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A Little-Known Christmas Tradition "On the Wing" in NM

December 13, 2011

SANTA FE, N.M. - It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the Christmas Bird Count! The National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count brings citizens out to search the skies for the 112th year in a row. One of goals of the count is affirmation of a healthy bird population, although dark clouds could be gathering from legislation in the nation's capital.

Staci Stevens, communications and policy manager with the New Mexico Audubon Society, says the basic pillars of habitat protection are under threat from policymakers in Congress.

"For example, HR 1581, which has been described as the 'Great Outdoors Giveaway Act,' would remove protections from over 60 million acres of public lands in the U.S., including over two million acres in New Mexico alone."

Stevens is also critical of HR 2852, which entails transferring federal land to state ownership; and HR 1505, which opponents say weakens three dozen environmental laws along U.S. borders, affecting the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Gill Sorg, a Las Cruces city councilor, also opposes weakening environmental laws.

"The way that's written, it's going to ruin a lot of the lands we have along the border. I'm definitely against the 1505. This is an economic and wildlife issue."

Supporters of the bills say they would reduce government spending and regulations.

Roswell businessman Steven Smith participates in the count and sees a vital connection between birds and business.

"The Audubon Christmas Bird Count has become a reminder of the important role of protected lands to bird populations and to our economy. And, we also know that healthy bird populations attract tourists while supporting jobs and businesses throughout New Mexico."

The nonprofit Outdoor Industry Association says outdoor recreation in New Mexico supports 47,000 jobs and contributes almost $4 billion annually to the state's economy.

Robert Templeton, who compiles the Christmas Bird Count or "CBC" for Dixon, New Mexico, says the count also helps document phenomena related to climate change, like the white-winged dove moving north.

"The CBC isn't just monitoring birds, it's monitoring the ecosystem. It's monitoring the human life-support system."

The bird count runs from mid-December to early January.

Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM