This year our conservation leaders, bird advocates, college students, ambassadors, volunteers, and scientists accomplished amazing things. Through early-December, more than 170,000 of us contacted decision-makers more than 1,085,000 times on behalf of birds. All of the accomplishments listed below come from the hard work and dedication of our members, chapters, volunteers, and staff. We're very proud of what we have been able to accomplish together over the past 12 months.
Keep reading to see the most important ways that our flock worked together this year.
Reinstated Three National Monuments
In October, the Biden-Harris administration restored protections for three national monuments—Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the coast of New England, and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah—that the previous administration had shrunk or opened up to commercial exploitation.
In 2017, the Trump administration downsized Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly 50 percent. And in 2020, President Trump signed a proclamation to open the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing. This rollback increased the risk of seabirds getting hooked on fishing line or caught in a net and reduced the amount of fish available for them to eat. Audubon’s Seabird Institute was instrumental in uncovering that Maine’s recently restored populations of Atlantic Puffins rely on this monument to stock up on fish in winter months. The reinstated protections mean that these areas will be safe for birds to forage for fish in the coming years.
Restoring Federal Safeguards to Globally Significant Wetlands
In January 2021 Audubon and conservation partners filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s unlawful 2020 attempt to revive a massive project known as the Yazoo Pumps that would drain Mississippi Flyway wetlands that support more than 28 million migratory birds annually. In response to the lawsuit, in November the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restored its 2008 Clean Water Act veto of the Yazoo Pumps, effectively halting the project and ensuring some of the nation’s richest habitats are protected once again.
Audubon engaged more than 93,000 scientists, conservation and social justice organizations, citizens, and Audubon members to deliver comments opposing the project. Audubon and partners also developed and shared with EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers a suite of nature-based solutions that would provide effective flood relief for vulnerable communities while benefitting birds and other wildlife.
Delivered Water to the Parched Colorado River Delta
From May through October this year, 35,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water—about 11 billion gallons—made its way from the U.S.-Mexico border to the river’s fan-shaped terminus 100 miles away. It is the first time since a brief period in 2014 that the Colorado reached the sea. Because of the tireless advocacy by Raise the River, a binational alliance of six conservation groups including Audubon, and a series of delicate negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico, the delta will see more of this in the future: by 2026 it will receive 210,000 acre-feet of water in total.
These water deliveries have real impact. After the 2014 pulse of water and some targeted water deliveries to restore riparian habitats, the delta bloomed in response: Bird abundance rose 20 percent and avian diversity increased 42 percent, showing even a modest amount of water can make a big difference.
Securing Water for Great Salt Lake Wetlands
In October, the Utah Division of Water Rights approved applications to deliver water to Farmington Bay of Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River. An innovative partnership is laying the groundwork to voluntarily share water for the lake to meet crucial needs for people, birds, and other wildlife.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Rio Tinto Kennecott, Central Utah Water Conservancy District, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission collaborated to achieve this important step in addressing Great Salt Lake’s declining water levels. Through two donations of water rights, up to approximately 21,000 acre-feet of water annually could be delivered to Farmington Bay over the next ten years.
Keeping water flowing to Great Salt Lake’s wetlands and open water habitats is vital to maintaining important natural areas of international and hemispheric importance for birds, while also benefiting people.
Delivering More Than 80 million Gallons of Water to the Drying Rio Grande
In order to address the Rio Grande’s crippling drought and one of the driest water supplies in over 50 years, Audubon is doing its part to create solutions that work for people and the birds that rely on a healthy flowing river. Through long-term funding support from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Audubon released more than 80 million gallons of water into the Rio Grande in an effort that is tightly coordinated with water managers and biologists to ensure effective and efficient use. Audubon secures this water through voluntary leases of water rights from water users. For our farming communities, this means an ability to manage through crop shortfalls—to come out the other side of a growing season with the farm intact and hope for future revenue. For our river this means an ability to survive drying and associated stresses to riverside plant and animal communities.
Helping Black Skimmers Nest Again on the Gulf
For the first time in 10 years, Black Skimmers successfully fledged chicks on the Louisiana mainland, thanks in part to a recent project to restore beaches in the southwestern corner of the state.
In late July, Audubon biologists located a Black Skimmer nest “scrape,” or a depression in the sand, containing four eggs along a Cameron Parish shoreline restoration site near Holly Beach. By mid-August, three skimmer pairs had initiated nesting in the area. A dedicated set of stewards and volunteers protected the birds from beachgoers throughout the summer and early fall, and the final chick fledged in September.
Launching a Bird-friendly Forester Program
This year, Audubon’s Connecticut and New York regional office, along with Audubon Vermont, launched the Audubon Forester Training and Endorsement Program to help create high-quality habitat at scale. More than 180 foresters in 19 states attended the first two training webinar series launched in May 2021. The program will grow a national network of professional foresters who, once endorsed, can connect with landowners and work together to prioritize habitat for birds and other wildlife. Foresters in the program learn about birds in decline, and landscape and stand-level planning and management to improve forest habitat diversity.
Protecting One of North America’s Most Imperiled Bird Species
In response to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 22,000 Audubon members voiced their support for extending further protections to these birds who whose home range includes parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. The listing will prohibit anyone from harming the birds either directly or indirectly, and it requires the development of a recovery plan for the species and the identification of critical habitat. New federal investments and incentives for landowners resulting from the listing decision will make our grassland healthier, improve the infiltration of groundwater, sequester carbon, and make the rangeland more resilient overall. This is good for the bird and for ranchers, farmers, and communities who depend on these resources.
Taking Regenerative Agriculture to Market
In April, Audubon and Panorama Meats, the largest producer of organic grass-fed, grass-finished beef in the U.S. announced a one-million-acre regenerative grassland partnership—the largest such program in the country. The commitment will create individual habitat management plans with every family rancher in the Panorama Organic network through Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative.
The Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative seeks to enhance the stewardship of grasslands for the benefit of birds, as they have suffered significant decline over the past 50 years due to the loss of U.S. grasslands to widespread development. The initiative empowers consumers to support programs that restore bird populations via conservation practices by selectively purchasing beef nationwide from Audubon-certified farms and ranches, including Panorama Organic and other participating brands.
Starting Restoration on Crab Bank, a Critically Important Barrier Island
After Audubon South Carolina secured the necessary funding, including a grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Army Corps of Engineers has begun reconstruction of Crab Bank. The restoration should be completed by the end of the year, in time for the start of the 2022 nesting season.
Historically, the protected barrier island served as one of the last remaining safe critical nesting area for thousands of shorebirds and seabirds in South Carolina. After heightened erosion caused by a series of severe storms, the island experienced its first year on record of no nests in 2018. Dredge material from Charleston Harbor is being used by the Army Corps of Engineers to restore the island to approximately 30 acres of valuable high ground. After the birds arrive, Audubon will partner with a coalition of local groups to monitor the island, host a live video feed of nesting, and steward the island for years to come.
Keeping Sprawl Out of Environmentally Sensitive Areas
In 2019, legislation in Florida mandated the construction of 330 miles of new turnpikes through some of Florida’s most sensitive environmental areas and important rural farmland areas, effectively prying them open for future development and sprawl. But after months of meetings and important policy work, Florida state senator Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), chair of the Transportation Committee, introduced Senate Bill 100, which repeals the earlier mandate.
Audubon worked diligently to make sure this legislation enshrined in the statute new language requires that Department of Transportation takes into consideration the protective recommendations from prior task forces that did environmental assessments of the highway projects, and include some of the most environmentally protective guidelines for highway planning and design ever prescribed in Florida, in the event the turnpikes are proposed again in the future.
Celebrating the Completion of a 30-Year Restoration of the Kissimmee River
On July 29, Audubon Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the South Florida Water Management District celebrated the 40 miles of restored river and floodplains, and more than 25,000 acres of restored wetlands along the Kissimmee River, the largest functioning restoration project in the world. The Kissimmee River once stretched 103 miles in length, curving through Central Florida as a haven for wildlife, and its two-mile-wide floodplain was regularly inundated by seasonal rainfall, which provided important habitat to fish, wading birds, and other species.
Following restoration, Lake Kissimmee is expected to rise one and a half feet, storing water to feed the river during the dry season and rehydrating another 20 square miles of dried marshes. The river’s floodplain will flood seasonally and the river will meander again in order to replicate its natural path.
Securing $35 Million for Gulf Coast Birds
In March, the Deepwater Horizon Trustees announced nearly $100 million in new Gulf restoration projects, including almost $35 million specifically to support bird populations that are still recovering from the oil spill 11 years ago. Several of the projects selected for funding are included in Audubon’s vision for restoring the Gulf of Mexico.
Among the projects proposed is the Bird Nesting and Foraging Area Stewardship project, which will support coastal bird stewardship across four Gulf states. Other projects to support birds include restoring, protecting, and managing critical nesting islands like Chester Island in Texas, the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana, Round Island in Mississippi, and Dauphin Island in Alabama. Finally, another new project will identify and remove marine debris at key “hotspots” on the Gulf Coast, where birds and sea turtles are at risk of ingesting or getting entangled in marine debris such as discarded fishing line, nets, or traps.
Advocating for Marine Protections
In January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA for short, announced it will expand the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to nearly triple its current size. Situated on salt domes rising up from the seafloor, Flower Garden Banks is one of only two marine sanctuaries in the entire Gulf of Mexico. Its brightly colored coral reefs are an important feeding ground for seabirds like Northern Gannets and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
Restoring Grasslands from Marginal Grazing Land
Audubon Dakota successfully launched the Conservation Forage Program that aims to restore 18,000 acres of marginal cropland back to grassland in North Dakota to improve forage availability and quality. These grassland acres will benefit the landowner and livestock, as well as grassland birds and native wildlife, while protecting North Dakota's air and water quality for future generations.
Saving 100 Percent of Tricolored Blackbird Colonies
Each spring and summer, Audubon California works with landowners and community partners to protect Tricolored Blackbirds across the state. This year that collaboration helped save 100 percent—170,000 birds in total—of the Tricolored Blackbird colonies nesting on agricultural fields. In years of drought, the Tricolored Blackbird's native habitat becomes even more limited, making the success of our program essential to the species' survival. This year, the largest colony detected was estimated to host around 30,000 birds.
Protecting One of the Last Undeveloped Barrier Islands in North Carolina
Hutaff Island, one of North Carolina’s last privately owned undeveloped barrier islands, will be conserved forever thanks to a partnership between Audubon North Carolina, NC Coastal Land Trust, and the Hutaff/McEachern family, funded by conservation philanthropist Tim Sweeney.
Hutaff is a 2-mile long ribbon of pristine beach and saltmarsh located between Lea Island and Topsail Beach to the north and Figure 8 Island to the south. Conserving this wild and uninhabited place in perpetuity will keep the island’s natural inlets and dynamic ecosystems intact, providing critical habitat for sea turtles, vulnerable beach-nesting birds like Black Skimmers, and a host of other rare and threatened wildlife.
Launching the Audubon Americas Program
After a year of analyzing our past work and other successful programs throughout Latin America, Audubon launched its Audubon Americas program to tackle full life-cycle conservation across the hemisphere. Audubon Americas will work mainly in Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and The Bahamas, focusing on regenerative agriculture and protecting key sites in the Americas that support both migratory and resident bird species. Learn more here.