Top Wins for Birds and People in 2021

This year was uniquely challenging, but Audubon and its supporters achieved some incredible victories to support 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 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.

We worked with state and federal lawmakers and courts to protect birds and the places they need.

Restoring the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Making It Stronger

In September the Biden-Harris administration not only restored the protections afforded to birds in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to levels last seen during the Obama administration, the administration took it a step further by also announcing a regulatory framework for industry so that they could be compliant with the law. Audubon has been advocating for strengthening the MBTA since at least 2015, so seeing the law both restored to its former strength and then some, is a testament to the advocacy work done by thousands of Audubon members over the years. 

Bringing Climate Resilience to Infrastructure

The recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) brings hope for birds, ecosystems, and communities. The Act is a cornerstone of the Biden-Harris Administration, addressing long-awaited infrastructure needs with historic amounts of funding for Audubon priorities. Some highlights include:

  • more than $8 billion to address drought in the West
  • $7.5 billion for clean transportation infrastructure like EV charging stations, 1 billion for coastal resilience funding
  • nearly $5 billion for clean energy demonstration projects, including on current and abandoned mine lands
  • more than $600 million for USDA watershed programs
  • $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
  • $1.9 billion for Army Corps Ecosystem Restoration projects

Supporting Bipartisan Federal Climate Legislation

In June, the United States Senate passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act. The bill seeks to address barriers to entry for landowners trying to access voluntary carbon markets. These markets have the potential to further support farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners in adopting sustainable practices like planting cover crops, prescribed grazing, and reforestation. In addition to other benefits, these markets may support natural solutions to climate change via voluntary land management practices that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions.

Securing Water for Imperiled Saline Lakes

In September, Congressman Blake Moore (R-UT) and Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act to establish a scientific monitoring and assessment program to better manage conservation efforts for saline lake ecosystems and migratory birds in the West.

The Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act would provide the U.S. Geological Survey—in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tribal, state, academic, and nonprofit organizations—resources to conduct scientific monitoring and assessments to establish effective management and conservation efforts to preserve essential Saline Lake habitats within the Great Basin network. 

Saline lakes within the Great Basin—which includes areas of Utah, California, Nevada, and Oregon—provide a critical network of habitats for millions of migrating shorebirds, waterbirds, and waterfowl. Declining water levels due to demand, drought, and environmental changes have dried out these important lakes within the Great Basin, threatening habitats, public health, and recreation. 

Supporting Indigenous Stewardship in Canada’s Boreal Forest

This summer the Canadian government pledged $340 million CAD to Indigenous stewardship programs across Canada. This funding will support creation of new Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Guardians programs that help protect Canada’s Boreal Forest. The boreal is home to the breeding territories of hundreds of bird species, and protecting that land from development and climate change is critical to protecting the birds that depend on it. Supporting Indigenous stewardship in Canada and throughout the hemisphere is a key part of the work of Audubon Americas now and in the future.

Supporting Bipartisan Climate Legislation in North Carolina

In October, North Carolina lawmakers passed House Bill 951 with large bipartisan majorities. The bill, which was signed into law a week later by Governor Roy Cooper, requires that the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission come up with a plan by the end of next year that uses the most affordable options to reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector by 70 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by the year 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Thousands of Audubon advocates across North Carolina met with lawmakers via Zoom, sent emails, made phone calls, took elected officials on bird outings, and delivered petition signatures, all to speak up for bold action on climate.

Reinstating Key Management Plans for Greater Sage-Grouse in the West

After Audubon engaged its policy expertise and membership strength to push back on efforts to weaken federal protections, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced in May that management of western public lands would return to previously celebrated collaborative conservation approach that resulted in Greater Sage-grouse not being warranted for federal protection across its 11-state range. The announcement came after an alarming report from the United States Geological Survey showing that sage-grouse populations have declined 80 percent since 1965. In November, new leadership at BLM announced a review of conservation plans. Audubon is leveraging over a decade of experience to find solutions for sage-grouse, sagebrush country, and the people who depend on it. 

Ending “Use It or Lose It” Water Management in Arizona

Nearly one thousand Audubon advocates in Arizona urged their legislators to support HB 2056, a bill that ultimately passed, giving surface water users like farmers an incentive to conserve water on their property. This legislation protects irrigators who submit a water conservation plan to the Arizona Department of Water Resources from losing their water rights for use in the future. Now, a water user who is doing the right thing and conserving can be assured that they are not abandoning or forfeiting the rights to the water they save. This will keep more water in Arizona’s rivers because water users are now incentivized to use only what they need. By creating a voluntary conservation plan, water users can more effectively manage their water, and the entire river system will benefit.

Supporting Critical Restoration Project in Louisiana

In March 2021, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project. This diversion is one of the top priorities for Louisiana’s coastal restoration work and a focus of the Restore the Mississippi Delta coalition. The DEIS was a rare moment in the process in which public comment was needed. Audubon’s extensive supporters led all organizations, driving over 25,000 of the 51,518 public comments submitted to the state in support of this project.

Securing Funding and Support for Great Lakes Restoration

In January, past President Trump signed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act into law, which will allow Congress to increase the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative program’s funding incrementally from $300 million to $475 million by 2026. This law is a huge win for the all those that depend on the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet. For the past ten years, this initiative has been a proven success, funding more than 5,000 projects that have improved water quality and driven real and positive impacts for communities, wildlife, and economy across the Great Lakes region.

Protecting 300,000 Acres of Wetlands Throughout the Great Lakes Region

In March, Audubon Great Lakes announced the release of an ambitious new report Audubon’s Vision: Restoring the Great Lakes for Birds and People that offers a blueprint for how to best conserve indispensable coastal areas to address the threats facing the Great Lakes region. The report outlines Audubon’s conservation efforts, which includes 8 state-based, 12 region-wide, and 42 projects to restore or protect the highest priority 300,000 acres of habitat for birds and people over the next decade. As the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet, the Great Lakes provide drinking water to 40 million people and its coastal habitats support over 350 bird species.

Making Climate Justice a Central Concern

In September, the State of Illinois passed the most equitable clean energy jobs bill of its kind in the nation.  The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act sets Illinois on a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, while creating jobs for Black and brown communities that too often are on the frontline of our climate crisis. For three years, Audubon Great Lakes and more than 4,600 of its members mobilized as part of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition in support of the bill in Illinois.

Defending our coastlines against illegal sand mining.

Audubon won its lawsuit against the federal government to stop a Trump-era illegal rule that allowed sand mining on pristine, undeveloped coastlines. For decades, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act prevented removal or mining of sand from designated areas protected by the law; that sand nourishes beaches outside of the CBRA system and keeps coastal communities safe from storm surges and high tides. Audubon worked with nonprofit legal organization Democracy Forward on this lawsuit, and the fiscal conservatives at the R Street Institute wrote an amicus brief in favor of maintaining the Coastal Barrier Resources Act at its full strength.

Halting Land Giveaways to Mining Companies in Alaska

In April, the Bureau of Land Management announced it was reversing efforts made by the Trump administration to quietly open millions of acres of Alaska’s public land—known as D1 lands—to future mining and oil and gas development. Opening these lands to mining interests would have put these diverse ecosystems, which support major salmon streams, caribous calving grounds, and nationally and internationally recognized Important Bird Areas, at risk.

Fostering Bipartisan Support to Protect a Critically Important Watershed

The Delaware River Watershed is a complex system of forests, rivers, marshes, and urban landscapes, covering 13,500 square miles and 2,000 rivers and streams across Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

In April, U.S. Representatives Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1) announced the formation of the Congressional Delaware River Watershed Caucus. The caucus will serve as an informal, bipartisan group of members of Congress dedicated to issues related to the Delaware River watershed and its landscape-scale programs focused on water quality and quantity, ecological restoration, and conservation. The watershed provides life-sustaining resources to a wide array of birds, from the Saltmarsh Sparrow, Golden-winged Warbler, and Wood Thrush to the Ruddy Duck, Red Knot, and American Black Duck, and it supplies drinking water to more than 13.3 million people.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Progr