Audubon in Action

From Coast to Coast, Audubon Stood Up for Birds at the March for Science

To show support for science-based conservation, Audubon members rallied with the masses across the globe on Saturday.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people across the world gathered to stick up for science—and as you might expect, Audubon was there.

Audubon members carried signs and chanted at the March for Science in Washington, D.C., as well as at dozens of satellite events in other towns and cities, from Phoenix, Arizona and Seattle, Washington in the West to New Haven, Connecticut and Albany, New York, in the East.

They also participated in "teach-ins" and spoke to large crowds about the importance of science-based conservation policy. At the main march on D.C.’s National Mall, Brooke Bateman, the director of Audubon’s Climate Watch program, took the stage in front of thousands of people to extol birds as messengers that tell us how the world is changing—a similar lesson to the one that Michael Goldman, conservation and outreach manager at Ohio’s Grange Insurance Audubon Center, shared with over 5,000 people on the steps of the state capitol in Columbus.

“It’s important for Audubon to have a voice at these science-focused events because we are a science-based institution,” Goldman says. “We’re known as the best conservation organization in the United States, and it’s because we go out and do the research. We do science first.”

The March for Science comprised rallies and marches in 600 cities around the world, all held on Earth Day, to demonstrate public support for scientific research and evidence-based policy. The event, like science itself, was nonpartisan, although it has political roots. It was inspired by a perceived disregard for scientific evidence by the Trump administration, whose leaders express doubt in the research behind climate change and have proposed a budget that would de-fund many scientific projects. These efforts have left scientists, doctors, environmentalists, and other champions of science dismayed. So they organized the March for Science to put their support for science education and science-based policy on full display.

“With scientific inquiry being under attack right now, it was really heartening and inspirational to be with people who feel the same way I do, and gave up their Saturday when they could have been out birding,” says Ariana Rickard, the coastal chapter network manager at Audubon California and member of Mount Diablo Audubon Society, who marched in San Francisco. “Science is so important to every aspect of our life, so to say it’s liberal bias—I don’t agree.”

It’s rare for scientists to organize this way; they typically stay on the sidelines of politics to serve as authoritative advisors, unsullied by the partisan attacks that characterize modern political debate. But the March for Science garnered the support of hundreds of the country’s top scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Neuroscience, the American Geophysical Union, the National Medical Association, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Audubon Society.

Bird-themed signs held by marchers at the March for Science on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. April 22, 2017. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

During her speech in D.C., Bateman explained how birds are barometers for the health of the environment. At the time of the first Earth Day, she said, the decline of Bald Eagles showed that toxic pesticides and habitat destruction were major problems. “Scientists and concerned community members, working together, made our leaders pay attention to science,” Bateman said at the podium. And today, birds like the Eastern Meadowlark, Common Loon, and Wood Thrush are telling us that habitats are at risk, pollution is harming wildlife, and the climate is changing. “It’s time once again for scientists and community to come together and listen to what the birds are telling us,” Bateman said. (Watch her full speech below.)

Earlier in the day, before the rain started, Bateman and other Audubon members led a teach-in about citizen science for a group of more than 100 marchers in a packed tent. They encouraged people to take action at home by growing native plants and contributing to the citizen-science projects Hummingbirds at Home and Climate Watch, both of which help Audubon study climate change. 

“People were asking: Will birds be able to move with climate change, and will the plant communities that birds need be able to move?” says Zach Slavin, program manager in citizen science at Audubon who spoke at the teach-in. “We don’t know, and we’re trying to answer that with Climate Watch and Hummingbirds at Home.”

These themes—that birds are messengers, and that anyone can contribute to scientific inquiry through citizen science—were repeated at satellite marches throughout the country. In Columbus, Goldman of Grange Insurance Audubon Center spoke to a crowd of around 5,600 people on the steps of the state capitol—the only speaker representing wildlife and the environment that day.

“You are all what hope looks like to a bird,” he said to applause. “We all have the power to save birds, and by saving birds we will be saving ourselves with them.”

In San Francisco, Rickard marched two miles down Market Street with Mount Diablo Audubon Society, which sponsored the city’s satellite march. Holding their banner was Mike Elliott, a small-business owner and chapter board member, who hadn’t attended a protest since the Vietnam War. “We owe it to the next generation to preserve the progress and innovation science has provided and to oppose any who try to diminish or destroy it,” Elliott says.

In New York, Audubon chapters attended marches in at least six cities—Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and Stony Brook—where they spread the word of the bird. On the campus of Stony Brook University, Audubon members wore matching t-shirts printed with big bold letters on the back—“Because Birds Matter”—designed by Kelly Knutson, a field organizer for Audubon New York. He spoke to other marchers about the 314 North American bird species threatened by climate change. “A lot of people were recognizing that science is the foundation to a lot of different solutions, especially with the climate crisis,” Knutson says. “Everyone wanted our shirts, though.”

That’s just a sample of the contributions made by Audubon chapters, centers, and members to marches around the country. Together, they joined hundreds of thousands of people to stand up for science and science-based conservation. “It wasn’t just professional scientists there at the march,” Rickard says. “These are people who were submitting their observations in eBird, or are noticing the effects of climate change and are concerned. They’re doing it on their own time, and they care.”

Did you attend the March for Science? Share your story in the comments!

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