This year our conservation leaders, bird advocates, college students, ambassadors, volunteers, and scientists accomplished amazing things. Through early-December, more than 199,000 of us contacted decision-makers more than 783,700 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.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Nebraska’s Platte River is a critically important stopover site for migratory birds of the Central Flyway, including hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes. Audubon Nebraska has been a key player in the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, which governs water use and development along the Platte in three states and which was set to expire at the end of 2019. Audubon Nebraska and Audubon Rockies worked together with chapters to get the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Extension Act passed, ensuring that the Platte River and its habitats are protected for years to come.

Destructive Mine in Alaska Put on Hiatus

The proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska has been dealt a severe blow. In August the Army Corps of Engineers stopped development on the proposed mine in a critically important Alaskan watershed. The ruling, which determined that development of the mine would significantly damage or destroy one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world, did not stop the mine outright, but it does give the State of Alaska and the Environmental Protection Agency opportunity to shut it down. More than 39,000 Audubon supporters submitted comments to the EPA urging them to pull the plug on the project due to Clean Water Act violations. 

Audubon also sent a letter in late September to the Army Corps asking them to pull the permit in light of the Pebble Tapes, which showed the owners admitting that they had lied about the size of the mine and the duration that the mine would operate. Development of the mine is opposed by a bipartisan coalition that includes environmentalists, Alaskan Native communities, and anglers alike. In late November, the Army Corps denied the project a permit because the mine was "contrary to the public interest."

Tidal Marsh Restoration in the Bay Area Starts Phase 2

The second phase of an ambitious project to revive 400 acres of tidal marshland in the San Francisco Bay Area to become vital habitat for wading birds, small mammals, and spawning steelhead broke ground this fall. The Sonoma Creek Marsh project will help bring back natural channels to provide daily tidal flushing; currently king tides and storm events bring water onto the marsh plain, which cannot drain and creates stagnant ponds within the marsh.

During the first phase of the project, workers dug a single channel and dredged material was used to create a gently sloping transition zone, providing protection against climate-driven, storm surge flooding for local properties and a high-tide refuge for wildlife. This new phase includes wider additional channels and the dredged material will be used to create islands throughout the marsh to serve as important resting habitat for shorebirds, particularly during high tide events and storm surges. The project is a joint effort by Audubon California, San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District to alleviate ponding, and improve function of the tidal marsh habitat.

Diversion Project Halted, Gila River to Remain Wild

Audubon’s Western Rivers Action Network helped save one the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest. The Gila River and its tributary the San Francisco are two of the last free-flowing rivers in the southwest, and the last in New Mexico. The Gila River was the site of a proposed water diversion that would have seriously harmed the local ecosystem.

On June 18th, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, responsible for authorizing funds for the EIS process, voted not to continue supporting the EIS for a diversion, ending state involvement in the project and potentially ending the project’s prospects permanently. Additionally, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced legislation to designate 450 miles of the Gila river system as “Wild and Scenic” under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Among other things, this legislation would prevent diversions on the river and require it to be “free-flowing.”

The Gila River in New Mexico. Photo: EcoFlight

Expanded our Effort to Increase Forest Health into the Entire Lake Champlain Basin of New York and Vermont

Audubon’s “Woods, Wildlife, and Warblers” program grew this summer thanks to a $200,000 dollar award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Audubon New York and Audubon Vermont will work in collaboration with New York Tree Farm Program and Vermont Woodlands Association, to continue efforts to improve forest habitat for declining bird species like the Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, and Black-throated Blue Warbler.

The New York Forest Owners Association is also joining the project as a new partner, helping reach and engage their members throughout the project area that encompasses sixteen counties including Lake Champlain Basin in New York, and all of Vermont. The goal is to educate landowners and forest managers on the best management practices to keep these working lands bird-friendly. Further, the Bird-Friendly Maple Project and a priority procurement program with International Paper will incentivize landowners to manage their forests with an eye toward ecosystem health.

Wins for Tricolored Blackbirds, Black Rails, and Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos

Three bird species got a win this year due to the tireless efforts of Audubon staff in California, Arizona, and Louisiana. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service program, Audubon California was able to save 100 percent of California’s nesting Tricolored Blackbird colonies from disruption by farmers, representing 177,000 individual birds.

In the Southwest, thanks to the efforts of Audubon's Western Water team, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service upheld federal protections for the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

And in Louisiana, the secretive Black Rail was listed for protections under the Endangered Species Act thanks to the efforts of local chapters and the work of Audubon Louisiana.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Photo: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Three Wins in Florida

Audubon Florida was busy in 2020. To help protect important rural habitat in the state, Audubon Florida worked with State Senator Tom Lee on a proposed amendment requiring the creation of task forces for each of three new proposed turnpikes. The paths of these new roads would have opened large parts of remaining rural Florida to development, and potentially destroyed important conservation lands and wildlife habitats. The task forces found no need to build new roads through rural areas and that any capacity needs could be filled by expanding existing infrastructure. Audubon Florida was also able to secure $3.2 million to support coastal bird management and, working with various stakeholders, secure more than $600 million for Everglades restoration and water appropriations.

North Carolina Builds Coastal Resilience Hub to Help Plan for the Future

To help make the North Carolina coast more resilient to storms and sea level rise, Audubon North Carolina is building a coastal resiliency hub at its Pine Island Sanctuary on Currituck Sound. As part of this work, Audubon staff created a new living shoreline to help combat erosion, worked with Elizabeth City State University to map the marshes of Currituck Sound with drones, and built a free, publicly available marsh-restoration planning web app that will help land managers assess the most-threatened portions of Currituck Sound and craft restoration plans accordingly.

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