Why Conservation?

Conservation begins with a question. One makes a simple observation: ‘Millions of shorebirds stop to refuel at the Copper River Delta each spring,’ and even the most uninterested party might venture to ask, “Why?”

When you witness the spring shorebird migration on the Copper River Delta, you are left with two opposing feelings. On one hand, you sense the vastness of the resource and are struck by the complexity of the system. Every year for thousands of years, these birds have taken the same path and eaten the same foods. The system works, and that in itself is cause for wonder. Within your line of sight, you can see over 100,000 birds, and with the knowledge that the Copper River Flats extend for 75 miles, you get a brief insight into what 6 million shorebirds actually means. In the end, you are left with the satisfaction that this resource is thriving.

But beneath that peace of mind you feel a rising sense of uneasiness. The intricacies of the system begin to reveal themselves, and you may start to wonder whether this is the only stopover site these birds use. What are the conditions at other stopover sites and what would happen if one of these stopover sites disappeared? You might think about the small clams that the birds eat and remember from a high school biology class that shellfish filter food from water, and pollutants can accumulate there. What would happen in the event of an oil spill? What other birds rely on this area? How can these birds congregate so densely without depleting the food resource? What do these birds eat in winter, and what are the wintering grounds like? Can you possibly manage a resource on this scale?

Conservation begins.