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Audubon View

It will be a long time before we forget the picture of a brown pelican, flattened and glued to wet sand by BP’s oil. That image and hundreds of others from the Gulf oil disaster moved people around the planet to come to the rescue of birds, fish, and other wildlife in America’s largest, most fertile delta.

Audubon built a one-of-a-kind volunteer center and called volunteers back when they wanted to pitch in. About 34,500 offered their time, and upwards of 2,000 actually helped rescue and transport birds, monitor their migration patterns, and work to improve habitat that lures migrating birds to safe havens instead of oily traps. That kind of power is what makes Audubon special. In this issue, you’ll learn all about those volunteers, whose efforts in the Gulf changed their lives.

Audubon’s ability to connect people to nature—at the national, state, and local levels—was the magnet that drew me here after five years as executive director of another great group, the Environmental Defense Fund. Audubon’s broad wingspan extends beyond our New York home office and our Washington, D.C., policy office. Our reach sets us apart from other environmental advocacy organizations. We have 23 state offices and 464 chapters educating, preserving habitat, and participating in bird counts. We are all Audubon.

Before joining Audubon, I often had the joy of seeing firsthand how rare and precious birds can be. “Look, up there, on that peak,” our guide said two summers ago. Through a spotting scope I observed the pair of gyrfalcons—erect, watchful, the personification of “raptor.” We’d just come from the Latrabjarg bird cliffs on the westernmost point of Iceland—and Europe. The cliffs are home to hundreds of thousands of Atlantic puffins, razorbills, and murres. I’d never seen anything like this, birds blanketing a coastline as far as we could see.

These kinds of experiences make it such an honor to lead Audubon, building on the legacies of my two immediate predecessors, John Flicker and Frank Gill. In my first month I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the leaders from St. Louis Audubon, our first chapter, and with people from Silicon Valley, my former home, where I worked as a journalist for 27 years. What they share is a passion for birds, and as Roger Tory Peterson, Audubon’s poet laureate, once said, make a birder and you make a conservationist.

I thought of that recently at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, watching bald eagles, a flock of white pelicans, and great blue herons—flying four abreast. But the sighting that meant the most to me was the great egrets, the bird that has defined Audubon’s logo for most of its modern history.

I believe Audubon’s mission is clear and that we have the ability to focus on the two or three priorities that can make us most effective—but I’ll save that for a later column. For now I just want to introduce myself. I’ve always enjoyed nature. I put myself through college working at a backpacking store. I’ve hiked most of the John Muir trail, backpacked in the Cascades and up Mt. Whitney, and kayaked, from Alaska to Quebec to the Colorado River. Today I see the Hudson River from my home.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Why are you an Audubon member? How can we engage you more deeply? Please let me know at officeofthepresident@audubon.org.

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