Clean Air Act, designed for humans, saved more than a billion birds

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Although the federal air quality law was enacted to protect humans from air pollution, it has also saved birds.

Cleaner air resulting from pollution regulations has saved 1.5 billion birds, nearly 20% of all avifauna in the United States today, Cornell University researchers say and the University of Oregon.

“Our research shows that the benefits of environmental regulation have likely been underestimated,” said Ivan Rudik, senior author and assistant professor Ruth and William Morgan at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

“Pollution reduction has positive effects in unexpected places and provides additional political leverage for conservation efforts.”

To study the relationship between bird abundance and air pollution, the researchers used models combining bird observations from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program with data on ground-level pollution and existing regulations.

They tracked monthly changes in bird abundance, air quality, and regulations in 3,214 US counties over a 15-year period.

They focused on the NOx (nitrogen oxide) budget trading program, which was implemented by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health by limiting summer emissions of precursor chemicals. ozone from large industrial sources.

Ozone is a gas found in nature and produced by human activities, including power plants and cars. An ozone layer in the upper atmosphere protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. But ground-level ozone is dangerous and is the main pollutant in smog.

Researchers have found that ozone pollution is more damaging to small migratory birds, such as sparrows, warblers and finches, which make up 86% of all North American land species.

Ozone pollution damages their respiratory systems and harms their food sources.

“Not only can ozone cause direct physical damage to birds, it can also compromise plant health and reduce the number of insects birds consume,” said study author Amanda Rodewald, professor. Garvin in the Cornell Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and Director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“Not surprisingly, birds that cannot access high-quality habitat or food resources are less likely to survive or breed successfully.”

She noted, “The good news here is that environmental policies designed to protect human health also provide significant benefits to birds.”

A separate study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology last year showed that North American bird populations have declined by nearly 3 billion birds since 1970.

The new study shows that without the regulations and ozone reduction efforts of the Clean Air Act, the loss of birds could have been 1.5 billion more birds.

“This is the first large-scale evidence that ozone is associated with declining bird abundance in the United States and that regulations designed to save human lives also provide significant conservation benefits. to birds, ”said Catherine Kling, professor at Tisch University at Cornell Dyson. School of Applied Economics and Management and Head of Faculty at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

Contact Marcus Schneck at [email protected].

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