At Audubon North Carolina’s first lobby day two years ago, Tom Tribble was the only attendee from the western part of the state. This March, at Audubon North Carolina’s largest lobby day, Tribble was not alone. Fellow chapter members from Elisha Mitchell Audubon and college students from Asheville and the surrounding counties in Western North Carolina showed up in numbers—seven members from Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society and five student representatives from University of North Carolina, Asheville Audubon campus chapter attended.
“I will be the first one to celebrate a bird victory,” Tribble says. “But small feats like growing participation within the Elisha Mitchell chapter and seeing these enthusiastic students contribute in meetings are just as important if we want to secure a safer future for birds.”
In addition to being the largest lobby day, it was also the first time college students and members from Audubon campus chapters attended. Young conservation leaders from the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNC Asheville), Appalachian State University, and Less-McRae College attended to promote Audubon North Carolina’s legislative priorities: increase conservation funding, manage land for wildlife and control invasive threats, expand bird-friendly clean energy, and safeguard the state’s coast. For many of them, it was their first time lobbying.
Although lobby day fell in the midst of exams and schoolwork, Kristin Anderson, president of the UNC Asheville Audubon chapter, made it a point to show up and advocate for the environment. Anderson, along with some members of her campus chapter, traveled more than 200 miles to Raleigh for their first lobby day. The group says they enjoyed their first trip to the state house and hope to increase student participation in the future.
After attending lobby day, Anderson, an environmental studies major at UNC Asheville, says that she further understands how her current studies connect to her previous major of political science. And the outreach efforts did not end on lobby day for the UNC Asheville students. According to Anderson, her chapter is working on having tabling events on campus and around their local community to gather petition signatures, as well as host representatives for bird walks near UNC Asheville.
“I have always been tangentially interested in it (politics), but now there is more of a drive to advocate because of my passion for the environment,” Anderson says. “It was much less intimidating than I thought and I will definitely do this again. Meeting members of other chapters and being able to talk between appointments about strategies allowed us (UNC Asheville Audubon Chapter) to bring different perspectives to the overall discussion.”
Tribble attributes these outreach successes, in large part, to the Audubon in Action grant program. In 2018, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, in partnership with High Country Audubon Society, received the grant to establish campus chapters and engage conservation-driven students. The fruit of their labor became the campus chapters at UNC Asheville and Appalachian State University. Last month Elisha Mitchell and Audubon North Carolina conducted advocacy training—led by Claire Douglass, Audubon’s national campaign manager—for its members and those of the campus chapters. It was a huge success amongst college students: More than 50 people attended, including 22 students from the institutions represented at lobby day.
“I tell my birder friends that have not been to a lobby day this, ‘If you want to continue to enjoy these birds, you need to actively participate in the mission. There is time for recreation, but there is also a joy in taking action for them (the birds),’” Tribble says. “Elisha Mitchell and the fellow chapters here today are more than just a birding clubs. We are Audubon chapters that feel obligated to support the organization’s mission.”