Why the Packard Foundation Is the Biggest Funder of Marine Bird Conservation

The David and Lucille Packard Foundation is one of the largest foundations in the country, yet it still finds time for the birds. Its Marine Bird Initiative funded $22.4 million in projects between 2006 and 2012, and the 2013 "Five-Year Evaluation" of the subprogram found the Packard Foundation to be a "leader of marine bird conservation." (See Packard Foundation: Grants for Marine and Rivers.)

The Marine Bird subprogram focuses on restoring seabird and shorebird populations through three main initiatives. These include habitat restoration, seabird bycatch mitigation, and removal of invasive mammal species from critical island habitats. Although the foundation sometimes offers grants for scientific research, these grants are very limited and highly selective. (Read Director of Science and Conservation Walt Reid's IP profile).

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has placed priority on island eradications of mammal species in the past. In the 2006-2012 period, this aspect of the subprogram received 60% of all Marine Bird funding. The initiative has been global in scope, with invasive-predator removal occurring in Mexico, the Western Pacific, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Packard focuses on islands where there is a high chance of eradication and a low likelihood of reinvasion.

In terms of bycatch mitigation, Packard has focused on designing and improving technologies and policies in major Pacific fisheries. Grantees that can provide technical advice to regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and NGOs that advocate for bycatch reduction appear to be preferred. In terms of habitat restoration, the Packard Foundation is mainly focused on the Pacific Flyway, a major route of travel for migratory birds heading from Alaska to Patagonia (or vice versa). Investments in shorebird habitat restoration projects often include enhancements on agricultural lands, restoration of wetlands, and the building of local capacity for shorebird conservation.

According to the five-year evaluation of Packard's initiative, the Marine Bird subprogram is "seen by most as having a far larger impact on marine bird conservation than any other private funder." The foundation appears committed to marine bird conservation going forward, which should be a relief to the 40-plus species of shorebirds currently listed as "threatened" or "near-threatened."