The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
Let’s start off 2020 with a summary of some conservation victories over the past year. This summary is from National Audubon, and it reminds us that even in the most challenging political environment, determined advocacy for birds and other wildlife can achieve great results. But, of course, threats remain on many fronts, and we also pro-vide a summary of Audubon’s top national priorities for the coming year.
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.
– National Audubon Society
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.
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 with breweries, 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.
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 opeds, 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.
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 Sage-Grouse
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.
Meanwhile, in the Rogue Valley…
In addition to serving as part of National Audubon’s network on issues like these, Rogue Valley Audubon continues to work on important issues for bird conservation in southern Oregon.
Among our top priorities:
• Defending BLM lands surrounding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument from industrial logging;
• Advocating for responsible forest management, especially in relation to fire policy and fuels reduction;
• Working to preserve the important Vaux’s Swift roost at Hedrick Middle School in Medford;
• Advocating for threatened Oregon species, especially the Greater Sage-Grouse and Marbled Murrelet; and
• Monitoring the never-ending struggle to provide adequate water for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.
2020 will be another busy year, but I’m confident that, working together, we will be able to derail the worst proposals to come out of Washington – and even achieve some lasting victories!