10 Major Audubon Conservation Wins from 2016

It's been a pretty good year for helping birds and the environment.

By many metrics, 2016 was an unpleasant year. But in spite of that, this past year proved remarkable for Audubon and its partners that work to protect birds and the places they need throughout the hemisphere, including concrete plans on how to restore the Gulf Coast from the continuing effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the designation of the very first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Keep reading to learn about 10 of our biggest conservation wins in 2016, and then celebrate a year that maybe wasn’t all that bad.

Gulf Restoration/RESTORE Act 

Clean up efforts in the Gulf are about to get a needed boost with the release of a Comprehensive Plan that will help implement $3 billion in civil penalties from the 2010 BP oil spill. The 30-page plan from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council is the culmination of a years-long effort to ensure that the funds from the biggest environmental settlement in history go where they are needed most. For the Gulf region devastated by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, this plan promises ambitious, long-term ecosystem restoration projects that are desperately needed.

Keeping The Arctic Ocean Free From Offshore Drilling

Offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean has long been a contentious issue, and Audubon has led the fight against offshore energy exploration in the environmentally sensitive region. This year those efforts paid off in a big way when the Bureau of Ocean Management announced that there would be no new leases in U.S.-held Arctic waters for five years. This move protects 10 globally-significant Important Bird Areas that support millions of birds in the Arctic Ocean and along its shoreline in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas lease areas, including biodiversity hotspots such as Barrow Canyon, Harrison Bay, and Smith Bay. Species that use these areas include Arctic Terns, Yellow-billed Loons, King Eiders, Red Pharalopes, Thick-billed Murres, and Pomarine Jaegers. These areas are also home to polar bears, walrus, ice seals, and several species of whales. 

Creation of New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts National Monument

A pristine range of underwater mountains and canyons along the continental shelf of New England is the first U.S. marine national monument in the Atlantic after a hard-fought Audubon campaign. President Obama granted monument status to the 4,913-square-mile stretch of ocean, located 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, to protect breeding areas for many fish that migrate into the Gulf of Maine. The breeding fish stocks are essential prey for seabirds such the Atlantic Puffin, says Steve Kress, Audubon’s vice president of bird conservation. Puffin chicks rely especially on the juvenile white hake that migrate from the region.

Protecting the Coastal California Gnatcatcher and Golden-cheeked Warbler Against Delisting 

Efforts to delist two vulnerable bird species were defeated this year, in part due to the efforts of Audubon and local affiliated chapters in California and Texas. The Coastal California Gnatcatcher and Golden-cheeked Warbler have seen their habitats wiped out by decades of human development, leaving both species vulnerable and dependent on the small pockets of habitat that remain in Southern California and central Texas.

Protecting Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plans

Audubon’s decade-long fight to project the Greater Sage-Grouse scored a major victory this year after harmful anti-conservation provisions were removed from a defense authorization bill. Anti-grouse language in the National Defense Authorization Act would have allowed states to block federal sage-grouse conservation plans and prevented the Department of the Interior from changing the bird’s conservation status for 10 years, undermining efforts to protect it.

Measure AA Passes in San Francisco Bay

Last June, San Francisco Bay Area residents approved a ballot measure to use their tax dollars to restore and enhance local wetlands, an important habitat for millions of migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds, and raptors. Measure AA, backed by Audubon California, is one of the first property taxes in the United States dedicated to helping a region adapt to the effects of climate change. While many species of birds and other wildlife will benefit from the wetland restoration, these habitats will also provide a cushion for shorelines, homes, businesses, roads, and schools from the impacts of rising seas and storm surges.

North Colombia Birding Trail  

Colombia's Caribbean coast contains one of the most important biodiversity hotspots on the planet. To protect these areas from destructive agricultural practices, Audubon joined forces with local groups to open Colombia’s first birdwatching route in March, the Northern Colombia Birding Trail. The project trained more than 40 local Colombians, including college students and indigenous Wayuu, on how to be bird guides, which will give them and their communities critical economic development opportunities. Each community also signed a pact to adopt ecofriendly land-management practices. The trail itself wends through 50,000 acres of delicate tropical dry forests in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains and the area around Los Flamencos Sanctuary in the Guajira Peninsula. 

Protecting Pacific Forage Fish

In a proactive move against overfishing, an Audubon-backed rule now protects the dozens of forage fish species that West Coast seabirds and other marine wildlife depend on. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted federal protection to several types of herring, squid, smelt, and other fish in 280,000 square miles of ocean. The area is a critical foraging habitat for albatrosses, shearwaters, storm petrels, and other seabirds, which depend on an abundant and diverse array of forage fish species to survive. The rule also specifies that no new fisheries can be established in the area until a high bar of sustainability has been met.

Legacy Florida Act

Two year ago, Florida citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amendment 1, a ballot initiative to dedicate a third of real estate tax revenues to protect and restore the Everglades. Last year, environmental groups including Audubon Florida, found that not all of that funding was being used for conservation purposes. To remedy this, a bill called Legacy Florida passed in April to guarantee that 25 percent of the Amendment 1 revenues, at least $200 million annually, will be committed to Everglades restoration until 2035. Right away, that money will clean water from polluted Lake Okeechobee and treat agricultural runoff flowing into the lake. Audubon Florida, which pushed to get the act passed, wants to see future funds deliver that water straight to the Everglades, which is in dire need of fresh water.

Pairing Alternative Energy with Native Plant Gardens

Audubon Minnesota, with support from Audubon's climate team and Fresh Energy, the leading renewable energy nonprofit in the state, helped to create and pass a bill to set voluntary standards for solar energy sites that are friendly to birds and other pollinators. The bill specifies that any solar-energy sites should be planted with native plants, and Audubon hopes that the coalition that helped this bill pass could be used as a template to get similar bills passed in other states. Several solar companies have already pledged to place native plants on their solar sites in Minnesota, more than 90 percent of which are in row crops, not forests. In 2016 alone, 4,500 acres of photovoltaic cells were slated for installation in former farmland in the state. If native plants were used on this acreage, it would be equivalent to more than 2 million homes with native plant gardens. To find out more about your own local native plants, try using Audubon's native-plant database, which launched this year.