Earlier this month, more than 50 policy, communications, and engagement staff from around the country gathered in Washington, DC to meet with elected officials and the Biden Administration to talk about several legislative issues affecting birds and communities. It was the first in-person advocacy “fly-in” for policy staff since 2019, so staff were just as eager to see each other as they were to see their members of Congress.
Staff gathered Monday evening for a celebratory reunion near DC headquarters to see colleagues that had not gathered since before the pandemic, or in many cases to meet for the very first time away from Zoom. The next day everyone gathered for a day-long preparation session to review legislative priorities, and share best practices and strategies for engaging everyone from high-level officials to locally-based grassroots members and activists. Then they were ready for the Hill!
The third day had an appropriately birdy start with a birding outing in the shadow of the Capitol building at the Bartholdi Fountain and grounds of the U.S. Botanic Garden, where participants were joined by Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. The group was rewarded for braving a chilly morning with spottings of Song Sparrows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-tailed Hawks, and even a Bald Eagle sparring with an Osprey.
Then it was time for meetings! Among the issues that staffers discussed were:
- the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which would provide a key source of funding for conserving birds across the Western Hemisphere
- investing in natural infrastructure like wetlands can help protect bird habitat as well as provide climate resilience for communities,
- the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, especially programs that assist voluntary conservation on private lands
Over the course of the day staff held over 80 meetings with elected officials across the political spectrum. Sam Samuelson of Audubon California had some thoughts on different ways to reach out to elected officials beyond coming all the way to DC:
“The pandemic evolved how we engage with legislators and staff, increasing our advocacy through social media and sparking interest in bird outings to get outside. As we emerge from the Covid stage, the time is ripe for creative thinking.”
“As Audubon meets with our nation’s leaders we will deliver the message that birds are telling us it’s time for action,” said Marshall Johnson, chief conservation officer, National Audubon Society. “We have lost 3 billion birds in North America since 1970. No matter where you are from or what party you belong to, that’s alarming. The love of birds connects all of us and we must respond to this dramatic decline.”