With an abundance of lakes, rivers and forests, it's no wonder that efforts are in the works to promote wildlife-watching in communities along the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway.
Bird City - a project spearheaded by Audubon Minnesota aimed at creating bird-friendly communities across the state - is looking to take flight in the lakes area after a recent informational meeting on the project drew a crowd of a couple dozen interested community members to Crosslake City Hall.
"It really sounds like this program was designed for this area," said Katie Burns, bird-friendly communities coordinator at Audubon Minnesota. "There's so many brilliant things that are happening here that plug directly in to what we're trying to accomplish in Bird City."
Burns - along with Carrol Henderson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nongame wildlife supervisor - gave an overview of the Bird City Project at the Crosslake gathering and what it might look like in the lakes area.
Henderson showed audience members a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study showing that more than 86 million people nationwide take part in some sort of nature- or wildlife-watching activity each year. About 88 percent of those people spend at least some of their outdoor time bird-watching, according to the study.
"Birds are ... I think, that beautiful element in the world that really kind of brings people together," Burns said.
Bird City recognizes communities for bird-friendly actions and provides a roadmap for the continuation and deepening of those actions through engaging people, increasing habitats and reducing threats.
Part of the reasoning behind the program, Burns said, is that birds are indicators of healthy environments, so efforts to care for the lakes area's bird population can actually help the environment as a whole.
"Birds can be very sensitive creatures. And we, in many ways throughout history and even currently, have used them as an indicator or a barometer for the health of the environment," she said. "When we know that bird populations are doing really well in terms of individual species ... that can be an indicator of a habitat that's really thriving."
Conversely, a decline in bird populations and species, Burns said, could indicate larger problems in an ecosystem.
"It's our responsibility ... as adults and leaders in our community, to get our kids and get younger people engaged and inspired so that they are those next generations of conserving these wild places that we live in and we enjoy," Burns said.
Crosslake Mayor Patty Norgaard and Pequot Lakes Mayor Nancy Adams said at the presentation that they hope this could be a collaborative project among Crosslake, Pequot Lakes, Jenkins and Breezy Point - all cities along the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway.
"For me, it's the excitement of doing it as an area, as a community," Adams said. "I think that's the most important thing."
Burns agreed, as several cities working together on the project could increase the impact.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for us to show, not only how individual communities can really spotlight what they're doing to be successful in Bird City, but also that it doesn't have to be something that one can do on their own, that you can have this connectivity to really bring communities together and to leverage a much larger area," she said.
Becoming a Bird City
To be recognized as a Bird City, communities must first adopt a resolution recognizing International Migratory Bird Day and plan an event to celebrate the occasion.
Communities must also complete seven of the 18 tasks from the project's best practices list, which all deal with educating the public, protecting bird habitats and reducing threats. A full list of best practices can be found at Right" target="_blank">mn.audubon.org/conservation/bird-city-best-practices. Right
Rightnow, pilot Bird City projects are underway in Hastings and St. Paul. Burns said Audubon will use those test runs - as well as inspiration from Wisconsin's Bird City project - to develop the program in Minnesota.
The goal, she said, is to eventually get at least 40 Minnesota cities to participate.
A committee made up of Norgaard, Burns, Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association Chair Cindy Nelson and Brainerd Lakes Area Audubon Society members Catherine McGoldrick and Michael Blassey met Wednesday, July 27, to discuss the city's application and how to proceed.
While still wanting to incorporate other cities along the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, the group decided to start by just making Crosslake a Bird City and see if other communities - like Pequot Lakes, Jenkins and Breezy Point - can join in the effort later. They would all be separate Bird Cities, but Burns said they could all use the byway as a common thread among them.
Committee members identified other people in the community to talk to about getting involved in the project - such as representatives from the DNR, the Army Corps of Engineers and the chambers of commerce - and discussed a possible relationship with the Crosslake Community School as well.
Burns said the Audubon Society has draft resolutions the city can work from, and Norgaard said it would be possible to bring a resolution before the city council as early as the August meeting.
The committee will meet again at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at Crosslake City Hall.
For more information on Bird City Minnesota, visit mn.audubon.org/conservation/bird-city-minnesota.