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Air Pollution Laws May Have Saved Over 1.5 Billion Birds, According To New Study From Cornell


Countless human lives have been saved in the past forty years since pollution regulations were enacted into American law, but fighting dirty air has saved birds, too.

Photo by Gerrit Vyn, Cornell

A new large-scale study by scientists at Cornell University and the University of Oregon found that improving air quality under a federal program to reduce ozone pollution may have prevented the loss of 1.5 billion birds during the seasons. last four decades.

That is almost 20% of the birdlife in the United States today.

“Our research shows that the benefits of environmental regulation have probably been underestimated,” says Ivan Rudik, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Ruth and William Morgan at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “Reducing pollution has positive impacts in unexpected places and provides additional political leverage for conservation efforts.”

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Ozone is a gas found in nature, but it is also produced by power plants, factories, and car emissions. It can be good or bad. An ozone layer in the upper atmosphere protects Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. But ground-level ozone is dangerous and is the main pollutant in smog.

To examine the relationship between bird abundance and air pollution, the researchers used models that combined observations of birds from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. EBird Program with ground level contamination data and existing regulations.

They tracked monthly changes in bird abundance, air quality, and regulatory status for 3,214 US counties over a 15-year period. The team focused on the NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) Budget Trading Program, which was implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health by limiting emissions of ozone precursors from large industrial sources during summer.

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The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that ozone pollution is most detrimental to small migratory birds (such as sparrows, warblers, and finches) that make up 86 percent of all North American landbird species. Ozone pollution directly harms birds by damaging their respiratory system and indirectly affects populations by damaging their food sources.

“Ozone can not only cause direct physical damage to birds, but it can also compromise plant health and reduce the number of insects that birds consume,” explains study author Amanda Rodewald, a Garvin Professor in the Department of Cornell Natural Resources and Environment and director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

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“It is not surprising that birds that cannot access high-quality habitats or food resources are less likely to survive or reproduce successfully. The good news here is that environmental policies designed to protect human health also have significant benefits for birds. “

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