Milwaukee County, the only Bird City community to have earned credit for documenting that a municipal or major public building had been awarded LEED certification as bird-friendly, has another feather for its cap: The county's treasured 15,000-acre park system has been designated Wisconsin's 93rd Important Bird Area (IBA).
Milwaukee County, a High Flyer, had earlier satisfied Criterion D in Category 3 (Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds) by documenting that Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team, had been awarded LEED certification as bird-friendly. The world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment arena, the arena not only achieved LEED Silver certification but also satisfied the U.S. Green Building Council's Bird Collision Deterrence credit (SSpc55). Fiserv Forum opened in August 2018.
Officials from the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI), a collaboration of more than 180 groups working to conserve native birds in Wisconsin, conferred the IBA designation in a ceremony at Lake Park in Milwaukee on July 25, 2019.
"The value of these 15,000 acres to migrating birds is immense," says Karen Etter Hale, WBCI chair and community relations director for the Wisconsin Audubon Council. "Seventy-five percent of the remaining green space in Milwaukee is found within Milwaukee County Parks."
Fifty-seven bird species listed in Wisconsin DNR's Wildlife Action Plan as Species of Greatest Conservation Need because of low or declining populations have been found using the natural areas within the Milwaukee County Park System. Other factors helping land the IBA designation, says Etter Hale, were the park system's active natural areas management program; its "rigorous, long-term bird-monitoring program; and its engaging accessible bird education programs," which reach up to 4,000 people each year.
Brian Russart, coordinator of the Milwaukee County Parks System's Natural Areas Program, said the designation is significant for the parks system and, beyond that, for urban natural areas across Wisconsin. "We are certainly honored to be designated an Important Bird Area. Too often urban natural areas are not perceived as being essential for wildlife conservation; however, if they are protected and properly managed these urban natural areas can maintain surprisingly diverse bird populations.
"The Milwaukee County Park System's location within a major bird-migration corridor allows us to play a small yet important role in the larger international bird-conservation efforts, and Parks takes that stewardship responsibility very seriously."
With the designation, the park system joins 92 IBAs in Wisconsin, 2,832 in the United States, and 12,000 worldwide. The IBA program was launched by Birdlife International in 1985 to identify, protect, and monitor sites essential to the conservation of bird populations globally. IBA designation is voluntary and conveys no legal status or regulatory requirements but highlights the importance of the Milwaukee County Parks System for bird conservation.