2021 was a year of “migration” and growth for one of Audubon’s strategic programs, the International Alliances Program (IAP). First, we changed its name to Audubon Americas in recognition that most of the vulnerable bird species found in the U.S. spend a majority of their lives in Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. And then we developed an ambitious plan to address conservation shortfalls in these regions by applying Audubon’s expertise and regional experience in innovative new ways.
Here are some of the achievements we are celebrating from 2021:
Using the latest migration science, the Audubon Americas team reviewed our past work, analyzed other impactful programs, and considered various conservation opportunities to develop and launch Audubon Americas five-year business plan. The plan focuses on strategies that align with market-based priorities to help scale conservation efforts necessary to address full-lifecycle conservation for birds across the hemisphere. Audubon Americas will initially concentrate our work in Chile, Colombia, Panama, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Canada. We will focus our efforts on four strategies: Regenerative Agriculture; Coastal Resilience; Building a Constituency for Birds; and establishing and improving the management of Protected Areas critical for bird conservation.
In 2021, we launched our Regenerative Agriculture strategy focusing on the Cauca Valley landscape of Colombia through a $400,000 investment from the USFWS, which was leveraged against $1M from the private company Arroz Blanquita, and with a $120.000 co-investment from local community NGOs Asoguabas, Fondo Agua por la Vida y la Sostenibilidad, Vivo Cuenca and ICESI University. Our strategy focuses on climate and market-based solutions that also mainstream birds into the agricultural landscape. Specifically, we will work with NGOs, academic institutions, communities, companies, and local governments to integrate bird-friendly trees and shrubs into restoration efforts associated with cattle production within the Cauca Valley’s watersheds. This approach will support birds like the Canada Warbler and encourage crop rotation between sugar and rice for birds on the valley floor to create new wetlands for migrating waterbirds like the Lesser-Yellowlegs. If successful, both approaches can be scaled across Colombia and the region.
Audubon and partners are incorporating birds into nature-based solutions through innovative investments to achieve these goals. In one of our core projects for Regenerative Agriculture, we are investing 15 million dollars in Colombia’s Cauca Valley—funding over the next 10 years that covers the monitoring of crop rotation, community engagement in conservation planning, and best management practices for birds, to name a few. All of this in alliance with Calidris, Asocaña, Icesi University, Fondo de Agua por la Vida y la Sostenibilidad, Asoaguas, and Ingenio Providencia, leading NGOs and private sector enterprises that understand the crucial need to elevate conservation practices.
Elevating conservation practices also requires strengthening existing national policies or formulating new ones and their implementation. Audubon Americas is working to insert bird conservation into national and local economic development agendas and funding strategies. In Colombia, with nearly 2,000 species—more than any other country in the world—Audubon has partnered with the Von Humboldt Research Institute and the RNOA (national network of birdwatchers) to facilitate and lead the process. We have engaged thousands of people across the country—including Indigenous groups—to create a conservation strategy. This plan, to be finalized and launched in the second half of 2022, aims to influence and support the next government, state authorities, and municipalities.
In Chile, we have partnered with the Ministry of Environment and several other NGOs to support the development of their conservation strategy. Finalized in December 2021 with an open consultation with Chilean citizens and launched in January 2022, this plan will be integrated into national policy as part of the new biodiversity fund established last year.
In 2021, building off more than a decade of community-based work with our local partner, Sociedad Audubon Panamá, together we launched a new three-million-dollar project to enhance the economic and social value of the Bay of Panama and Parita Bay through Carbon mitigation and coastal resilience. This region is one of the most important shorebird migration sites in the hemisphere. It hosts more than 30% of the Western Sandpiper population, 22% of the Semi-palmated Sandpiper population, and large groups of Prothonotary Warblers, as well as many other species. The “Valuing Protecting and Enhancing Coastal Natural Capital of Panama” project is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, The David and Lucile and Packard Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last year, we also made significant progress with Audubon Americas cornerstone strategy Conserva Aves, which we launched in partnership with Birdlife International, American Bird Conservancy, and the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Environmental Funds (RedLAC). The strategy uses the latest migratory bird science developed by Audubon Migratory Bird Initiative, combined with new analysis for resident species and climate strongholds, to identify critical gaps in protection.
We are creating a fund that will host calls for proposals focused on these gaps in protection. Conserva Aves received a 12 million investment from Bezos Earth Fund in early December 2021. The grant will support local communities and Indigenous peoples to establish and strengthen 30-40 new protected sites (totaling 450-600,000 hectares, or 1.11 to 1.48 million acres), landscapes critical for threatened and migratory bird species in the Tropical Andes—in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú—by 2027.
In total, Conserva Aves will support the protection of nearly 4 million acres of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) by establishing roughly 80-100 new subnational Protected Areas between 2022 and 2027 across Latin America and the Caribbean. The first call for proposals will happen in 2022 in the Andes Tropical countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú.
In 2021, we also made significant progress in our conservation efforts for the Boreal Forest of Canada, one of the largest intact forests left on Earth—a place full of biodiversity and incredibly important for birds. Up to 3 billion migratory birds spend their summers in the safety of boreal before departing to backyards, parks, and wildlands throughout the Western Hemisphere in the fall. In addition, this vast landscape captures and stores enormous amounts of carbon in its soils, peatlands, and permafrost, making it a globally important area to protect from the threats of development and climate change.
Indigenous First Nations have proposed globally ambitious plans to protect and conserve boreal lands through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) and Indigenous Guardians programs. Supporting and elevating their work to protect tens of millions of acres of bird habitat are key goals of Audubon Americas’ Boreal Conservation team. And in a big win last summer, the Canadian government pledged $340 million CAD to Indigenous protected area and stewardship programs across Canada as part of the country’s goal of conserving 25% of lands/waters by 2025 on the way to 30% by 2030. This will create hundreds of millions of acres of new protected areas supporting hundreds of millions of migratory birds.
An example of how we are supporting Indigenous-led conservation in the boreal lies in northern Manitoba, where we are partnering with the Seal River Watershed Alliance to record the sounds of a critical bird breeding habitat. This 12-million acre vital watershed—roughly the size of Costa Rica—is currently being proposed as an IPCA by the Seal River Watershed Alliance—a collaborative effort of the Sayisi Dene and their Cree, Dene, and Inuit neighbors. Audubon’s Boreal Conservation team is supporting their work by partnering on a bird song project that combines Indigenous knowledge and expertise with new sound recording and analyses technology. The data will then be used to demonstrate the importance of the Seal River Watershed as a vibrant ecosystem, increasing public support of the proposal and moving it closer to protection.
In 2021, we had many significant achievements, and we are building on that momentum as we continue our work in 2022. Stay up-to-date on all of our projects throughout the hemisphere by signing up for our Audubon Americas e-newsletter.