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Audubon in Action

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By mid-april the first of the neotropical migrant birds will appear in the Hudson Valley. After a relatively short 1,300-mile journey up the Atlantic Flyway, Louisiana water-thrushes will arrive near my riverside hometown to build nests and walk along the edge of forest streams, their tails bobbing up and down, looking for insects. But these and other “neotrops” need our help. That’s why, in March, I will join conservation leaders from Audubon and other groups in Washington to rally support for the reauthorization of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

Since its passage in 2000, the act has spawned more than 330 conservation projects across 40 U.S. states and territories and more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean countries. It has helped improve and conserve more than three million acres of vital bird habitat and benefited many millions of migratory birds. In Costa Rica alone, six new nature reserves have been created. In Mexico the act has helped fund local community group projects to restore bird habitat and replace the practice of clearcutting forests for intensive grazing with sustainable ecotourism. On top of that, it has fueled conservation planning leading to the identification of 20 Important Bird Areas in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—collectively known as the Southern Cone Grasslands—that are wintering grounds for Swainson’s hawks and other species.

But there are red flags everywhere for neotrops. More than a third of the 340 species of neotropical migrants, particularly the red knot and the wood thrush, are experiencing ominous declines. These trends signal serious threats to habitat and the environment, both in the United States and beyond our borders. Failing to pass this legislation would doom many of the conservation projects that are producing real on-the-ground results.

What’s more, with all the belt-tightening in Washington, it’s worth noting that the act is a model of cost-effectiveness, leveraging funding from a range of private sources to supplement our tax dollars. Since the program began, our country’s investment of $35 million has been matched by nearly $150 million in private funds. Nevertheless, and despite the act’s proven track record, Congressional funding persistently falls far short.

When I meet with my colleagues in March, we will be celebrating 10 years of successful conservation of America’s songbirds, raptors, and other neotropical migrants. Please go to to send an email or letter to your senators and representative, asking them to fully fund the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Do it for the birds, and do it for the generations to come.
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Click on the image above for a larger version.

Flight Plan: Migratory birds may travel vast distances to reach the forests, grasslands, shorelines, or other natural landscapes they inhabit for part of the year. While the routes shown in the map above aren’t rigid, they emphasize the importance of protecting birds’ seasonal homes and the places in between.
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Good to the Last Chirp
Join a coffee klatch! A partnership between the National Audubon Society and the family-run Rogers Family Company, Audubon Coffee is certified organic by the Organic Crop Improvement Association, certified shade-grown by the Rainforest Alliance, and harvested on sustainable farms. A community aid program supports education and health initiatives for workers. You can brew yourself a cup by clicking here.
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Where Food Comes From
The livestock at Aullwood Audubon teach important—and tasty—lessons.

Courtesy of Aullwood Audubon Center

It’s the crack of dawn on a bone-chilling 16-degree morning, and John Stedman is in the barnyard, tending to the cows and chickens. “Everything has to be watered,” he says. “Everything has to be fed.” He cares for the creatures as if they were his own, though they belong to the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm in Dayton, Ohio, which Stedman manages. For more than three decades the farm has offered sustainably raised meat and pesticide-free organic produce. Last year the center reached nearly 60,000 children through its education programs. Stedman believes strongly in this animal-to-table instruction. “We get to show the children where their food comes from,” he says. “You don’t just buy it from a grocery store. It doesn’t magically appear.”

Aullwood devotes 72 of its 200 acres to farming, allowing many of the animals to roam and graze freely. “Most farms specialize in one crop or type of livestock,” says Charity Krueger, Aullwood’s executive director. “You don’t see the diversity in one snapshot of a working farm as you do at Aullwood.” One barn, for example, houses six pigs, one calf, one sheep, three goats, three mini horses, two donkeys, and two draft horses.

The idea is to let visitors see the animals up close. Come to buy fresh eggs? The chickens that laid them are pecking in the grass. Looking for beef? It came from the Angus herd that grazes in the pasture. Everything raised on the farm is sold there, Stedman says, and lately it’s been hard to keep anything in stock. “Used to be our freezers would always be full,” he says. “Now all the meat is pre-ordered.”

Paying for organic certification became too costly to maintain, “[but] we’re not going to do anything different,” Krueger says. That means Aullwood will continue teaching children delicious life lessons through humanely raised fare.
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Fruit Stand
Without Japanese melons, more than 400 bird species in Paraguay might be homeless. In the area around San Rafael, the country’s first Important Bird Area, 70 farmers now grow the fruit organically instead of slashing and burning the forest for cattle grazing. The switch was the aim of a public awareness campaign launched in 2008 by Audubon along with conservation organizations RARE and Guyra Paraguay (the country’s BirdLife partner). Tapping into the farmers’ love of the land—and offering them a monetary incentive—turned out to be a winning approach for the region’s residents, forest, and wildlife.

“It really was a case of going in and changing attitudes towards the remaining forests,” says Matt Jeffery, Audubon’s International Alliances Program senior program manager. “There’s a lot of need for trust between these larger NGOs and the local communities. The pride campaign helped build that trust.”

The program started with 40 farmers and today has grown into the Association of Agri-Ecological Producers, which sells directly to a Paraguayan supermarket chain. The members’ crops have expanded, too. Now they harvest organic orchard fruits and grow organic maté, used to make a popular South American herbal drink. Organic farming protects the ecosystem from toxic chemicals and doesn’t require clearing vast tracts of land the way raising cattle does.

No intermediary—plus organic produce’s higher price tag—means more money for the farmers, says Rodrigo Zárate, Guyra Paraguay’s manager of protected areas. “It’s a very innovative kind of market to produce and sell organics in our country.”—M.W.
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Courtesy Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Shine On
Through the pine and palmetto of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s upland forest, there’s a new shine to the roof of the Blair Audubon Center, in Naples, Florida. Today this 10,000-square-foot building is air-conditioned by, well, the sun, thanks to the generosity of REC Solar, the California-based company that installed solar panels in January. REC donated the 10-kilowatt system in recognition of Audubon’s contributions to the Gulf of Mexico—both its response to the BP oil spill and its longtime conservation efforts. “We’ll be much more efficient, and able to devote more resources to conservation, instead of spending it on electric,” says Ed Carlson, Corkscrew’s director. The 13,000-acre sanctuary’s watershed drains into the Gulf and is home to endangered species, including the Florida panther and the wood stork. Now its 100,000 yearly visitors will benefit from this model of sustainable energy before searching out egrets beneath the bald cypresses.—Nick Neely
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Courtesy of Susan Pollard, Texas Honeybee Guild

Honey, I’m Home
“One of Audubon’s goals is to give back to the community,” says T Hanson, nature store director at the Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas. “We try to sell the work of local artisans.” That includes bees. The Texas Honeybee Guild helped relocate seven hives from attics and other inconvenient places to Trinity’s prairies. There the buzzers forage on white sweet clover and saw-leaf daisy. Guild members collect the cinnamon-hued honey and transfer it to eight-ounce jars bearing a label with the busy bees and 75217—the center’s zip code—that go for $8 each. The insects offer visitors more than liquid gold. They teach them about the role of pollinators, and what it really means to be a local eater.—N.N.
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Big Deal
New funding protects more than 60,000 acres on a California ranch.

In spring, when the hillsides of Tejon Ranch erupt in a riot of wildflowers, it’s hard to see beyond the spectacle of orange and pink blossoms. But these San Joaquin grasslands, among the last remnants of a unique habitat, also host the endangered San Joaquin kit fox and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. In winter this landscape attracts prairie falcons and scores of golden eagles; in summer, horned larks, burrowing owls, and long-eared owls take up residence.

Now Tejon’s endangered grasslands are protected through one of the largest conservation easements in California history. In November the state Wildlife Conservation Board announced a $15.8 million grant to pay for easements on 62,000 acres of land on the private ranch just an hour’s drive from Los Angeles.
The purchase is a key step toward implementing the landmark 2008 Tejon Ranch Conservation Agreement, which Audubon California and four other conservation groups reached with the ranch’s owners to protect 240,000 acres of backcountry (see “Shangri-La,” March-April 2010). Considered prime development land by the owners, the newly conserved lands will continue to be available for hunting and ranching but are off-limits for new uses.

The easements preserve Mojave Desert grasslands and Joshua tree, oak, and riparian woodlands—some of the best wildlife habitat on the ranch, where desert, mountain, valley, and coastal ecosystems merge. “It is in these landscapes that you really see what makes Tejon Ranch the conservation prize that it is,” says Graham Chisholm, Audubon California’s executive director.

The Tejon Ranch Conservancy, which was created to manage the protected lands, is conducting scientific studies to guide improvement and restoration of this biodiversity hotspot. The recent funding will also allow the conservancy to expand opportunities for the public to enjoy the ranch firsthand.
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