In March, Audubon chapter leaders and staff joined the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW)’s annual Capitol Hill Day. This year’s Hill Day was entirely virtual due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions, but that didn’t stop us from championing bird protections and conservation measures to protect the Delaware River Watershed. Despite being unable to meet in person with legislators, 71 attendees from coalition member organizations convened meetings with 31 Congressional offices in the Delaware River Watershed – the most attended Hill Day to date.

The Delaware River Watershed, an important migratory stopover site along the Atlantic Flyway, is home to over 400 bird species and provides clean, dependable water resources for birds, other wildlife, and people. Unfortunately, birds of the watershed like the American Black Duck, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Cerulean Warbler are facing peril from climate-related threats, including sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme weather. Without the preservation of this region, the lands and waters that birds and people need are at risk. Now more than ever, our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill are critical in securing adequate funding to conserve and protect this watershed.

As a partner in the CDRW, Audubon mobilizes 10 chapters, more than 89,000 members, and 29 brewers of the Brewers for the Delaware River to advocate for watershed-wide conservation efforts to protect clean water and restore vital habitat for birds and people in the watershed.

“Virtual Hill Day was a great opportunity to talk about birds and conservation issues with our local representative, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick,” said Stacy Carr-Poole, the executive director of Bucks County Audubon Society. “Bringing our local issues to Capitol Hill ensures that Rep. Fitzpatrick knows clean water, climate action, and habitat protection are important to his constituents – including the 11,000 participants who join us for science, nature, and environmental programming each year.”

While our Capitol Hill visits are sadly missing the usual in-person bird walks and advocacy meetings these days, the virtual nature of Hill Day allowed 12 constituents to share stories directly with their elected officials. The virtual platform allowed more voices to join in the fight for clean water, enhanced our collective call for Delaware River Watershed restoration and funding, and laid the groundwork for building relationships with new members of Congress and Congressional staffers.

Along with our CDRW partners, Audubon advocated for $15 million in funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP). The DRBRP champions investments in critical on-the-ground projects in the Delaware River Watershed aimed at conserving the region’s natural resources, restoring and protecting important habitat for birds and other wildlife, and helping ensure clean drinking water for more than 13.3 million people. Funding from this program is already driving Audubon’s work on the ground to address conservation needs across the rich diversity of habitat in three states in the watershed. From funding received in 2020, Audubon is working with partners to improve urban meadow habitat in Philadelphia, manage bird habitat in New York forests, and increase scientific data awareness and support for restoration efforts in Delaware.

Participants also asked Members of Congress to fully fund the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) at $715,000. The DRBC holds the responsibility of managing the watershed’s water quality and quantity and is vital in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Despite a “fair share” agreement among the states and federal government, federal funding has been zero in 24 of the last 25 years. Federal funding for the DRBC is critical to ensuring the commission has the support it needs, which was promised but hasn’t been consistently provided for decades.

Birds are telling us we need to protect the Delaware River Watershed, and we’re hoping Congress answers the call. Sign up here to stay up to date on ways to advocate for the watershed!

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