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Hastings is Minnesota’s first official ‘Bird City’

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Joanna Eckles, left, presents Hastings representatives Kevin Smith (Hastings Environmental Protectors), Jennifer Vieth (Carpenter Nature Center) and Chris Jenkins (Hastings Parks and Recreation Department) with a flag and plaques recognizing their efforts to make Hastings the state's first official Bird City. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)2 / 3
Joanna Eckles, left, and Kevin Smith show off the new signs that will mark Hastings as an official Bird City. (Star Gazette Photo by Katrina Styx)3 / 3

Audubon Minnesota announced last week that Hastings has been recognized as the state’s first Bird City. The announcement was made at the Earth Day Birding Festival on Saturday, April 23, at the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center.

Bird City is a unique pilot program to encourage urban bird conservation. The city is being saluted for its long-term commitment to creating bird habitat, reducing threats to birds, and engaging citizens in birding, bird conservation and outdoor recreation.

“Birds are an amazing connector,” said Joanna Eckles, Audubon Minnesota’s Bird-Friendly Communities Manager. “Bird City has the ability to bring people together with a shared purpose – to make the whole community stronger and healthier for birds and for people.”

Bird City Minnesota is coordinated by Audubon Minnesota and modeled after successful programs in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Bird City Minnesota fosters civic engagement and locally led partnerships to create healthy communities for birds and people. Program requirements focus on habitat protection, improvement and creation, public engagement and threat reduction. Communities that meet a specific number of best practices are eligible to become a Bird City. They can renew annually for as long as they continue their conservation work.

Over a year ago, Carpenter Nature Center Director Jennifer Vieth approached Hastings City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee to gauge her interest in applying to be a Bird City. The response was enthusiastic. Since then, a team from Carpenter Nature Center, Hastings Environmental Protectors and the City of Hastings has provided input on the development of the program and application materials. Similar teams in the cities of Saint Paul and Northfield are also lending their experience and expertise to the program as pilot cities and they hope to be recognized by Bird City Minnesota in the near future.

Hastings is being recognized for increasing awareness of birds and special birding resources through the creation of the Hastings Birding Guide and checklist and for their promotion of local Important Bird Areas. The city is also being recognized for encouraging the use of native plants to create bird habitat in place of manicured lawn.

The community has also been active in citizen science and public birding events, including the annual Chimney Swift Sit, Christmas Bird Count and the ongoing Bluebird Recovery Program and Youth Birding Competition. To address risks to birds, the city prioritized bird safety in the design of the new Highway 61 Bridge, which uses a programmable low lighting scheme. Hastings has made changes to pesticide use policies and has made efforts to reduce climate impacts by reducing energy use and carbon emissions.

Over the next six months, Audubon Minnesota will work with the pilot cities and other partners to assess the results of the initial pilot program. By fall 2016, Audubon Minnesota plans to take Bird City Minnesota applications from interested communities throughout the state.

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