For the birds
Robin Powell takes on conservation in the Lahontan Valley Wetlands
Every year, flocks of shorebirds and waterbirds—from the white-faced ibis to the canvasback duck and American avocet—migrate to the Lahontan Valley Wetlands. They are attracted to its agricultural fields, its shallow wetlands. Its diversity of habitat draws a wide variety of birds, many of which, like those listed above, are considered “species of concern.” And every year, conservationists, sportsmen, farmers, local tribes and federal and state agencies have difficulty agreeing on how best to use and protect the area.
That’s where Robin Powell comes in. The Nevada director of Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society, Powell manages Nevada’s 39 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). In addition to the Lahontan Valley Wetlands, those include Swan Lake, Washoe Valley, Pyramid Lake, Carson Valley, the Carson Range and Lower Carson River.
Powell was recently selected from hundreds of applicants nationwide to become one of 40 TogetherGreen Fellows, a program of the National Audubon Society made possible through a $20 million gift from Toyota to the bird focused society. As a Fellow, Powell receives $10,000 to use toward a community project, as well as specialized training to carry that out. Powell’s project, which is set to get underway this January, involves reaching out to the various interest groups—members of the Lahontan Valley community around Fallon, tribes, sportsmen, conservationists and various agencies—to try to reach consensus about steps they can take to preserve the Lahontan Valley Wetlands. She plans to do this by rounding up local volunteers and holding meetings and events related to habitat. The first meeting planned is about noxious weed control to protect the area. Another event is to work with local schools and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to build duck blinds.
“Habitat is the basis of what we’re trying to conserve so it’d be good to bring the different types of people together,” says Powell.
Powell says it’s difficult to establish and maintain a grassroots conservation group, but that’s her hope for the Lahontan Valley Wetlands.
“The long-term goal is to implement an adoption program for that Important Bird Area so a local conservation group can work on the threats there,” says Powell. She mentions the potential development of a Friends of Lahontan Valley group. If her project is successful, she plans to use the experience as a template for other IBAs in the state.
“A lot is unknown,” says Powell. She worked with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe for six years, developing environmental policies and public conservation programs. So she knows that reaching consensus can be tough. And though her fellowship is for one year, it will likely take more than a year to make major headway. Historical concerns in the area include issues of land and water. Powell is particularly concerned about the loss of agricultural lands, whose fields provide habitat, especially to the ibis, but are threatened by development and loss of water.
“Opinions are so strong and conflicting, it’s a long-term process to unhinge them,” she says. “It will be challenging, but I’m hoping that through the challenges, I’ll learn the most.”