Mobilising citizen scientists is aiding climate planning in Washington, USA

Songbird surveyors © Heather Findlay

Citizen scientists in Eastern Washington are monitoring sagebrush songbirds in a long-term programme coordinated by the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA). The programme utilises data covering 1 million acres of habitat to inform large-scale conservation action and climate planning. 

Conservation planning is increasingly integrating climate change concerns and will need to be flexible and dynamic in the future. While existing conservation goals usually remain valid, specific objectives are being redefined. Enhanced monitoring is essential to detect climate-induced changes in bird populations, to inform spatial planning and to track the effectiveness of adaptation interventions.

The shrub steppe ecosystem once covered nearly 300 million acres across northern America, but has since seen declines of between 40-60%. The ecosystem is threatened largely by land use change, with Washington state seeing some of the largest changes. The shrub-steppe ecosystem is now only 30% of its original extent in eastern Washington, with 98% of this change being due to agriculture (McClure, undated). These changes are of particular concern for birds (Knick et al. 2003), with 21 species associated with this ecosystem being considered priority species for conservation (Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2015).

Audubon Washington and the Washington Department of Wildlife (WDFW) have established a long-term avian census in the shrub steppe ecosystem and a new collaborative partnership has also been formed between the National Audubon Society and ESRI to obtain further survey sites. Online ArcGIS has been used to assess survey sites which were then ground-truthed by project volunteers. Monitoring of these bird populations will be an important contribution to their conservation, and will help inform large scale climate planning.

This case study is taken from ‘The Messengers: What birds tell us about threats from climate change and solutions for nature and people’. To download the report in full click here. 



Songbird survey eastern Washington


Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology (2015) Sagebrush Songbird Survey. Available at:
Knick, S. T., Dobkin, D. S., Rotenberry, J. T., Schroeder, M. A., Haegen, W. M. V., van Riper, C. (2003)Teetering on the edge or too late? Conservation and research issues for avifauna of sagebrush habitats. The Condor 105: 611–634.
McClure, D. (undated) Shrub Steppe: The Forgotten Ecosystem of Eastern Washington. Available at:

Compiled: 2015    Copyright: 2015   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2015) Mobilising citizen scientists is aiding climate planning in Washington, USA. Downloaded from on 04/12/2023