Advisory Board member recognized for outstanding migratory bird stewardship
A member of Texas Tech University's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Advisory Board was named runner-up for the 2016 Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award. James Ray, a noted wildlife biologist and graduate of Tech's Department of Natural Resources Management (1987), has been tracking, documenting and protecting wildlife at the Pantex Plant northeast of Amarillo for more than 15 years. The award is given annually to an agency within the federal government by the Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds.
In the past Ray's department and several collaborating universities have worked to protect mule deer, horny toads and bobcats on Pantex's 18,000 acres, but one of the centers of interest has been preserving a declining purple martin population. The purple martin is the largest North American swallow.
The bird's population has declined significantly with the arrival of the European starling and the house sparrow. The martins are still declining today, including in parts of Texas. Through collaborative projects, Ray has banded and tracked more than 11,000 purple martins.
That's not the only bird that his department studies, though. Hundreds of bird species pass through the area. In 1916, the United States signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 to protect migratory birds between the United States and Great Britain, which acted on behalf of Canada at that time. The United States also signed agreements with Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972 and the Soviet Union in 1978.
To honor the obligations in those agreements, an executive order was issued in 2001 to create the Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds, which presents the Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award to one of more than 20 federal agencies each year.
Partners in the conservation award included Consolidated Nuclear Security (Pantex Plant); Texas Tech (including the USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit); West Texas A&M University; University of Manitoba (Canada); York University (Canada); Purple Martin Conservation Association; Disney World Wide Fund; Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and many property owners and volunteers.
The Pantex Plant, located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, is charged with maintaining the safety, security and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. The facility is managed and operated by Consolidated Nuclear Security.
Program officials note that considering the high-level regional issues, data collected, shared management implications, and on-site protection strategies, the Pantex partnership may benefit the full suite (442 species) of migratory birds that breed in, migrate through, and winter in the Southern Great Plains. The playa lakes region that encompasses the Texas Panhandle and South Plains is a crucial step in their yearly migration.
Research plot data includes 28 special status species and 26 others have been documented using the site. Multitudes of bird species and individuals fly through, rest, and feed on the Pantex property during migration, and all the while they must navigate through many potential threats and an ever-growing number of wind farms.
Written by Norman Martin
CONTACT: Michael Galyean, Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2808 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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