American Birding Podcast



The ABA Area in 2012—What Should Be In and What Should Be Out?



Hawaii. Attu. Saint Pierre. Which should be in the ABA Area and which, if any, should be out?
Images by:  SteveD./Steve Dunleavy (Hawaii); alaskanet/D. Sikes (Attu) The Tedster/Theo (Saint Pierre) all images are used under a Creative Commons license via flickr

The boundaries of the ABA area, especially whether they ought to include Hawaii or not, remain a topic of great interest and discussion within and beyond our membership. I’ve followed this debate closely, as I think these issues are important ones that will have an impact on the ABA’s growth and effectiveness. In this post, I’ll share some of my own thoughts about what would be best for the ABA and most importantly, tell you about how we intend to go about getting your thoughts.

A very brief summary of the debate. Some say we should stick with tradition. And the tradition can be summed up as follows:

ABA Area = (United States – Hawaii) + Canada + St Pierre et Miquelon, France + adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less.

But much has changed, both inside the ABA and in the world at large. Though we proudly retain many long-term members, we have a very large and increasing percentage that are new to our flock in just the last couple of years.

At the same time, the accelerating peril of Hawaii’s birds is easily one of the saddest spectacles or our era. Many have called for us to shine what spotlight we can on this amazing, vanishing avifauna and have argued that inclusion in the ABA Area is the best means at our disposal for so doing.

But changing the ABA Area isn’t something that I or the board or the staff can simply do. It would take a vote by the membership to change the bylaws of the organization to do it.

Though some of us may remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday, it’s really been quite awhile since the issue was put to the membership. And so we have come up with a plan to get a sense of where the membership stands on this issue in 2012. First, though, I promised to let you know what I think.

While I’m under no illusion that the ABA adding Hawaii to the ABA Area will quickly halt or reverse the mass extinction now occurring there, I think it’s the right thing for the ABA to do. In my estimation it can’t hurt and it may well help. It will also send a clear message that the ABA can indeed change and adapt and that the risk of attempting to do something to help trumps the comforts of maintaining the status quo.

I also think there are other benefits to be had from refining the ABA Area. In fact, phrasing the question as “add Hawaii, yes or no,” may not be the best or most helpful approach. I’d prefer to frame it just as much as a question of clarity and coherence.

People have often debated the ABA Area, saying it should somehow be “biogeographically” or “ecologically” defined. This is often a prelude to saying that it makes sense to keep Attu and the rest of Alaska, but exclude Hawaii.

These arguments, however impassioned and well intentioned, make no sense to me. If the ABA area is supposed to be biogeographically defined, then South Texas, Southeast Arizona, etc, are out. Or Northern Mexico, for starters, is in. And the latter is certainly an option, but my suspicion is that is adding part or all of Mexico wouldn’t be approved by the membership at this point.

So it’s my contention that the ABA Area is more a political, cultural, and recreational construct, though certainly one with ornithological consequences.

Cutting to the chase here, my own own preference would be to have the ABA Area be the United States and Canada. I think that’s the simplest, most coherent formulation. It’s clear, memorable, and easy to articulate without asterisks and footnotes. Obviously, that brings Hawaii in and I suppose, kicks Saint Pierre et Miquelon, which are just off Newfoundland but technically France, out. But I’d likely be OK with that, as I suspect many of our members would be.

I also think we should internally ban and generally discourage referring to the ABA Area as, “North America,” or “North America north of Mexico,” etc. I think those formulations are inaccurate and clunky. Always have.

On the other hand, I don’t think making the ABA Area the same as the AOU area, as has sometimes been suggested, is the best course, either.

For one thing, ABA=AOU would run the risk of seriously diluting one of the ABA’s most recognized and valuable properties, the whole idea of a US/Canada-centric ABA Area that is different than the geographic North America. I hope everyone knows that this isn’t any kind of slight against Mesoamerica, whose birds, people, food, music, culture, and nearly everything else I love. It’s just that a US/Canada grouping makes a lot of sense, really.

There have been proposals to include Greenland and Bermuda over the years. Never the Bahamas that I know of, for whatever reasons. Nothing against any of those, but I think the US + Canada formulation is in many ways the best. While I wouldn’t be upset at all if Greenland or Bermuda (or the Bahamas for that matter) were in, I think that any of those starts to erode the simplicity argument.

But that’s just what I think. What I and the ABA board and staff are really interested in is what you, our members, think.

So we’re going to include a non-binding referendum on this year’s proxy ballot, which should be in your mailbox in the last week of August. On it, we’ll pose a series of questions about your preferences for the ABA Area boundaries.

From that, we’ll work to come up with a proposed change to the bylaws that truly reflects our shared vision of where the ABA is now and where it ought to go. And if the answer is that most of you want things status quo, well, at least we’ll know it’s time to put the issue to rest for a while.

Here’s a draft of what those questions will look like.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Understanding that this is a non-binding referendum, please give us your opinions on the following questions.

1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is:

______ A. United States minus Hawaii plus Canada plus St Pierre et Miquelon, France plus adjacent waters (status quo)

______ B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters

2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens _______________________________

3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens ____________________________

4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained.       yes | no

5. If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So I have several questions for you right now, dear readers.

  1. Are you an ABA member? We don’t typically ask commenters to say, but I think it’s important here, as we can only tabulate responses from members. Of course, you’re still welcome to comment here on the blog, member or no. And if you’re a non-member with strong opinions on this issue, you can always join now in order to recieve the proxy.
  2. How would you answer the questions posed above?
  3. How can that list of questions be improved?

Remember that all of us, members, board, and staff, should be thinking of what’s best for the organization as a whole as we move into the heart of the 21st Century. Thank you in advance for your thoughts. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve the ABA community.