Audubon in Action
News From the National Audubon Society.
When a long-awaited grant from the national stimulus package came through in mid-February, the year-old Sharon Energy Task Force—championed by Sharon Audubon director Scott Heth and nine other community members—wasted no time divvying up the dough. The $33,750 went to all corners of the small Connecticut town (population 3,052): for energy audits on five municipal buildings; equipment that shuts down hundreds of school computers on a set schedule; education programs, including an energy fair; and $6,000 for energy audits of 80 Sharon homes. Heth pushed for a lead-by-example approach to show that weatherization and other environmentally friendly improvements don’t have to break any family’s bank. “We all agree that reducing energy is important for the environment and climate change,” he says. “But if we can show [people] the bottom line, then we’re going to have better effects.” With any luck, he adds, the Sharon Energy Task Force will convince residents that helping Mother Nature can line their pockets, too.
Beefing Up Conservation
Biofuels may be a boon for the climate, but clearing grasslands in South America to grow biofuel feedstocks is destroying habitat crucial for migratory birds, including the American golden plover and the imperiled buff-breasted sandpiper. Conservation groups in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil joined together to form the Alliance for the Grasslands, which is collaborating with BirdLife International (Audubon’s global partner) to stem the tide. Audubon is providing fundraising help and has held workshops to enable the countries to present a united conservation front. Together the organizations have far greater resources than they do alone, says Matt Jeffery, manager of Audubon’s International Alliances Program. The coalition is working to preserve the South American cattle-farming culture, educate landowners, and find economic incentives for them to avoid converting their grasslands to biofuel crops. Noting that people are willing to pay more for certified organic products, Jeffery says one incentive might be some sort of seal of approval for eco-friendly beef. He’s also aiming to show the link between Audubon’s Mississippi River Initiative and South America. “Birds that migrate such a long distance are impacted at every step of the way,” says Greg Butcher, Audubon’s director of bird conservation. “We don’t realize that they’re being impacted by factors sometimes thousands of miles away.”
How do you engage and inform a generation of Internet-savvy kids who seem to be spending less and less time outdoors? Go virtual. Five Audubon centers, in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, have installed climate change kiosks loaded with an animated global warming quiz and a crystal ball that peers into Audubon’s scientific data to reveal how rising temperatures are affecting birds. Users can email themselves a postcard reminder with climate change–combating actions they already take, actions they’re hoping to take, and an image of an animal that’s in trouble because of global warming. (You can see the kiosk content here.)
Slash and Learn
“We’re trying to have every single person in this area reduce their energy use somehow,” says Jeanne Horsmann, who’s leading the charge to cut carbon emissions in her rural corner of Arizona. Appointed by Linda Kennedy, director of Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, Horsmann aims to spark change in the towns of Patagonia, Sonoita, and Elgin.
“We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us,” Horsmann says, noting the challenges of building a grassroots movement when residents are so spread out. Then there’s the cost of retrofitting homes in a county where the median income hit just $38,490 in 2008. A $24,200 Audubon Together Green grant is helping to ease the burden.
Those funds, coupled with two local grants, allowed Horsmann and Kennedy to send out surveys to 1,988 households to create a picture of the community’s knowledge of renewable energy. They also learned which conservation actions residents have taken so far, which they plan to undertake, and any hurdles. An energy expo they staged in March showcased energy-saving activities and products. Furthermore, they’ve been discussing with the county building department changing building codes that currently don’t allow wind turbines taller than 30 feet. If the project is successful, the team hopes it will set an example for other rural communities.
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