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Open Mic: The Question of East Coast Pelagic Boundaries

Open Mic: Nate Dias

Nate Dias, of Charleston, South Carolina, is SC’s top lister (life list and big year), has been a pelagic birder since the 1980s, and has organized pelagic trips out of Charleston off and on since the early 1990s.  His “day jobs” have included gigs as MIS Director for the Democratic National Committee, designing secure systems and networks for Wells Fargo Bank, and system engineering roles at multiple dot-coms.  He is also the director of the Cape Romain Bird Observatory, member of multiple bird conservation working groups, past member of the SC BRC, and past  SC Reviewer for project eBird.

–=====–

    When birders and state Bird Records Committees speak of a “state list” or a “first state record” – they are referring to bird species that have
been recorded within a state’s official legal boundaries, as determined by U.S. law and court decisions.  Whether on land or at sea, the legal borders of a state (or county or city) and its waters  *must*  be used in determining where a bird record is assigned.  Otherwise it’s not truly a “state list” in any real / official capacity.

There has been considerable discussion (and controversy) in recent years about state pelagic birding borders.  The American Birding
Association, eBird, and some state Bird Records Committees recognize what is known as the “closest point of land rule”.  This means that an offshore bird record from a given location / set of coordinates lies within the borders of the state that controls the closest point of land to those coordinates.  In U.S. law and international law, this is known as “the principle of equidistance” – i.e. offshore borders consist of a series of points that are equidistant from the closest points of land in the two neighboring states, nations, etc.

Other state Bird Records Committees recognize different borders – some consisting of east-west lines extended from their coastal land borders, others consisting of a variety of formulas.  Unfortunately, this second group of Bird Records Committees are in error by not following their respective states’ legal/official offshore borders.  Though most birders do not know it: U.S. law, U.S. courts, and U.S. federal agencies use the principle of equidistance (AKA closest point of land) to determine offshore state boundaries.  The U.S. Supreme Court has issued repeated opinions that this principle is to be used to determine offshore state boundaries (both in state waters and federal waters).

 

Pelagic-boundaries

Pelagic Boundaries as determined by closest point of land.

Background:  according to U.S. law, states only control waters between 0 and 3 miles from shore.  These are known as “State Submerged Lands” and are commonly referred to as “state waters” – they were reaffirmed in the Submerged Lands Act of 1953.  The exceptions are
Texas and the west coast of Florida, where State jurisdiction extends from the coastline to 10.066 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.  An offshore  border / boundary between state waters (0-3 miles from shore) is known as a “lateral seaward boundary“.

Waters in the 200-mile US Exclusive Economic Zone lying seaward of state coastal waters are under U.S. federal jurisdiction – as reaffirmed in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.  While resources from these 3-200 mile offshore waters are still assigned to states (examples:  oil & gas royalty revenue, fisheries revenue, wind energy fees and royalties, shipwrecks, reefs, etc.), the federal government has jurisdiction there and has decision-making authority on boundaries between states.  These federally-determined offshore state boundaries from 3-200 miles are known as
Offshore Administrative Boundaries“.

Trindade TJ

Herald (Trindade) Petrel, photo by Tom Johnson, used with permission. A state first, but for GA or SC?

Another term used in discussions of offshore boundaries is “baseline” – that means the officially-recognized coastline (which can shift over the years, particularly around river mouths and inlets).  The U.S. Government periodically updates the baseline for the entire U.S. coast (to
reflect changes to the coastline and to offshore islands).

Due to disputes among the states over offshore boundaries in federal waters: the federal Minerals Management Service, National Ocean Service, and State Department developed an updated nationwide baseline and applied the ‘principle of equidistance’ to it to produce an updated set of offshore boundaries seaward of the Submerged Lands Act’s state waters (3-200 miles offshore).  These updated offshore state boundaries, their methodology, and helpful background information (including maps) were published in the Federal Register in 2006:

* From the site linked, note this paragraph especially:

“The U.S. Baseline Committee has firmly established equidistance as the principle for domestic and international boundaries. The President formed the Committee in 1970 to resolve Federal baseline points from which to establish various jurisdictional and boundary issues, such as Federal/State boundary points and the extent of the territorial sea. The Committee has directed the  Department of the Interior and all other agencies to apply this standard in dealings with coastal states and for international purposes.”

In terms of state waters (0-3 miles from shore):

Boundaries between state offshore waters (AKA lateral seaward boundaries) have been litigated many times.  Texas v. Louisiana (1976) was a
noteworthy case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, as was Georgia v. South Carolina (1990).  In both cases (and others), the Supreme Court upheld the principle of equidistance for determining the lateral seaward boundary (border between state waters).   It should be noted that these two specific decisions only dealt with the lateral seaward boundary – i.e. the localized area around those states’ borders, out to the limit of state waters.

The following web application from NOAA is a neat tool for displaying states’ offshore boundaries (in both state and federal waters):
http://csc.noaa.gov/mmcviewer/

In addition to offshore borders, it can show all kinds of GIS layers overlaid on a marine map surrounding North America.  To see the
individual GIS layer checkboxes, you have to hit the little “+” buttons to expand the categories and reveal the checkboxes.  Note: the NOAA application requires Adobe Flash player.

 

Feas-Charleston1-crop

A state-first Fea’s Petrel seen at the Charleston Bump, but for SC or GA? photo by Nate Dias

 

You can display all the LEGAL + OFFICIAL state offshore borders by selecting 1) the Submerged Lands Act Boundaries, 2) the 200 nm EEZ boundary, 3) the Federal OCS Administrative boundaries and 4) the lateral seaward boundaries.  You will need to zoom in a good bit to see the state waters and their boundaries 0-3 miles from shore.

So to recap:  It is self-evident that a state bird list can only consist of birds recorded within a state’s legally defined boundaries (whether on land or at sea).    It should also be self-evident that a Bird Records Committee cannot change a state’s legally established boundaries at sea (AKA pelagic borders) any more than it can change a state’s legally established borders on land.   Since U.S. law stipulates that boundaries from 3-200 miles offshore are assigned to states via the principle of equidistance (closest point of land rule), then any bird records committee who fails to use this yardstick is at odds with the law and U.S. government policy (by which states are bound to observe).

Bottom line:  states (and therefore state BRCs) have no say in determining their boundaries in federal waters.  State waters and their boundaries are also a matter of law and have been thoroughly enumerated over the years.  So any BRC pronouncements about offshore boundaries are moot.  Such boundaries are already well-established, clearly defined, and a matter of law (even if the birding community is largely unaware of such facts).  Therefore all pelagic bird records should be submitted to the BRC of the state with jurisdiction over the nearest point of land.

Besides being legally correct, an added benefit of the closest point of land rule is that it is very simple and easy to apply, and it yields unambiguous results. Coming to grips with states’ true + legal pelagic borders will undoubtedly cause angst among birders from certain states who are on the short end of the law.  But states like Georgia and Rhode Island are still in much better seabirding shape than Nebraska.

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]
  • Great post.

  • Thanks for this exhaustive review of the subject, Nate! Makes sense to me.

  • Karl Etter

    Excellent article, I have a couple of questions unrelated to state boundaries.

    Has anyone developed a system of non-state pelagic zones?

    Are there specific oceanographic traits that define the range of a particular species?

    And finally, if these zones have been documented, does anyone track when and why a pelagic bird would stray from its normal zone?

    Thanks.

  • Very nicely summarized and the map is helpful too. As Nate says, the closest point of land is used by eBird not just in the US but globally to assign country/state/province and county (where applicable) to offshore waters. Although this may not have the strong legal foundation elsewhere that it does in the USA, it is, as Nate says, the simplest and easiest to define (and also the most stable, despite sea-level rise and erosion). It would be a great day if all state BRCs could agree on state boundaries!

  • Nice work Nate. CPL indeed seems to make the most sense, despite what a lot of folks might wish.

  • Rick Heil

    Very well made argument. Legalities and precedent aside, ‘closest point of land’ is the only consistent, logical, and non-arbitrary system for assigning an observation to a state or region.

  • greg

    Being a “principle” in Supreme Court decisions does not make it a matter of law, unless a specific boundary has been adjudicated by the Court. The Court uses a variety of other principles as well, particularly where the original colonies are concerned. Nor does publication in the Federal Register rise to the same level as an Act of Congress, which is the only body with the jurisdiction to establish state boundaries.

    Since states only control waters within the first 3 miles, you could just as legitimately argue that birds outside that distance should not be assigned to any state.

    The whole thing is silly, and trying to figure out what body of land you’re closest to when you’re on a pelagic trip is ridiculous. State bird committees should use whatever boundaries they want to make birding the most fun for their states.

  • Tom Brown

    Rick,

    the closest point of land doesn’t always work, there are regions in NY/NJ where this comes into play, and I would assume parts of rhode island as well. Paul Buckley ,with help from GIS people from URI, came up with a good system years ago that looks similar to the map that Nate has included in this post, but it includes states that do not have offshore boundaries extending to the EEZ to have “true” offshore boundaries.

    I think most of the argument for this stuff has to do with obsessive listers who need the boundaries defined for their tick marks.

  • Tom Brown

    I agree Greg!!!!!!! I’ve wondered how much of this discussion
    has been pushed by “state listers”.

  • Alan Wormington

    I thought Canada was part of the ABA!

  • Greg,

    I was not able to get into an exhaustive legal review in this post. I doubt anyone would have read it to the end. Instead, I intended this as a primer, from which people could take terms and laws like the OCS Lands Act, State Submerged Lands Act, etc. and then do further research if they needed more proof/convincing. I urge anyone interested to use this post and its terminology as a starting point and to use Google, Findlaw.com, and other resources for further investigation.

    US law says resources, any resources, from 3-200 miles offshore are assigned to states by the principle of equidistance. This is true of ALL resources from the wreck of the CSS Hunley, to oil and gas revenue, to documented bird records, etc. etc.

    It’s true Federal Reserve notices do not have weight of law, but the one I mentioned has great background info and references UNCLOS, The US Baseline Committee and other important concepts.

    Also if you think the following, I suppose you also think Nevada should be able to annex part of the Pacific Ocean for their state listers?:
    “State bird committees should use whatever boundaries they want to make birding the most fun for their states.”

  • Greg – let’s flip this around.

    If you are contending that the ‘principle of equidistance’ is *not* used to determine state boundaries (and all resource assignments) 3-200 miles from shore – can you cite anything to support that contention?

  • Morgan Churchill

    So is California, however I assume they focused on the states they did because those are where debates over jurisdiction go. I haven’t heard much debate over Canada Pelagic boundaries.

  • Alan Wormington

    In that case, show me a map with the boundaries!

  • greg

    I am not contending that ‘the principle of equidistance’ is *not* used’, because i am not contending anything about specific state boundaries. I’m not the one trying to tell state committees what to do. I do contend that a principle is not the same as a law.

    In fact, i believe alteration of state boundaries requires not just an Act of Congress, but the consent of both states as well, so principle or not, all your oceanic state boundaries are sheer imagination. (Well thought out imagination, i agree, but nevertheless.) I find it hard to believe the Supreme Court would look at the boundary of Virginia and North Carolina and not extend it straight out into the ocean, but it doesn’t matter much to me: i’m not the one trying to nail down every bird to a theoretically correct state.

    From a practical point of view, the closest piece of land is not always easy to identify, so I think there is a legitimate argument to be made for clarity over possible legal accuracy. And the number of “consistent, logical, and non-arbitrary” systems may be small, but it is certainly higher than one.

    If Nevada birders wants to claim part of the Pacific ocean, i think it’s kind of silly, but it wouldn’t bother me any.

  • Tom Robben

    Great questions Karl!
    A lot of pelagic birders would love to have that Big Picture of the oceans which you are asking for, and not just the shallow zones along the beach and in the first few miles off shore.

    Clearly one foundation for this is the deep ocean topography and the worldwide ocean currents (http://www.montereyinstitute.org/noaa/lesson08.html).

    Hopefully somebody can suggest some answers to your questions.

    Thanks, Tom

  • Tom Robben

    Here is the corrected URL without parentheses or period, for this interesting video about ocean currents….

    http://www.montereyinstitute.org/noaa/lesson08.html

  • Rick Heil

    Tom,

    CPL doesn’t work in what way? It might not ‘work’ for states with short, concave coastlines, but it is entirely consistent and non-arbitrary. Drawing lines straight out, or in any other random, arbitrary, man-made non-geographically based fashion for the sake of ‘fairness’ from state borders makes no sense to me. In what direction would you draw them? East, south, southeast, each in a different direction? It always seemed bizarre to me that an observation in waters closest to a given state coastline could be assigned to another states’ waters for the sake of fairness.

    The Maine coast faces mostly southeast, would you draw the boundary lines out due southeast, putting waters just off Cape Cod in Maine? The Rhode Island coast faces more to the south. Would you draw RI boundaries due south, but Maine southeast, and New Hampshire east?

    The Delaware River has tidal flow well up into Pennsylvania. For the sake of fairness to PA should we draw a zone down the middle of the river and extend it (east?) out to 200 nm?

    Regarding those obsessed with lists, one could make the reverse argument, that it is the birders from the states with limited pelagic zones by the nature of their states geography who are as obsessed with lists as much as anyone.

  • Ted Floyd

    Ah. California. I was waiting for somebody to bring this up. In California, the big question is COUNTY listing. They take it more seriously out there than many East Coasters take state listing. It would be fascinating to see this principle of equidistance applied to the offshore waters for California counties–and the howls of protest that would ensue, y’know, as Monterey County devours Santa Cruz County’s bird list… 🙂

    Joe Morlan? Don Roberson? Jennifer Rycenga? Y’all out there? Can you tell us anything about California?

    By the way: Great post, Nate. No, not you, Nate. Y’know, the other Carolina Nate. My head is spinning.

  • Ted Floyd

    Aha. I just saw this, on another list:

    An important bit of reading for all coastal state BRC members is on the American Birding Association Blog:

    http://blog.aba.org/

    Enlightened states like California and Florida already have their house in order, but many other states do not…

    Nathan Dias – Charleston, SC

  • Greg,

    Please read my post and its references more closely.

    The State Submerged Lands act WAS passed by Congress and signed by the President. So was the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. And the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (giving equidistance the weight of law) was ratified by Congress.

    I am not saying anything about changing boundaries. I am saying the boundaries, based on the principle of equidistance, have been there (and settled) for a long time.

    It’s just that most birders (including BRC members) were unaware of this…

    It boils down to this:
    1. States’ legal boundaries must be used for state bird lists and first state records, etc.
    2. An inquiry into states’ legal boundaries at sea will lead to the conclusion that the principle of equidistance (AKA closest point of land) is clearly the standard for setting at-sea state boundaries.

  • Terry Bronson

    Somewhat related is the question of boundaries within the interior of the U.S. where rivers or lakes form state boundaries. For example, I’ve been told that the Ohio River between WV and OH, except for certain backwaters, is historically and legally part of WV since WV was originally part of VA and the colonial land grants extended that state’s boundaries to include the OH. Similar deal with MD and DC vs. VA, I think. And there’s a host of possibilities with the Mississippi, Colorado, Columbia, Missouri, Delaware, and a few smaller rivers, not to mention the Great Lakes, which also affects Canada, and the Rio Grande, which affects Mexico.

  • If I see a bird flying over the Gulf of Mexico at an altitude >1200 ft more than 12 miles offshore, what list do I put it on? Can someone tell me where the NPOL rule stops and the NPOA (nearest-point-of-airspace) rule begins? At some point isn’t the bird in international airspace and can’t be legally assigned to any state?

    How about this for a plan?:
    1. If you are reporting rarities or totals to ABA or eBird, use their rules.
    2. If you are reporting to a state organization, use their rules.
    3. If you are doing actual scientific work, use the lat/long position and ignore artificial boundaries and politics.

    If two states claim the same waters, smile and go birding there. Just make sure and report your observations to at least one of them and be sure to include the lat/longs.

    If two birders can’t agree on whose state list is ‘legal’, shake hands about it and go birding together. Isn’t it all just a game anyway? The birds certainly don’t care.

    Steve McConnell
    ABRC Secretary
    Hartselle, AL

  • Ted – I am conducting a growing number of pelagic trips out of California (Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay). Indeed county listing is a big deal here, and some of my trips have been San Francisco focused or San Mateo county focused to give some examples. Also on any pelagic trip we have lots of local folks interested in which county waters we are in. We use the principle of equidistance, and have have for a long time. Don Roberson thought about the topic and brought it to everyone’s attention here many moons ago. Some counties get gobbled by others (Santa Cruz is one that comes to mind), but it is just the way it is. I don’t think it causes any debate here. It would be like debating where the land based county border is, no one would do it. From my experience it is very easy to apply, I created county lines on google earth and have them on my GPS when I am on the boat to know roughly where they are. But then if we have a Hawaiian Petrel or Flesh-foot that we need to figure out, I take the coordinates, get home and measure it out on google earth in minutes. It is pretty easy to do, and entirely unambiguous. This year we had Hawaiian Petrel in San Mateo and San Francisco counties 🙂

  • greg

    zactly

  • I have no problem with any dispensation used for the hobby of listing – after all, this has nothing to do with science, really, but is rather a game with players and rules and boundaries. The most avid listers make the rules, at least eventually, so if future listers decide that the nearest point of land is the way to go, then that’s what the game board will look like. It’s nothing to worry too much about, either way.

    State records committees have nothing to do with the game of listing. They exist in order to maintain avifaunal lists, and they set up their own review areas. Some committees do a lot more than that, but all of them at least maintain a list of what species have been satisfactorily documented in a state. It’s true that some listers use a state’s (or province’s) official list for game purposes. That’s fine. Other listers do not – they keep species/taxa on their lists that are not on the state’s official lists. That’s fine, too.

    In Virginia, the new arrangement proposed herein would eliminate most of the pelagic waters reviewed by the state’s records committee for the past three or so decades. Most pelagic trips are taken out of Virginia Beach or Chincoteague, and those waters would be assigned to North Carolina and Maryland, for the most part, in the new scheme. The VARCOM (Virginia Committee) extends boundaries eastward from the states’ two coastal borders, very simply. Maryland and North Carolina committees both respect these boundaries and share them. The coastlines of our states, especially Carolina and Virginia, shift a great deal over time to the east and west, depending on storms. So presumably “nearest point of land” would mean “nearest point of land on the day of the observation”? Fun.

    It’s interesting that no one seems to be bothered by the fact that decades of published and reviewed records would need to be reassigned if the new listing scheme were to be put into effect. I don’t hear a lot of people clamoring to do the many hundreds of hours of work there …

    But fortunately, there need be no change in review areas for committees. There is no conflict between the proposed scheme and the long-settled avifaunal review areas of most state committees, because there is no necessary relationship between the work of an avifaunal committee and the game of bird listing. I think this point has been made by others (for instance, California counties don’t have separate review committees, right? these are listing boundaries).

  • Todd Michael Day

    It is sort of hard to think that South Carolina and Florida share a border, as well as Maryland and North Carolina. It is also tough to come to the realization that Massachusetts extends as far south as Maryland. Whether this is the best solution or not, many birders will plot their pelagic birds at a known point in the state and count them accordingly. This will be tough to police.

  • Steve,

    Whether you see a bird at high altitude over land (Birmingham for example), or over the Gulf of Mexico – the record still falls within the LEGAL BORDERS of the state in question. Your rare scenario does not really change anything.

    Also: I have been avoiding bringing related issues to light, since some involve dirty laundry and I also don’t want to give people bad ideas. But I feel I need to mention one example to help combat the notion that this is all simply quibbling over listing minutia.

    To whit:
    Sadly, certain people are forging eBird location info from pelagic trips, in order to game the system from a personal listing perspective (since eBird uses closest point of land). People are also entering duplicate lists (with falsified location info) into eBird for the same reason.

    I am not really letting the cat out of the bag by mentioning this, since Marshall Iliff mentioned it in a Seabird-News post: http://birding.aba.org/message.php?mesid=209818&MLID=SEA&MLNM=Seabird%20News

    This has conservation implications (which is NOT a game). For example, falsified lists containing Black-capped Petrels, Fea’s Petrels, etc. have been submitted to eBird and have made it into the database. So for example, going by such falsified lists, future researchers and conservationists might mistakenly believe those Pterodroma Petrels occur in very shallow water very close to shore.

    Plus other examples.

    * How about this simpler plan that does not tempt people into falsifying citizen-science data (and other bad outcomes): Bird records committees all recognize legal offshore boundaries like they have been recognizing legal onshore boundaries all along.

    Ned’s post reminded me of a possible reason for BRC resistance towards recognizing at-sea legal boundaries:
    If BRCs would rather not have to revisit all past pelagic submissions, there are options available. Such as: grandfather in all the old stuff and start using legal offshore boundaries from now forward…

  • Ned’s post reminded me of a possible reason for BRC resistance towards recognizing at-sea legal boundaries:

    If BRCs would rather not have to revisit all past pelagic submissions, there are options available. One potential option: grandfather in all the old stuff and start using legal offshore boundaries from now forward…

  • Nate’s suggestion to mix records from multiple areas in state-level databases does not work for me, but it would not surprise me if some committees change their by-laws to have “historical” seabird records segregated from modern ones in the fashion he suggests. My point wasn’t at all that BRCs should or should not recognize the new areas proposed for listers. My point is that BRCs have no relationship with listing games at all. So there is no need to harmonize what BRCs do with what game-players do. This is not just true of seabird records: state BRCs do not instruct listers on what they may and may not “count”, whether a vagrant or an introduced species or some gray-area bird that could be an escapee. It’s fine if some listers want to use state committee decisions to guide them in what they include on their lists, but that sort of piggybacking is not part of the mission or by-laws of these committees. (Or do some state committees have by-laws that explicitly invoke authority as to the countability of birds?? I don’t know of any.)

  • Tom Robben

    As was suggested previously on SeabirdNews, eBird could add the ability for individual birders to indicate a PLC Personal Location Category for any of their bird sightings. So the GPS coordinates would continue to be used by eBird and its Nearest Point Of Land algorithm, while the birder’s specification of his/her own PLC would also allow the birder to continue using whatever state (or county) listing area they have been using for decades. Maybe this would be the best-of-both-worlds solution. Thanks.

  • Ted Floyd

    If I’m reading Nate Dias right, the gold standard is the official, on-the-books, legal, binding state boundary.

    If it were discovered today that, for the past three decades, the North Carolina Bird Records Committee had been accidentally evaluating records from Virginia portions of Kerr Reservoir, I’m guessing the records in question would be transferred to the Virginia committee’s “jurisdiction.”

    A different situation is one in which a state’s boundaries really do change. I recall discussion of this years ago, when the Iowa-Nebraska border shifted (due to the shifting course of the Missouri River). The question then arose: Any effects on old bird records for Iowa and Nebraska??

    And, of course, one can think of any of a number of “personal” situations. My first time in Guadalupe Canyon, I got all mixed up with the boundaries among New Mexico, Arizona, and Sonora. If it were important to know where I was (don’t worry, I didn’t see anything especially rare!), I could probably determine which state or states I was in. And I would apply legal, “official” boundaries to such determinations.

    Which brings us back to the matter of Virginia’s official boundaries. Sure, the Virginia committee can poach on Maryland and North Carolina waters; and maybe Virginia could say to North Carolina, “Guys, take Kerr, the whole thing; it’s just too much trouble!”

    Such stuff happens all the time, and not just in the birding realm: Up in the sw. NYC metro area, some of the greatest mysteries in human history swirl around the questions of who has jurisdiction over the New York Giants, the Statue of Liberty, toll collection on the Outerbridge Crossing, garbage-laden barges adrift in Raritan Bay, and, most of all, what the heck to do with Staten Island.

    So, sure, just divvy it all up according to local customs, preferences, and traditions. Which I take to be Ned’s point.

    That said, I’m attracted to the overriding logic of Nate’s argument. Just abide by the actual, “official,” legal state boundaries–whether along the remote, wilderness boundaries of Idaho and Montana, whether along the shifting Missouri River boundaries of Iowa and Nebraska, or whether along the offshore administrative boundaries of North Carolina and Virginia.

  • Methinks Ned doth misunderstand me!

    It was probably a mistake to have used the word “list” in my post…

    I was referring to the official state ornithological record that each state BRC maintains (and votes whether to accept sight records into). Many BRCs refer to this as their “Official Bird List”:
    http://www.carolinabirdclub.org/brc/checklist_of_North_Carolina_birds.html

    I *never* meant to suggest that BRCs have authority over people’s personal life lists. I am the last person on earth who would say that! People’s own personal listing criteria are their own business (unless they are submitting material to the ABA Big Day and List Report, which has its own rules + playing field).

    What I am saying is that a STATE Bird Records Committee should only be reviewing records from within the legal boundaries of the STATE in question. Otherwise, it’s not really a State Bird Records Committee. And having some state BRCs recognize legal state boundaries and other BRCs making up their own state boundaries opens the door to duplicate coverage and coverage gaps. Plus other problems like the eBird data falsification I mentioned in a previous comment…

    What I am “proposing” is not new – states like California have observed legal at-sea boundaries for some time. What would be new in some cases is for certain bird records committees to start observing their states’ true + legal boundaries in terms of review areas.

    Since past sight records have been reviewed and voted on by competent BRCs, I do not see a burning need to hurry through reams of past material to “reassign” them. But if a state BRC knows of a historical record with accurate location info and wishes to add it to its state’s official ornithological record based on the legal boundaries of their state – so be it.

  • Ted Floyd

    Something else. Ned says:

      “It’s interesting that no one seems to be bothered by the fact that decades of published and reviewed records would need to be reassigned if the new listing scheme were to be put into effect. I don’t hear a lot of people clamoring to do the many hundreds of hours of work there…”

      “But fortunately, there need be no change in review areas for committees. There is no conflict between the proposed scheme and the long-settled avifaunal review areas of most state committees, because there is no necessary relationship between the work of an avifaunal committee and the game of bird listing.”

    Let’s leave bird listing out of it. The question remains: Should state and provincial records committees observe official boundaries? Or not?

    I say Yes. It makes sense to do it right. As to reassigning all those old records, that’s thrilling, as far as I’m concerned. But you know me!–I like species splitting and checklist shuffling, new paradigms and new modes of thought, hope and change…

    And I really like bird records committees–to the extent that they can evolve and adapt to current trends in field ornithology. I like records committees when they gladly pass the torch along, but not so much when they stubbornly preserve old traditions.

    YMMV, I well realize.

  • I think it has been clear for many years that California counties use equidistance. How many state-level BRCs use equidistance in the East and Gulf? I’m sure that Massachusetts and the Carolinas would consider doing so, if they don’t already – heck, that’s over 126MM acres, most of the pelagic waters north of Florida. I don’t find it a problem that eBird (in which the listing game is heavily foregrounded – and there is no way to opt out of the listing games, other than to hide personal records from output) uses equidistance for listing purposes. And eBird appears to be the latest locus of the discussion about equidistance. In the instance I cited above, regarding MD/VA and VA/NC boundaries, there is no question of overlap or gaps, no conflict or problem. Nothing needs to be solved. Books on state-level avifauna have been generated for several generations now, and records in state journals and in North American Birds have state-level attribution. If Virginia is to retain but a small wedge of its pelagic waters in the new dispensation, then woe unto the person who has to reckon, seabird by seabird, what stays and what goes. I’m not sure what value there would be in such an exercise. (I think if Ted or others want to volunteer the 1000+ hours, that would be another matter! Anyone?)

    In so many cases, the impetus behind birding pelagic trips has been state-level listing, even more than ABA Area listing. The information on seabirds has been gathered, since the late 1960s, by people willing to put in the effort, money, seasickness, etc. because they understood they were in waters attributed to one state or another state. So, to say the proposal has to do with legalities as decreed by the Supreme Court (that remarkably biased group of folks) is fine but disregards the history of pelagic birding/listing. I understand that eBirders want to be able to keep their lists by state and county, and I understand that the eBird team wants the data received by the project to be as accurate as possible. And so in order for the eBird listing games to function, the program needs a standard that is easily calculated. That makes sense. And why do these listing games need to be part of eBird? Well, it seems they are there in order to leverage a propensity toward lists that many birders have; in other words, we will provide the game board and score cards, if you provide the status/distribution raw data. (The relationship between fanning the flames of listing desire and receiving accurate data could be debated, but elsewhere.) But in fact, there is no necessity to have pelagic records tied to a state or to a county at all, Supreme Court or no. These could be in an Atlantic Ocean category or similar. (Many of my own pelagic eBird records are listed as “XX-” region and occur on no list at all. Oddly, my Atlantic list only has Bermuda birds on it! But I don’t mind – I don’t use eBird for keeping an Atlantic Ocean list. I like eBird most because it’s a great way to look up old records quickly.)

    My own personal preference? That ocean waters have no connection at all to states – those should be presented otherwise (in NAB, for instance, I think they should have their own “regional report”). But this is not the sentiment of many people who go to sea in search of seabirds. Because pelagic records in the East have been fueled largely by listers, and state listers overwhelmingly, very few people would be made happy by the commonsense approach that acknowledges that a White-faced Storm-Petrel seen at a point equidistant from land in MD, NJ, and DE does not have much to do with those states. (And yes, one such record exists.) So, in case my point hasn’t been clear: I have no problem with how listing gamers want to divide up the ocean. If BRCs also decide to revise how their bylaws define their reviewable areas, whether from pressure from listers or from the Supreme Court, then that’s fine too. But in areas where the system works without problem or controversy, there seems to be little gained. (Unless you’re a lister in states that gain a lot of ocean, e.g., Maryland, Massachusetts, or the Carolinas….)

  • In the discussion, I think “NPOL” is probably the best shorthand for the standard under discussion – I didn’t mean to muddy the waters by using “equidistance” as synonym here – sorry about that.

  • Ned Brinkley asked: “How many state-level BRCs use equidistance (AKA NPOL) in the East and Gulf?”

    According to their bylaws, the following states definitely use NPOL: Louisiana, Alabama, Florida

    Possibly:
    – New Jersey. The NJBRC bylaws sate: “Boundaries. Reports from the state of New Jersey and adjacent ocean (as defined by US and State law and the Committee) will be reviewed.”

    Mixed bag:
    – Rhode Island. See their bylaws for the complicated story.

    Unknown (unable to tell from web searches): Mississippi, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine. Perhaps someone from those BRCs could chime in and let us know.

    No formal position (yet) on at-sea state boundaries: (according to their bylaws): North Carolina and South Carolina.

    Up in the air: Georgia. BRC members have mentioned moving to a policy of using legal at-sea boundary definitions from Georgia’s charter – but that boundary (and the Supreme Court decision regarding it in Georgia v. South Carolina 1990) only applies to state territorial waters. As I documented in detail, federally determined state resource boundaries from 3-200 miles offshore use NPOL. So if the GA BRC really intends to settle upon legal at-sea boundaries then NPOL would seem to be it. Stay tuned I guess.

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