Audubon’s Delaware River Watershed Program Takes Flight with Key Conservation Funding

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program supports bird conservation in three critical regions of the watershed.

The Delaware River Watershed is a system where resilient communities thrive alongside priority bird species, spanning 13,500 square miles of diverse habitat across Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. It’s a landscape that is home to more than 400 bird species and 8 million people. From the headwaters to the Delaware Bay, it includes more than 126,000 acres of internationally important wetlands; crucial breeding habitat in the forested headwaters; a globally important site for shorebird migration; and a critical stopover site along the Atlantic Flyway for the second largest population of migrating songbirds and raptors in North America.

The global and regional significance of this watershed drives Audubon’s Delaware River Watershed Program to protect and conserve its complex landscape, which faces water pollution challenges and requires careful water management for birds and people. In addition to providing crucial habitat, it provides clean, quality drinking water to more than 13.3 million people (including Philadelphia and New York City), drives $25 billion annually in economic activity, and contributes 600,000 jobs and $10 billion in annual wages to the economy. 

Audubon’s watershed-wide conservation program aims to restore unique and varied landscapes with tailored approaches in three regions: heavily forested headwaters, urbanized riparian communities of the central watershed, and the marshes and shores of the Delaware Bay.

As a recent Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund grantee, Audubon’s Delaware River Watershed Program will receive a boost of funding and support to improve habitats for high-priority birds and other wildlife across the watershed. The grant, through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, will allow Audubon to:

  • Improve hundreds of acres of forest habitat in the headwaters by expanding Audubon New York’s Harvests for Habitat program. This expansion allows Audubon to develop and grow partnerships with private landowners, foresters, and loggers to implement sustainable and bird-friendly forest management practices that improve habitat for climate-threatened birds, such as the Wood Thrush and Cerulean Warbler, which are already experiencing significant population declines.
  • Restore habitat and provide community programming in the Cobbs Creek watershed, an Important Bird Area, in Philadelphia. Audubon will work to improve habitat conditions for birds at Whitby Meadow, part of the Cobbs Creek watershed, which faces impaired water quality, erosion, non-native invasive plants, combined sewer overflows, and plastic pollution. The program will also provide educational programming and engagement with local community partners around clean water, watershed health and wildlife, bird conservation, and the importance of Cobbs Creek Park for tens of millions of birds pass through Philadelphia each year.
  • Increase community engagement and outreach at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, an Important Bird Area and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site. Audubon will support an internship program embedded at the refuge to aid in bird conservation efforts as well as increase public awareness of restoration efforts at the refuge and in the Delaware River Watershed. The project will increase capacity for monitoring, data collection and protection of key bird species, including Piping Plover, Saltmarsh Sparrow and Red Knot.

In addition to growing conservation, Audubon’s Delaware River Watershed Program will implement projects that expand community engagement and volunteerism as well as lay a foundation for future restoration. Audubon also will engage diverse partners in the project planning and implementation, which is a key feature of collaborative conservation programs like the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program.

A few partners shared their thoughts on the significance of the recent grant announcement:

“We are excited to build on the momentum and success of Harvests for Habitat with our partners in the Upper Delaware and East Branch Delaware Watersheds,” said Suzanne Treyger, forest program manager for Audubon New York. “This project provides education to forest owners as well as technical and financial assistance to foresters and loggers to implement forest management that creates quality habitat for declining forest birds, while meeting other landowner goals, such as improving water quality and timber management.”

“The New York Forest Owners Association (NYFOA) is pleased to work with Audubon New York in reaching out to landowners in the Upper Delaware River Watershed. This joint venture will be a benefit to the forests and woodlots of the region which are primarily owned by family forest owners,” noted Art Wagner, president of NYFOA. “The 400 NYFOA members in this region are interested in all aspects of forest management, including wildlife and recreational use. Improving habitat for birds helps improve the overall health and resiliency of the area’s predominant forests.” 

“Philadelphia is an Urban Bird Treaty City,” said Lamar Gore, refuge manager at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. “Audubon is helping advance the program’s goals by restoring habitat and engaging the local community, increasing awareness of the value of migratory birds and their habitats.”

“This project will help raise public awareness of and access to the habitat and recreational opportunities in this area,” remarked Scott Quitel, founder of LandHealth Institute. “By playing a role in the project design, implementation and monitoring, restoration projects like these really help volunteers and students from the community learn about the conservation issues facing local waterways like Cobbs Creek.” 

“We look forward to working with Audubon to interpret restoration and conservation efforts at Prime Hook and build community support for these critical efforts, while at the same time mentoring a future conservation professional,” said Susan Guiteras, staff biologist at Prime Hook NWR.