The American West is an overwhelmingly vast landscape. It supports great diversity in habitat, birds, and people, but there is one thing that ties it all together – water, and the recognition that we all depend on and value this limited and diminishing resource. Audubon’s national, regional, and state staff, organized under the umbrella of our Western Water Initiative, work tirelessly to secure a sustainable water future for the West, but we cannot do it alone. That’s why, in 2019, we launched our Western Water Network Grant program, a grant opportunity that supports Audubon chapters in the arid West who lead projects that keep priority rivers and lakes healthy, resilient, and accessible to migratory birds and human communities through policy, advocacy, habitat restoration and enhancement, and community science.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, five Audubon chapters were awarded with Western Water Network Grants, fueling their work restoring wetland habitat and studying American Dippers in Colorado, engaging students to learn more about the Salton Sea in California, enhancing access to the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and collaborating with the Cocopah Indian Tribe to restore habitat along the Colorado River in Arizona. Some of these projects continue this year with chapters still hard at work because of the limitations brought on by the pandemic.
We’re thrilled to announce the next cohort of Western Water Network Grant recipients. Read on to learn about the exciting projects funded this year.
- Bridgerland Audubon Society (Logan, Utah)
Birds, Beaver, and Water in a Changing Climate
Bridgerland Audubon’s Birds, Beaver, and Water in a Changing Climate program launched in 2016 with the help of an Audubon “Spread the Word” grant and continues to this day providing presentations, classroom visits, and field activities educating the public about the connections between water, climate, beaver, birds, and human communities in the Bear River Watershed and around the Great Salt Lake. Building on the program’s success, the chapter wants to go further by engaging a broader, more diverse community. Specifically, they hope to engage students from Title 1 schools in the 20-30% Latinx Logan School District and to do this, they’re taking a big step – giving the programs’ reins to community members. The program, consisting of classroom activities and visits to the Denzil Stewart Nature Park and a local mitigation site where students will have a chance at seeing beaver and Bobolink, will be facilitated and managed by a Spanish-speaking AmeriCorps intern. While visiting the sites, students will learn about plant identification skills and traditional plant usage from members of Utah State University’s Native American Student Council. After these experiences, students will be asked to create artwork and write stories that will be presented to Utah State Senators and Representatives in an effort to designate the North American Beaver as Utah’s official State Aquatic Mammal. (This project is funded in collaboration with the Audubon in Action program.)
- Cheyenne High Plains Audubon Society (Cheyenne, Wyoming)
Floodplain Restoration in Laramie County
Beavers are a critical part of river and wetland habitat in Wyoming. That’s why Cheyenne High Plains Audubon will be utilizing their Western Water Network Grant to , in partnership with the Laramie County Conservation District, install beaver dam analogs and post-assisted log structures to improve habitat along Dry Creek in eastern Laramie County near the Wyoming Hereford Ranch Important Bird Area – and IBA that supports over half of all the warbler species found in North America. This project is in partnership with the Laramie County Conservation District. These structures will slow down and spread water in the creek, increasing soil moisture in the floodplain where the chapter will plant native plants including New England Aster, Fireweed, Beebalm, Serviceberry, Crabapple, Maple, and more. To begin engaging the community with what will one day be an outdoor learning area complete with an on-site outdoor classroom, Cheyenne High Plains Audubon will also be developing a website, delivering presentations, and offering lessons plans and resource materials to the public and K-8 teachers. Field trips to the site will begin in the Spring of 2022.
- Grand Valley Audubon Society (Grand Junction, Colorado)
Wetland Construction Along the Colorado River
With over five years of restoration behind them, Grand Valley Audubon is still hard at work establishing critical wetland habitat on a 60-acre parcel near Grand Junction’s Audubon Nature Preserve along the mainstem of the Colorado River. The old gravel pits at this site have great potential to provide valuable habitat for birds like the American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt, but the water that fills them is of poor quality and, prior to restoration efforts, they were too deep to support the establishment of wetlands. With their 2018 Western Water Network Grant and other funding, Grand Valley Audubon has begun the work of re-contouring the ponds and installing infrastructure to allow them to manage water levels within them. Since their last Western Water Network Grant award, the chapter has secured significant additional funding and continues to demonstrate how local, state, and national partnerships can provide solutions for enhancing critical wetland habitat. We’re excited to be able to show our support for this incredible project by providing additional funds through this year’s grant cycle.
- Great Salt Lake Audubon Society (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Community Conservation at Lee Creek Natural Area
Part of the Gilbert Bay Important Bird Area, the Lee Creek Natural Area is a 305-acre preserve on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. The area was once known for activities like illegal dumping and off-highway-vehicle use, but thanks to groups like the Friends of Great Salt Lake, Audubon, and others, the area now provides ample habitat for Snowy Plover, Ring-billed Gull, and more. As part of their Western Water Network Grant-funded project, Great Salt Lake Audubon will participate in the Friends of Great Salt Lake’s annual International Coastal Cleanup Day event, an effort that removes nearly 2,000 pounds of trash from the area annually. But, the chapter isn’t just working to clean up trash – they’re working to build a community and sense of stewardship around Lee Creek Natural Area. To help the chapter achieve this long-term goal, they will be going beyond their membership to engage a diversity of people in the effort from groups including the Brigham Young University Audubon Campus Chapter, Utah Pride Center, Girl Scouts, Latinos in Action, the hunting community, and more. In addition, Great Salt Lake Audubon will be creating and installing signage in both Spanish and English to mark the boundary of the property and offering several presentations and field events designed to build a connection between participants and the preserve.
- Sonoran Audubon Society (Phoenix, Arizona)
A New Generation of Community Scientists
For over a decade, the Sonoran Audubon Society has been collaborating with Audubon Southwest to survey for the federally threatened Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the Agua Fria River within the Agua Fria National Monument Riparian Corridors Important Bird Area – an effort which helped secure over 3,000 acres of Critical Habitat for the species along the river and its tributaries. Despite this victory, the chapter’s efforts surveying species of conservation concern is far from over, and they are beginning to see the need to recruit a new generation of birders to carry the work into the future. To do this, the chapter will be using Western Water Network Grant funding to remove barriers to involvement in 2021’s summer survey efforts for students from Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Audubon Campus Chapter. Students will be reimbursed for transportation, paid a monthly stipend, and gain free access to the annual Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo field surveyor training (a requirement for those seeking a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey permit). After a summer in the field with Sonoran Audubon, students will have a much deeper connection and commitment to the chapter, and be one step closer to careers in conservation.
Audubon’s strength comes from our network – our supporters, members, and chapters that serve as frontline advocates for birds and their habitats across the country. Without them, a monumental task like securing a sustainable water future for birds and people in the West would be insurmountable, and we thank them for their ongoing efforts. We are thrilled to be able to give back by supporting these projects through the 2021 round of Western Water Network Grants. Stay tuned for project updates throughout the year!