The Auduboner


Movers & Shakers

A Steady Hand

Photograph by Susan Salinger

How do you build a strong, sustainable state organization while balancing the diverse interests of its many chapters? Audubon asked Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff, an environmental lawyer, engineer, and public servant, and now chairman of the board of Audubon New York.

Question: How did you get involved with Audubon?

Answer: From 1989 to 1993 I served as regional administrator for Region II (including New York and New Jersey) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I supervised its pollution control programs but also promoted wildlife habitat and open space. I've always tried to make myself as knowledgeable as possible about the environment.

Q: New York State has 30 Audubon chapters, with between 40,000 and 50,000 members. How do you make it work?

A: It's not easy. Each chapter is incorporated and represents a unique point of view. Even within a chapter, there are different interests. Some people are interested in birding, some in activism. But in total, chapters are extremely important politically—a grassroots force that can sway public debate. Often, by careful explanation and providing accurate information, state board members and staff can help to resolve differences.

Q: What issues do you mostly deal with?

A: For a time, National Audubon's agenda was spread very thin. Now we're more focused on birds and wildlife habitat. In New York, issues like Long Island Sound and Adirondack Park automatically involve prime bird habitat, so we can all agree to focus on them. We also come together and support state bond issues to buy habitat.

Q: Is lobbying a big part of your job?

A: Dave Miller, our executive director, and I pay regular visits to Governor [George] Pataki and his staff. We have excellent relationships with them. As a nonpartisan organization, we don't take a stand on every issue but keep up a dialogue with legislative leaders.

Q: What about funding?

A: I don't like fund-raising, but I do a lot of it. It's harder than it was, though even more important. Even after the economic upturn, there's a lag in contributions. Part of the operation here is for the staff to keep winding up the board chairman and pointing him toward potential contributors. But you can't just keep asking for money. You must get contributors involved in policy issues or working with stewardship committees. Otherwise, they drift away.

—Frank Graham Jr.



Chapter Spotlight

California Beach Patrol

Cristina Sandoval (right) wrote the plover management plan. Jennifer Stroh supervises
the volunteers.
Photograph by Darcy Hemley

Cooperation is a key to protecting breeding habitat for a shorebird endangered in California. The pale-plumaged snowy plover nests on beaches there, though its eggs often fall victim to people or pets.

“For 30 years the plovers failed to nest at the Coal Oil Point Reserve,” says Darlene Chirman, president of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. “Even after the University of California Natural Reserve System bought the property, breeding failed.”

In 200l Cristina Sandoval, the reserve's director, noticed two plover chicks, the first seen on the beach since 1970. After one was killed by a crow, she roped off an area around the other to protect it from hikers and dog walkers.

At the time her husband, Kevin Lafferty, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) biologist, was studying human effects on plovers at Coal Oil Point. He calculated the smallest part of the beach that could be closed to protect the greatest number of plovers while still offering access to the tidal area. Using his data, Sandoval designed a plover management plan.

Kendy Radasky, a Santa Barbara Audubon board member, organized a docent program in which 50 volunteers monitor the area in breeding season, chasing off crows and explaining the program to passersby.

“At first, there was some resentment about restrictions on where people and dogs could wander,” says Jennifer Stroh, who recruits and manages chapter volunteers for the program. “But we didn't take it personally. Our docents are educators. If someone does not have a leash for a dog, they supply one. They also set up a spotting scope so people can watch the birds from a distance. People not only thank us, they ask questions about the birds, and some even volunteer.”

In 2002, 14 chicks fledged; in 2003, it was 39. Last fall the Natural Areas Association gave a Resource Stewardship Award to the USGS, the University of California Natural Reserve System, and Santa Barbara Audubon.

“I think the secret was the dedication of the individuals and their openness to go beyond traditional thinking,” says Sandoval. “Partnerships and creative solutions were the key.”

—Frank Graham Jr.

Important Bird Areas

Central Yukon-Kuskokwim

If you've even heard of the emperor goose, you're more than a backyard birdwatcher. Still, this stocky inhabitant of the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands is of prime concern to Audubon Alaska, the Russian Bird Conservation Union, and BirdLife International, which have identified the Central Yukon Kuskokwim area in western Alaska's Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

“Almost the entire world population of the goose nests on the refuge's IBA areas,” says Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska, “and especially on the Central Yukon Kuskokwim IBA. Numbers declined sharply before the mid-1980s but have stabilized at about 71,000 birds. We'd like to get them back up to 150,000.”

The refuge, home to millions of waterfowl and shorebirds, is largely inaccessible to humans. So why the concern for the emperor goose? There are about 25,000 Yup'ik Eskimos in 35 villages within the refuge and an additional 7 million acres of private land, mostly owned by native corporations. Solid waste, subsistence hunting, and off-road-vehicles could threaten the ground-nesting emperor goose and its habitat. The continued cooperation of delta residents is vital to the management plan, which calls for monitoring hunting and, through education, steering off-road vehicles away from sensitive nesting areas. (For information about Audubon's Important Bird Areas program, visit, go to Birds & Science/Bird Conservation, and pull down to Important Bird Areas.)

—Frank Graham Jr.


© 2004 National Audubon Society

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Chapter News

Today raptors need more of a helping hand than ever (see “Recovery Room"). Here’s how Audubon chapters nationwide are doing their part.

For the first time in 30 years, short-eared owls overwintered on the 375-acre Bartel Grassland, south of Chicago. Using $500,000 from the settlement of a polluter lawsuit, Thorn Creek Audubon hired a firm to restore the former wet prairie marsh complex, which had been destroyed by large-scale farming. Local newspapers have dubbed the now-thriving habitat “our little Serengeti.” The chapter has since been given access to $1 million for the restoration of the nearby 980-acre Orland Grassland.

Alarmed by a lack of medical treatment for birds of prey throughout Montana, Robert Lubbers and 15 other members of the Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society maintain a volunteer raptor ambulance service. They’re on call to transport injured birds—harmed by cars, powerlines, coyote bait, or hunters—from eastern Montana to the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman. Chapters in Great Falls and Helena plan to replicate the program.

The Omaha Raptor Team uses a variety of feathered teachers to introduce people to local avian life, including Spike, an eastern screech owl that had been hit by a car, and Zorro, a male kestrel that had been blown out of a nest. Volunteers—who also belong to the Audubon Society of Omaha—run about 200 programs a year. Says chapter member Jenny Henricksen, “The next time people observe a wild hawk or hear an owl hoot, hopefully there will be more of an appreciation of these wild creatures struggling to survive in a constantly changing world.”

Since the first peregrine falcons took up residence on Portland’s Fremont Bridge in 1994, members of the Audubon Society of Portland have been monitoring nest sites around the metro area, tracking the birds’ behavior, and keeping a dawn-to-dark watch over vulnerable fledglings. As part of its award-winning Peregrine Watch Program, the chapter also removes eggs from bridges under construction. Last year it incubated, raised, and released five peregrines in local wildlife refuges.

“I have known dedicated conservationists in my time who had dreams, but frankly few of them ever live to see big dreams come true,” Stuart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, wrote to Ariel Bryce Appleton. A committed conservationist, Appleton died this past February at age 85, but not before seeing her dream of a sanctuary dedicated to the study of grassland ecosystems become a reality. The 8,000-acre Audubon Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch (see “Fire in the Sky,” Audubon, September 2003), near Elgin, Arizona, is a testament to the vision of Ariel and her husband, Frank.

—Dan Porras