Movers & Shakers
A Steady Hand
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.
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.
California Beach Patrol
“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.
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 www.audubon.org, go to Birds & Science/Bird Conservation, and pull down to Important Bird Areas.)
Frank Graham Jr.
© 2004 National Audubon Society
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