conservation areas, and other zoned areas – are closed to access, in any event. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our field work and surveys, and will do everything we can to ensure the continuity of data. Our suspension of field work involving travel is quite similar to those of governments across Canada, as well as non-government organizations like Birds Canada in other countries. We have all arrived at similar degrees of unfortunate but necessary short-term disruption to most quickly return to long-term safety and field-work needs.
For more information, please visit the Birds Canada POLICY ON OUTDOOR WORK UNDER COVID-19.