Faculty voice:

Jen Owen: Birds in the Anthropocene

July 5, 2017

Jen Owen is an associate professor at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine. At the end of this month, she will join researchers and bird enthusiasts from all over North America at MSU for “Birds in the Anthropocene,” the continent’s largest scientific conference dedicated to the study of birds.

This is the 135th annual meeting of the American Ornithological Society (formerly the American Ornithologists’ Union). This year, we are jointly hosting the meeting with the Society for Canadian Ornithologists, making it a rare and exciting opportunity to be hosting it at MSU!

We designated the theme of the conference, "Birds in the Anthropocene", because it highlights work being done in Michigan, the Great Lakes, and around the world.  Specifically, ornithologists are working with people in food production to find ways to conserve birds and their habitat needs while facilitating the economic and social benefits that birds can bring to agricultural production.

Our featured keynote speaker, Deborah Cramer, an MIT scholar and environmental writer, has written several popular books about science, nature and the environment. Recently published is her captivating book, “The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey,” for which she received many awards including the Rachel Carson Book Award, National Academy of Sciences Keck Communications Award Best Book in 2016 and the Reed Award in Environmental Writing.

In following the “Birds in the Anthropocene” theme, we are working to reduce our carbon footprint, support our local economy, and promote bird conservation through our role as host. We want to make lasting and profound changes to the way we run these meetings, so our ultimate goal is for these practices to become the standard for the future.

We are aiming for an almost waste-free conference by excluding disposable utensils and dishes, food that comes in wrappers, printed programs, flyer inserts in registration materials, bottled water and cans of soda and juice.

We are going to use local sources of food. In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of our selected food, we are also supporting local farmers and the state economy. Michigan has a strong agricultural history and is exhibiting a recent surge of small-scale farms and farmer’s markets, which support the current (and hopefully future) local and slow food movements, in turn combating climate change.

Not only will the food and beverages be local, but we are selecting vendors who use only sustainable practices to reduce their own carbon footprint during production and who implement policies and technologies that reduce their environmental impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Michigan beers will be obtained from companies that use locally-sourced materials, exercise sustainable practices, and/or are certified organic.

Coffee served at the meeting will be Rainforest Alliance Certified and Bird Friendly certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and roasted by a local Lansing coffee roaster.

In short, we are striving to host an international scientific conference at MSU that benefits local farmers, brewers and growers, while also providing great food to attendees and minimizing our carbon footprint.

We will be featuring a local, eco-friendly band, The Ragbirds, to play at our annual Bird Band Jam. The band is committed to living and working in an environmentally-conscious way, and they even converted their diesel tour van to run on waste vegetable oil!