Top Wins for Birds in 2019: Policy

We secured victories for and defended birds in state houses and the U.S. Capitol

This year our conservation leaders, bird advocates, college students, ambassadors, volunteers, and scientists accomplished amazing things. Collectively, more than 151,400 of us took almost 620,000 online actions 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.

Four Clean Energy Wins in Six Months

Chapter members, college students, volunteers, and Audubon Ambassadors across our network were vitally important in securing four clean energy wins in six months. In Washington, Arkansas, South Carolina, and New York, elected representatives and state senators listened to constituents and ensured a healthier future for their states and birds.

Arkansas and South Carolina have become clean energy leaders in the South. The passage of the Solar Access Act in Arkansas and the Energy Freedom Act in South Carolina will expand access to solar energy and create more green jobs in these two states. And in Washington and New York, constituents celebrated the passage of two of the strongest pieces of climate legislation in the country: the 100 Percent Clean Energy Standard and the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. These laws say that the states must create a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2045 (Washington) and by 2050 (New York).

Victory for Birds, Parks and Taxpayers

In February, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act passed, permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and reauthorizing the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NBCA).

Since 1964, LWCF has helped conserve seven million acres of land across the United States, with projects in all 50 states and nearly every county. It has helped safeguard numerous Important Bird Areas, such as California’s Point Reyes National Sea Shore, has protected Cerulean Warbler habitat in Arkansas and wintering areas for Bald Eagles in Washington, and is helping to restore the Everglades. Thanks to LWCF, every year we see the expansion of our network of protected land, improvement in our access to outdoor recreation, and more essential places for birds protected from development.

Gulf Restoration Plan Helps Communities Recover from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Shortly after Audubon released its blueprint for Gulf restoration, we secured funding for five of the projects in the plan. In 2010, thousands of Common Loons and Black Terns were killed in the BP oil disaster before they were able to migrate back to their breeding grounds in the Upper Midwest. Restoration of nesting habitat for Common Loons in Minnesota and Black Terns in North and South Dakota will help these migratory species, which spend their winters in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, Audubon received funding to expand our Coastal Stewardship Program to the winter season in Mississippi, successfully advocated for the restoration of a historic nesting ground for Brown Pelicans on Queen Bess Island in Louisiana, and installed breakwaters along the remaining miles of unprotected shoreline at Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, Florida.

Defense of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Court, in Congress, and in California

After the Department of the Interior announced an unprecedented rollback of bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in late 2017, Audubon continued to push back and defend the law, achieving important wins this year. In the courts, alongside our partner organizations and eight states, we won a significant ruling in our federal lawsuit. The court rejected the federal government’s effort to dismiss the case, allowing it to move forward. Additionally, the U.S. House held a committee hearing on draft MBTA legislation that would reinforce bird protections under the law in which Audubon testified in support of the MBTA and the legislation. And in California, the state passed a bill championed by Audubon that strengthens California’s protections for migratory birds in light of the federal rollback.

Congress Works to Save Seabirds

For the first time ever, Congress introduced a bill to protect forage fish—the preferred prey of most seabirds—called the Forage Fish Conservation Act (HR 2236). This bipartisan legislation came to be in part thanks to Audubon volunteers who contacted their members of Congress through letters, LTEs, and op-eds, and in person meetings.

In April, Audubon hosted a #SaveTheSeabirds fly-in where 30 Audubon volunteers traveled to Washington, D.C. to educate their members of Congress about how seabirds have declined 70 percent since 1970, and about the work needed to reverse this trend, which includes protecting forage fish like shad and anchovies.

And in June, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act. This legislation, championed by Audubon, would implement a treaty that advances international efforts to conserve these legendary and imperiled species. It marks the first time that Congress has advanced this important bill, which now moves to the full House for consideration.

Drought Contingency Plan Will Help Protect 40 Million People and 400 Species of Birds

In April, Congress passed the Drought Contingency Plan, landmark legislation that addresses impending water shortages on the Colorado River. As temperatures continue to rise and the West becomes increasingly arid, the Colorado River Basin will become an even more important resource for economies and cities in the basin, as well as the millions of acres of farmland and birds like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler. Audubon worked strategically throughout the basin to build coalitions, engage bird-friendly businesses, create beer collaborations, and forge relationships with local, state and federal leaders. As the new plan is implemented, Audubon will continue to work with the Bureau of Reclamation, the basin states, and our partners in Mexico.

Great Lakes Action Plan Will Help Breeding Marsh Birds

In October, EPA released its Great Lakes Action Plan that outlines a five-year strategy to guide hundreds of millions of dollars in annual federal investment to restore and protect the Great Lakes. For the first time, through collaborative conservation and monitoring at local and regional scales, the plan will specifically seek to benefit breeding marsh birds, such as rails, grebes, bitterns, Black and Common Terns, and other species that rely on high-quality coastal wetlands. Audubon advocates attended every listening session across the Great Lakes to request this new focus on marsh birds.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Funding Supports Coastal Birds

In November, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced $30 million in new grants from their National Coastal Resilience Fund to benefit coastal areas across the country. Among them, Audubon will receive funding for three projects—totaling over $1 million with matching funds—to enhance coastal areas in North Carolina, New York, and California, protecting communities from storms while benefitting birds like Saltmarsh Sparrows and White Pelicans.

Conservation Groups Oppose Arctic Drilling and Seek Permanent Protections in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

For years, Audubon has fought to safeguard the Arctic Refuge, a vital nursery to millions of birds from all 50 states, from destructive oil and gas development. In March, 312 scientists sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior opposing oil and gas leasing in the Refuge. Additionally, members from conservation groups like Audubon Alaska, Alaska Wilderness League, and the Association of Retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Employees worked together to pen a 431 page critique of the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Impact Statement, and more than 41,000 Audubon members sent in comments opposing lease sales in the Refuge. On September 11, members of the U.S. Senate introduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act that, if passed, would designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain a wilderness area, preventing any oil or gas drilling in the area. This bill came just one day before the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Protection Act, which would repeal the leasing program along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Both bills are major steps toward protecting the Refuge.

Audubon and Coalition Partners Fight to Protect Threatened Western Landscape

In March, the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management chose to make dramatic changes to the 2015 sagebrush management plans agreed upon by more than 10 states in the Interior West, making it even easier for oil and gas companies to lease and drill in sage-grouse habitat. While a court has put these new plans on hold, Audubon is continuing to fight back against the ongoing threats to sage-grouse and their habitat. Upon closer inspection, Audubon, along with National Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society, found that the Department of the Interior failed to prioritize oil and gas leasing and drilling outside sage-grouse habitat, as the 2015 and 2019 sagebrush management plans mandate. Between January 2017 and March 2019, the Bureau of Land Management issued leases comprising almost 1.6 million acres and 2,553 drilling permits in sage-grouse habitat.

Despite these challenges, the state of Wyoming took the lead in sage-grouse conservation, with ongoing support from stakeholders like Audubon. Governor Mark Gordon of Wyoming issued a new Greater Sage-Grouse Executive Order, with a mandate that maintains the level of protections from the 2015 management plans. The Executive Order prioritizes increasing and improving sage-grouse habitat that will subsequently benefit more than 350 species of wildlife.