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1 January 2008 The International Politics of Bird Conservation: Biodiversity, Regionalism and Global Governance

—Robert Boardman, McCulloch Professor of Political Science at Dalhousie University, approaches bird conservation from the perspective of a political historian rather than that of an ornithologist or practicing conservation biologist. His book's eight chapters are wide-ranging, covering the history of bird conservation on all continents and discussing a wide variety of avian conservation issues. This material is used by the author to delve deeply into the causes of, and possible solutions for, our most pressing conservation problems.

After the first chapter (“Framing Birds”), which is somewhat difficult to follow, the second chapter (“The Biodiversity Project”) addresses topics in bird ecology and conservation—especially interactions between birds and people—that are referred to later in the book. Boardman discusses the origins of bird conservation, describing 1870-1970 as the “early years.” He includes events and developments around the world while emphasizing those in the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America. He then discusses three trends that became prominent in the 1970s: international conventions (e.g., CITES, RAMSAR), the environmental movement, and the rise of national and international bird-conservation groups. The chapter ends with a discussion of why controversies arise over bird conservation. The author focuses on the diversity of the organizations usually involved and on the political differences among them. Here, as elsewhere in the book, Broadman's expertise in political science lets him identify underlying causes of conflict that may not be apparent to biologists.

The next two chapters discuss bird conservation in North America and Europe. Boardman discusses bird conservation in North America using four themes: migratory birds; species at risk; trade liberalization, especially under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and what he calls “multi-actor/multilevel linkages.” His comments on the first two will be familiar to most biologists, but his emphasis on NAFTA may be surprising to many. He stresses the importance of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) under NAFTA as well as the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), whereas I believe that most observers would characterize these groups as not yet having had a significant influence on bird conservation in North America. Another provocative view is that “non-governmental organizations have been the main drivers of conservation in North America for more than a century.” I suspect that many in federal, provincial, and state agencies would disagree, despite the evidence he presents in support of his views. I found his discussion of bird conservation in Europe—and of how multinational efforts, especially those of the European Union, have led to much stronger international conservation groups than we have in North America—especially interesting.

Chapter 6 discusses relations between more and less developed continents that share migratory birds: North and South America, Europe and Africa, and eastern and southeastern Asia. Throughout, Boardman emphasizes the importance of economic factors, such as the type of economy (e.g., crop-based vs. industrialized) and the wealth or power of the counties, in determining how conservation issues are approached. Here as elsewhere, he brings a fresh and useful perspective to the discussion of why conservation efforts have succeeded or failed and how future efforts can be more successful. Given the critical importance of developing areas in bird conservation and the dependence of these areas on wealthier nations, the discussion in this chapter should be of particular interest to those working on international bird conservation.

The last of the regional chapters discusses the polar regions, though Boardman emphasizes that they have great differences from a bird-conservation perspective. As in other chapters, he concentrates on organizations devoted to bird conservation and on how well they have functioned, rather than on the issues themselves. He discusses programs of the Arctic Council, especially the Programme for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), in detail, generally giving these activities more prominencethan I would have expected. In the Antarctic, he concentrates on the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) and the many difficulties of insuring adequate conservation in the Antarctic. The detailed account of conservation efforts through 2004 will be of interest to anyone working in this important region.

Boardman opens the final chapter by posing the questions that the book attempts to answer: “What are the governance arrangements for conserving the world's bird biodiversity? How are these structured and what factors create, nourish and stunt them?” He repeats his belief that government agencies cannot, by themselves, achieve effective bird conservation, remarking, for example, that if “governments were to be removed from the world of bird conservation, a large chunk of the overall global effort would still thrive.” He adds, however, that “neither states nor NGOs acting in isolation from the other hold the key to effective long-term conservation.” Turning to ways of improving bird-conservation activities, he rejects the creation of a mega-bird-conservation organization comparable to the World Health Organization or World Trade Organization, not only because creating such an organization would be impractical but, more importantly, because “it is not self-evident that such an institution would augment significantly the stock of conservation achievements attainable by other means.” Instead, he advises bird-conservation professionals to focus on stronger links between regions, especially North America and Europe; more sophisticated “flyway organizations”; enhanced data repositories; and improved multilateral environmental agreements of several specific types.

Overall, this book presents a comprehensive review of what has worked or not worked in bird conservation around the world and how we can achieve more success in future efforts. Although I often found the writing difficult, the emphasis on foundational or structural features of economic, political, and government systems, and their influence on bird conservation outcomes, is a fresh and useful perspective and one that all conservation biologists would benefit from studying.

"The International Politics of Bird Conservation: Biodiversity, Regionalism and Global Governance," The Auk 125(1), 246-247, (1 January 2008).
Published: 1 January 2008

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