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Chris Merkord

Information on a new society for ornithology for COS members

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Dear Cooper Ornithological Society member,


The methods we use to conduct our science and communicate our findings are rapidly changing. In this evolving landscape, scientific societies need to adapt to better support our discipline, scientists and practitioners and to increase access to our research findings so the best scientific information can inform public policy and avian conservation efforts. The Cooper Ornithological Society is currently engaged in discussions and planning with other New World ornithology societies on how we can best support our discipline and the birds we are passionate about.


Over the past six years, the COS leadership has been involved in numerous conversations with other societies on how we can cooperate to best serve our members. We have held joint meetings, cooperated on publications, developed communication tools, funded cooperative ventures and discussed potential mergers or federations. These ongoing conversations have led to the current proposal by the American Ornithologists' Union to form a new society- The Society for Ornithology. The SFO committee has proposed a bold plan to provide new publication outlets, enhanced communication with members and policy makers, career development for students and professionals, exciting annual meetings, and support for using scientific information in avian conservation.


Nothing in the current proposal is "set in stone" as a new proposal will be developed for the NAOC meeting by representatives from all of the interested ornithological societies in the New World. But here are a few highlights from the current proposal. Regarding publications, there would be a family of publications most likely including a relatively high impact journal with short articles, a journal focused on hypothesis driven and experimental studies, a journal focused on applied ornithology and conservation, a journal focused on descriptive studies and natural history, a monograph series, a book series, a data archive and an updating to SORA. There would be an annual meeting with career development workshops for students, early career and established professionals. There would be professional staff to support the efforts of officers and committees including an executive director, business manager, communications director and development director. Board Members, Officers and Committee Members know very well how difficult it is to implement our great ideas after everyone goes home from the annual meeting. We all have busy lives which seem to get busier each year. Professional staff would allow the society to send out press releases for publications, actively solicit grants from foundations and donations from individuals to support publications, early career development and outreach, integrate new technology into our journals, support scientific review of conservation issues, and respond in a timely manner to issues of importance to our members. By combining our efforts we will be able to deliver better services to our members and better support for avian conservation.


Historically, the ornithological societies have had three sources of financial support: memberships, library subscriptions and investment accounts derived from donations. Over the last 15 years membership in ornithological societies has declined dramatically. This is in part due t to electronic publication of the journals. Electronic publication of our journals has also led to a significant drop in subscription income. The Condor is much more widely distributed through BioOne than it ever was through paper copies but subscription income has declined dramatically. Many of the initiatives that the leadership of the COS would like to undertake cannot be carried out due to lack of funds.


Another important source of support for COS endeavors is the time members give to the society. Declines in membership and increased workload expectations for most of us have created a situation where it is increasingly difficult to find volunteers to carry out our work. One advantage of merging societies is to use our volunteers more wisely by not duplicating work across multiple societies. For example, 82% of COS members are also members of the AOU. It makes little sense to do the business work of the two societies twice to serve the same set of members.


Finally, attendance at annual meetings indicates that most of our members prefer to attend joint society meetings. Attendance at the NAOC and joint AOU/COS/SCO and WOS/COS/AFO meetings has been fantastic with these meetings generating a profit for the societies, while attendance at sole society meetings of the COS and AOU have been disappointing and led to financial losses.


The decision to form a new society is very difficult and needs to be carefully considered. But as President of the COS, I believe that the new society, The Society for Ornithology, is our best option to ensure a future for the field of ornithology, to support scientists and to promote basing avian conservation on scientific information. I encourage all COS members to take part in discussions on whether we should dissolve the COS, if a new society should be formed and the development of a new society if that decision is made. Documents will be made available on the Ornithology Exchange (www.ornithologyexchange.org) and the COS website (www.cooper.org). A new proposal will be developed for the NAOC meeting in August. COS's representatives in this process will be Kim Sullivan (yejunco@biology.usu.edu) and T.J. Fontaine (jfontaine2@unl.edu) on the general committee, Bonnie Bowen (bsbowen@iastate.edu) on the finance committee and Michael Patten (mpatten@ou.edu) on the publications committee. Please contact these individuals or any of the COS Officers and Board Members with your comments and suggestions. The proposal will be presented and discussed at the NAOC meeting and the COS membership will have the opportunity to vote on forming a new society following the NAOC meeting.


This is an exciting time for ornithology.



Kim Sullivan

President, Cooper Ornithological Society

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My basic take on this is that we are proposing taking on new staff and new journals and, although sharing the cost, that cost might well be substantial. Now I appreciate the hard work that the Cooper Board has put into this, but I strongly urge that the membership be engaged in this much more fully. There are many issues from Kim's excellent summary that I would like to see more fully discussed to the membership at large. I would much prefer a vote of the entire membership at the next Cooper meeting, after full detailed plans are available after Vancouver.


Underlying this is the observation that In a diversity of organizations, journals, and managment there of, there is great strength. In the not too distant past more than one American ornitholgical society has had periods of financial crisis, due to management issues. Putting the finances into one basket increases the danger of a catastrophic meltdown.

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