Top Wins for Birds in 2020

This year brought unprecedented challenges, but Audubon and its supporters still achieved important victories to help protect both birds and people.

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.

1. We worked with local, state, and federal government to create lasting positive change.

Defending and Strengthening Foundational Bird Conservation Laws

It’s been an eventful year for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 102-year-old law that forms the foundation for the modern bird conservation movement. In July, the Department of the Interior (DOI) advanced its proposed regulation that guts the MBTA. Reaction was swift and furious, and Audubon and a broad coalition of partners generated more than a quarter of a million comments decrying the move.

Simultaneous to our efforts to block DOI rewriting the MBTA rules, we were in federal court fighting this rollback as part of National Audubon Society vs. the Department of the Interior, and in August we won. The DOI filed a notice on October 8 stating that it intends to appeal the decision.

At the state level, California and Vermont passed and enacted bills to reinstate bird protections to backstop the federal rollbacks. Audubon was critical to the creation and passage of these bills; advocates in Vermont testifying on behalf of the bill were instrumental in its success. California’s bill was signed into law in 2019 and Vermont’s bill was signed by Governor Phil Scott on October 8. Meanwhile, Virginia has announced it intends to issue regulations that would protect birds and create a new permitting program.

We’re also working with Congress to pass a bill that would both reinforce the MBTA and provide a permitting framework for industry. This bill, the Migratory Bird Protection Act, passed out of committee in the House and is awaiting further action.

Feeding Baby Seabirds in the Atlantic

In early August, Atlantic seabirds got a big boost. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission was formed to coordinate and manage fishery resources, voted unanimously to recognize the important role Atlantic menhaden play for birds, fish, and other wildlife on the Atlantic Coast, and the need to manage that fishery with an eye to overall ecosystem health. The vote sets the stage for not only healthier fisheries from Maine to Florida, but for fisheries that better support birds like Atlantic Puffin and Least Tern. Collaboration from all levels of Audubon, working together, made it possible. Conservation and policy staff at the state and national level were key to providing knowledge of how fishery practices affect birds, while our chapter network engaged local decision-makers on how important strong bird populations are to their constituencies.

Saved Critical Old-Growth Forest in Alaska

Audubon helped save portions of the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island from logging interests after it and its partners won a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to appeal the decision. Large old-growth trees and rich ecosystem of Prince of Wales Island contributes to the region’s tourism, fishing, and recreation, and are critical habitats for wolves, deer, and birds like Queen Charlotte Goshawk and Prince of Wales Spruce Grouse.

Climate Action Across the Country

Climate was a hot topic around the Audubon network, with a number of policy wins that show how climate and natural solutions are bipartisan issues.

Coastal Resiliency Win in South Carolina

This year the South Carolina legislature passed the Disaster Relief and Resilience Act to help mitigate many of the problems caused by sea-level rise, which makes flooding a persistent problem in the state. This law, which Audubon has long supported and helped get over the finish line, creates a new state resilience office, led by a state resilience officer, sets requirements for statewide resilience planning, creates a new revolving loan program that will help finance the voluntary buy out of repetitively flooded properties and restore those properties to a natural state; and requires local governments to incorporate resilience into their comprehensive plans. 

Vermont passed the Global Warming Solutions Act

The Vermont General Assembly passed the Global Warming Solutions Act into law this fall. The legislation sets carbon pollution reduction targets, requires the development of a state plan to achieve those goals and includes natural climate solutions in that plan, and creates an enforcement provision for the public to sue the state for non-compliance with implementing that plan. Audubon Vermont joined together with a broad coalition of organizations across the environmental, housing, social services and energy sectors to help advance the bill.  

Connecticut passed a climate bill that explicitly addresses environmental justice; Governor issues an executive order mandating climate mitigation strategies

Audubon Connecticut helped push a significant step forward for environmental justice in the state with the passage of HB 7008. The legislation requires facilities like power plants, waste treatment facilities, and other large air-emissions producers that impact the environment to communicate more with the public and lawmakers about those impacts, and increases the opportunity for frontline communities to be heard by decision-makers. Audubon Connecticut testified earlier this year and advocated for bipartisan support of the bill. 

Additionally, Audubon Connecticut staff lent its expertise on wetlands, rivers, and environmental funding to a new executive order that strengthens Connecticut’s efforts to mitigate climate change and establishes a Governor’s Council on Climate Change to offer recommendations for addressing the impact of climate change on our human and animal communities, our infrastructure, and our economy. This kind of executive order is one of the best paths forward to creating impact at scale when tackling large issues like climate change.

New York renewables plan includes protections for at-risk species

Audubon New York made sure that New York State’s future wind-power projects will protect critical habitat. The projects will require overall environmental and fisheries mitigation plans, provisions to mitigate impacts to wildlife from noise, vessel strikes, and lighting, and a provision for financial and technical support for monitoring wildlife and commercial fish stocks, through a minimum contribution of $10,000 per megawatt. This adds up to $25M for all monitoring efforts across New York state. These new plans are a direct result of our advocacy work with the New York State Environmental Technical Working Group

Louisiana Sets Up a Net-Zero Task Force; New Orleans Adopts Net-Zero Carbon Standard

Two executive orders in Louisiana help set the state up to achieve its stated climate goals of net zero by 2050. The first EO established the Climate Initatives Task Force; the second establishes a Chief Resilience Officer within the Office of the Governor. Work around climate resiliency and net zero will fit into Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, a key framework to help protect Louisiana from the effects of sea level rise. Audubon was an important partner in helping create the Coastal Master Plan and works to keep those projects funded, especially via Deepwater Horizon settlement money. 

Additionally, The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to adopt a Renewable and Clean Portfolio Standard, mandating net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, and a zero-carbon energy portfolio by 2050. Audubon and its partners played a major role in the campaign to get this standard adopted.

Washington State Passes Four Climate-related Policies

Four policies focused on fighting carbon emissions and building a sustainable energy future passed the Washington State legislature this year, including a bill that helps farmers access funds to to better achieve lower emissions and higher carbon sequestration; a bill that requires state agencies to emissions reduction targets; a supplemental budget item to fund better renewables siting; and a requirement to make more electric or other zero-emissions vehicles available for sale in the state. Audubon was instrumental in building grassroots support for the passage of these bills throughout the state, especially the Sustainable Farms and Fields bill, which advances natural climate solutions.

Arkansas Finalizes Rule on Solar Energy

The Arkansas General Assembly approved a rule that makes solar energy more accessible to individuals and businesses in Arkansas and protects full retail credits for all consumers who wish to install solar panels and then sell their excess energy back to the grid. An Audubon-led coalition was key to the crafting of this policy and to its eventual adoption.

Virginia Adopts First Statewide Clean-energy Standard in the Southeast

The Virginia Clean Economy Act, the first statewide clean-energy standard in the U.S. Southeast, passed and was signed into law this spring. Audubon chapters throughout Virginia met with legislators to lobby on behalf of the bill. The legislation provides a blueprint to 100% carbon-free energy production; enacts a binding energy efficiency standard to reduce overall energy consumption; sets a path to closing all fossil fuel emitting power plants in Virginia by 2045; and requires utilities to increase wind and solar energy every year through a mandatory renewable portfolio standard.

30 By 30 Win in California Paves the Way for Indigenous Land Stewardship

This fall California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order directing state agencies to begin an effort to catalogue, study and protect the state’s diversity of wildlife species and to enlist the help of cities, ranchers, farmers and industry in preserving California’s vast expanses of working lands. The goal is to set aside 30 percent of the state's open spaces for conservation by 2030. The order will help ensure access to nature for all Californians, especially those living in nature-deprived communities. This EO is based on the Audubon California-sponsored assembly bill AB 3030, which follows the “30 by 30” international movement to set aside 30 percent of the earth’s land area to preserve wildlife habitat and protect against climate change. It also recognizes the rights, stewardship, and wisdom of Indigenous People and prioritizes ensuring the benefits of cleaner lands, waters, and air are shared by all people.

Building a Secure Water Future for Everyone

Water security is a critically important topic across Audubon, not just in the arid West, but also in hydrologically complex landscapes like the Florida Everglades. Audubon’s work was key to making sure there’s enough water to go around for everyone.

Three important bills on water resource management pass in Utah

Audubon has been working alongside key stakeholders to develop solutions to increase Utah’s flexibility in managing water resources for agricultural, municipal, and environmental needs. Three new bills—all of which have been signed into law—will help achieve those goals.

The Water Banking Act authorizes a 10-year water banking pilot program that allows water rights holders the opportunity to temporarily and voluntarily lease their water rights included in a water bank. The objectives of the Act include promoting optimal use of the public’s water, transparency, and access to markets. The Act’s provisions also are intended to facilitate sustainable agricultural production, meet municipal demands, and help meet water quality standards and provide for a healthy and resilient natural environment.

A second bill makes it easier for water users to share water or otherwise split water allotments—so-called split-season use—so that everyone has enough during the specific time of year that they need it.

Finally, the Watershed Council Act authorizes creation of local basin councils as a forum for addressing watershed issues with local interests and expertise. The bill also establishes a statewide Utah Watersheds Council to provide a forum to encourage and facilitate discussion and collaboration.

Water Users Can Now Opt to Leave Water in Rivers

After a multi-year, multi-stakeholder effort from Audubon and others, a bill expanding the Colorado Water Conservation Board short-term water loan program passed with widespread bipartisan support. With this new law, water users will have more flexibility to divert less or no water during dry years, which allows for more water to stay in a river—ultimately benefiting our environment, wildlife, and local economies.

Everglades Gets Record-setting Funding to Improve Water Use

Audubon Florida helped secure record-high Everglades appropriations at both the state and federal levels. From Governor Ron DeSantis’ call for recurrent, aggressive funding for water projects with special emphasis on water appropriations to further Everglades restoration, to historic federal appropriations, the more than $600 million dollars will help build a secure future for both birds and people in the state.

2. Our programs elevate smart ideas and help them achieve impact at scale.

Created a Science-Based Tool to Assess Land-management Effectiveness

Audubon staff published a peer-reviewed article establishing the Bird-Friendliness Index (BFI) for monitoring the impact of Audubon's Conservation Ranching initiative. This is first-of-its kind tool for assessing how management actions and the context of the surrounding landscape are influencing bird habitat.

Our findings suggest that practices recommended for use in bird‐friendly grassland habitat management plans will increase the abundance and resilience of the grassland and aridland birds like the Bobolink, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and the American Golden Plover.

Increased our Flock: Audubon on (More) Campuses
Two years ago, the National Audubon Society launched an initiative dedicated to engaging students and leaders across the country: the Audubon on Campus program. The program has successfully the organization’s network to more than one 120 campuses across the country.

In addition to expanding students’ interests in birds across the country, Audubon also made sure these young conservation leaders had professional opportunities and careers paths in conservation. Throughout the year, our Audubon on Campus team adapted events, created programs, hosted interns, and partnered with organizations to cultivate the next generation of conservationists. Some of the highlights include the inaugural virtual Youth Environmental Summit (read more about that here) and a new partnership with the Walton Family Foundation that expanded engagement with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and created opportunities for students looking to get into environmental education.

Helped Communities Across the Country Be More Bird-Friendly

This year, Audubon maintained its commitment to transforming communities into places where birds flourish. From campuses in Southern California to the urban metropolis of New York City, we know each community has a unique ecological story to tell. That is why we collaborated with city and local officials to establish proclamations, resolutions, and ordinances (PROs) and with chapters to create demonstration gardens across the country.

Our network—both Audubon staff and chapters—has been instrumental in getting legislation passed or modified in a variety of locations that will make places safer for the birds. The City of New York passed a landmark bill late last year that has already proven to prevent avian fatalities and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes more than $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with key protections for birds and wildlife, including amendments that incorporated the Bird-Safe Buildings Act and Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. In total, we passed four state level and eleven local level native-plant PROs as well as five demonstration gardens, three of which are on colleges and universities in our Audubon on Campus program.

3. Our conservation work throughout the hemisphere protected birds and the places they need.

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.”

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.

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 $2.6 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.

4. We worked with like-minded organizations and brands to promote bird conservation to new audiences. 

Brought Young Climate Advocates Together for the Inaugural YES 2020

Audubon and American Conservation Coalition (ACC) Campus showed how climate solutions are a unifying cause. Nearly 100 young climate advocates from the Audubon on Campus program and ACC tuned into the inaugural Youth Environmental Summit, a two-day event filled with opportunities for students to learn from and be in conversation with leading scientists, climate activists, and Congressional members at the forefront of bipartisan climate solutions.

Audubon and ACC Campus staff say the attendees of the Youth Environmental Summit will be able to leverage their new advocacy training and tools to prove environmental protection breaks through political barriers, not just now when many campuses are closing due to coronavirus, but well into the future.

Teamed Up with Bower & Branch to Bring Native Plants to More People

The first-ever Audubon-branded line of native plants and trees launched this past spring. In partnership with Bower & Branch, Audubon released a special selection of four species of Audubon-certified native oak trees online at Costco. Plants were 100% neonicotinoid-free and sourced by using the Audubon's Plants for Birds database. This new partnership makes native plants more accessible across the U.S. with robust ecommerce platform and revolutionary large-goods shipping solutions. As Audubon continues its work with Bower & Branch, the goal is to expand the offerings range across the country and to incorporate select retail distribution online and collaborate with brick and mortar stores.

Partnered with the International Dark-Sky Association to Protect the Night Sky for Birds and People

Twice each year, billions of birds fly between wintering and breeding grounds, facing innumerable threats along the way. In North America, 70 percent of bird species migrate and, of those, 80 percent migrate at night, using the night sky to help them navigate. Because artificial light at night and skyglow around buildings can be fatal to migrating birds, Audubon embarked on a new partnership with the International Dark Sky Association to help combat the threat as part of the Bird-friendly Communities conservation strategy. It is a commitment to the places birds need and the conservation of critical habitat, including the sky. The partnership will help provide both organizations’ chapter networks and the communities they serve with the tools, resources, and join collaborations to help return the night sky to a more natural state, and protect the dark skies sky for birds and people.

5. Audubon is local everywhere. Our chapter network and state offices were critical to protecting and restoring the places that birds need to thrive.

Turning a Golf Course Into a Bird Haven in Nevada

Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation, in partnership with Lahontan Audubon Society and AmeriCorps, are restoring vital wetland habitat in a decommissioned golf course in Reno, Nevada. Bird numbers have been declining in the Truckee Meadows valley since the 1970s, when agricultural and urban projects replaced a vast network of wetlands in the area, and drove birds like Black-Headed Grosbeak and Willow Flycatcher out. The former Rosewood Lakes Golf Course sits on one of the last vestiges of the disappearing wetlands and has been overrun by invasive plants like salt cedar and tall whitetop.

Since the project began in late 2019, the project’s team has already removed 48 acres of weeds and invasive species, planted 450 native plants, and enhanced approximately 1.85 miles of trails with interpretive signage and walkways for bird viewing, outdoor fieldtrips, and community science projects. Over the coming months, members of Lahontan Audubon will help monitor the site to evaluate how and when the birds recolonize the area.

Restoring Wetlands along the Colorado River

Grand Valley Audubon in Colorado harnessed the power of community, local, state, and national partnerships to generate the support and funding needed to enhance critical wetland habitat along the Colorado River.

Shallow water wetlands for migrating birds are in the first phase of construction and restoration on Grand Valley Audubon’s 60-acre parcel adjacent to the main stem Colorado River. This $75,000 upgrade to the Audubon Nature Preserve is four years in the making and was funded by Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, and other funding sources.

Restoring a Critical Rookery Island in South Carolina

Bay Point Island is one of South Carolina’s last remaining undeveloped islands that threatened and endangered coastal birds rely on for habitat. Recently, there was a proposal to develop the island into an ecotourism resort, which would have negatively impacted the habitat for birds on the island, as well as likely resulted in unnecessary costs to the local government related to emergency response and water quality concerns when the island flooded during storms and ultimately with projected sea-level rise. Beyond the ecological impacts of the project, the Gullah Geechee community raised concerns about the threat it posed to significant cultural resources, including access to traditional fishing grounds and the economic displacement the project could cause.

With the help of Audubon’s advocacy—led by the Hilton Head chapter—and partner conservation organizations, the issue of Bay Point Island rose to the attention of State Senators Chip Campsen and Shannon Erikson, Congressional Representative Joe Cunningham, and Governor Henry McMaster, who also weighed in with opposition to the project. Due to the opposition, the county zoning board voted not to allow the project to move forward, providing a significant boost for South Carolina birds like the Piping Plover, Red Knot, Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover that rely on the island.

Protecting Whooping Cranes from Transmission Line Collisions

This summer critically endangered Whooping Cranes got a reprieve when the District Court of Colorado vacated the permit for the “R-Project,” a 225-mile electrical transmission line. Collisions with power lines during migration is recognized as one of the principal threats to this iconic imperiled species, and the R-Project was set to be constructed directly across the center of the Whooping Crane migratory corridor. Audubon and its partners opposed the siting of this transmission line, first filing an amicus brief against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Endangered Species Act compliance, and then filing a second amicus brief in a civil lawsuit against the project. With the incidental take permit vacated, the project cannot go forward without additional impact analyses.

Relocating a Displaced Seabird Colony in Virginia

Last fall, Virginia’s Department of Transportation paved over the nesting site on South Island to make way for the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project. Considered the largest road project in Virginia’s history, the expansion is expected to ease congestion along the bustling stretch of I-64 connecting Hampton and Norfolk. But for the birds—several of which are of concern in Virginia—it erased crucial nesting habitat.

After pressure from Audubon and local chapters, the State of Virginia relocated the colony nesting site. Using decoys and other social attraction methods—pioneered by Audubon’s Seabird Institute—on the island set aside for the colony, Virginia state scientists successfully lured 20,000 terns and skimmers to the new site.

6. Audubon committed to becoming an anti-racist organization and partnered with community-led groups to make conservation and the outdoors accessible and equitable for everyone.

Deepened Our Commitment to an Anti-Racist Future

Part of becoming an anti-racist organization means grappling with the racist personal history of John James Audubon. His contributions to ornithology, art, and culture are enormous, but he was a complex and troubling character who did despicable things during his life. Earlier this year, our president and CEO David Yarnold penned an article letting our members and audiences know that Audubon is committed to doing anti-racist work transparently, patiently, and inclusively, resisting quick judgments or easy outs.

We have already received overwhelming support for our anti-racist commitments from Audubon members, staff, and volunteer leaders, but we know the work is far from done. Here are some of the ways we committed to transparent and necessary social justice work.

Black Birders Week

In response to the racist incident in New York’s Central Park where a white woman threatened Christian Cooper’s life while he was birding, Tykee James, Audubon’s government affairs coordinator and fellow Black birders, scientists, and naturalists responded with Black Birders Week. Instead of focusing on trauma, the more than thirty organizers planned a week centered around strength, pride, style, humor, and fun.

Through online programming, social media activities, and livestreamed discussions, the Black birding community came together to shine a light on the dramatically different experiences people of color have in conservation spaces. More than 300,000 viewers tuned into two community-led discussion panels, which Audubon livestreamed on its Facebook page. According to James, the overwhelming support for Black Birders Week is “​a snowflake in what will become an avalanche.”​

Engaged in Tough Conversations

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others showed that the country’s deeply flawed criminal justice system must change.  Black Americans should not face lower odds of survival and prosperity across every measure of wellbeing in this country, but they do. These events have sparked a global conversation on the ways in which racism pervades our social and legal institutions, including our systems for protecting the environment.

Throughout the summer, Audubon Vermont catalyzed these conversations on important social and environmental topics. Their youth-led “Tough Conversations” webinar series touched on a multitude of topics including environmental and racial justice and climate in the age of COVID-19.   The three-part series reached more than 50,000 people who wanted to hear from emerging voices in the environmental and policy arena. Audubon is prepared to be challenged, informed, and armed with tools to take action, and so are tomorrow’s leaders.

Introducing: The Newly Renamed Blue Ridge Audubon

In Asheville, North Carolina’s growing movement to lift Black voices and address past and present wrongs, the former Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society exists no more. On July 21st, this the Ashville-based chapter officially adopted the name Blue Ridge Audubon, in recognition of the natural beauty and unique biodiversity of these mountains. Nancy Casey, president of Blue Ridge Audubon says her chapter says the new name is just the first step in building a truly inclusive and welcoming outdoors for everyone.

“Blue Ridge Audubon is committed to making the outdoors and the joy of birds a safe and welcoming place for Black people and all others,” Casey Says. “We are proud to call this region home and are committed to protecting all that makes it so special for birds and people.”

Found New Ways to Celebrate Pride Month

It was a rough year for people who love birds, exploring the outdoors, and our Let’s Go Birding Together (LGBT) series. Every June marks Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, usually just shortened to Pride Month. Since we could not have parades, picnics, or bird walks, Audubon staff adapted and celebrated with people where they were—in their homes and backyards and online.

Thanks to a bit of ingenuity and a willingness to experiment we still were able to celebrate (and groove) during Pride month. Audubon California hosted a Let’s Go-Go Birding Together social hour that drew more than 60 bird nerds, members of the LGBTQIA++ community, and allies. The group spent the hour learning how to transform into a Painted Bunting with drag queen and Disney Prince, L Y L E and seven bird-inspired dance moves with 2020 Artist In Residence at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center, the Sarah Bush Dance Project. Since its airing, the tutorial video has been viewed more than 73,000 times. 

Worked to Combat Community Displacement

The Audubon Center at Debs Park introduced "Greening in Place: Protecting Communities from Displacement," a comprehensive resource for park agencies, conservation organizations, local decision makers, and community advocates to engage in equitable green infrastructure development.

Green infrastructure projects are often financed with public dollars, with the stated intent of building healthy communities for underserved populations and of improving access to green amenities in under-resourced, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. But such investments, together with shifting job and housing markets, can also set in motion or intensify a process of gentrification and displacement—a process called “green gentrification.”

The Greening In Place guide created by Debs Park in partnership with SEACA-LAPublic Counsel, and Team Friday assesses displacement risks associated with green infrastructure investment and provides a number of recommended strategies to reduce the potential harmful economic impacts such investments may have on vulnerable populations. The guide was made possible by Prop 1 funding through the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. You can get the toolkit here.

Birdability Week

Because of a lack of infrastructure and awareness at the local, state, and federal levels, accessibility in the outdoors can be especially challenging to those with mobility impairment. Birdability will help change that. Audubon worked with Travis Audubon Society board member Virginia Rose to launch Birdability Week and the Birdability online portal. Community-led panel discussions on how to make birding more inclusive, and how to improve access for those living with mobility impairment, were livestreamed on Audubon’s Facebook page and viewed more than 23,000 times.

Want to help make birding more inclusive? One easy thing you can do is rate your local birding spots for accessibility using the Birdability site.


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