Sharks Score a Win
Finally, sharks are free to roam U.S. waters--no longer at risk of losing their fins. Last December, in the closing hours of its final session, the 106th Congress managed to pass a law that prohibits shark finning--the gruesome practice of slicing off the fins of sharks and then dumping the dead or dying animals back into the sea. Marine biologists are hailing the Shark Finning Prohibition Act as a huge victory for shark conservation. "This legislation provides blanket protection against finning sharks in all federal waters," says Merry Camhi, senior scientist for Audubon's Living Oceans Program.
With letters to legislators and educational outreach, Audubon played a pivotal role in the coalition that successfully pressed for the ban.
Though finning has been prohibited in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico since 1993, the practice has gone largely unchecked in the western Pacific. Blue sharks have been hit especially hard; nearly 61,000 of them were killed in 1998 by longlines targeted for tuna and swordfish. While the meat of blue sharks has little commercial worth, their fins are valuable. "In Hong Kong, the epicenter of shark-fin cuisine, a bowl of shark-fin soup can command as much as $90 per bowl," says Camhi.
The new law makes it illegal to possess a shark fin without the carcass in all federal waters. Since it is not economical for fishermen to transport the heavy carcass to shore, conservationists believe that the law will deter them from killing a shark just for its fin--which amounts to only 5 percent of its weight.
"At a minimum, the legislation will save tens of thousands of sharks in U.S. Pacific waters alone," says Carl Safina, Audubon's vice-president for marine conservation.
Dodging a Bullet
Call it classic overkill by the lock-and-load crowd. Though hunting is already permitted on federal lands (a policy supported by Audubon), the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its congressional allies recently sought to mandate hunting as the preeminent recreational activity on these lands. While the Hunting Heritage Protection Act may have sounded innocuous, Perry Plumart, senior policy adviser for Audubon, says "the legislation was dangerous and unnecessary." The bill would have forced national wildlife refuges and other federal lands to be managed for hunting above all other recreational uses.
In an open letter and educational brochure sent last year to members of Congress, Audubon cautioned that if the bill were passed, it might be necessary for birdwatchers and hikers to wear flak jackets for protection when visiting the country's national forests and wildlife refuges. In essence, the bill would have converted vast areas of public land into a firing range.
Fortunately, Audubon's educational campaign worked--many legislators didn't want their constituents on the lookout for stray bullets instead of birds--and the bill stalled on the floor of the House of Representatives before coming up for vote.
Still, with hunting advocates promising to revive the bill in the new congressional session, the victory may be short-lived. "The bill is a priority for some Congress members and the NRA," says Plumart. "But if it comes up again, we'll be back fighting it."
The U.S. Supreme Court gives Audubon its greatest victory on April 19, 1920, when it upholds the legality of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Audubon's goal of stopping the unrestricted slaughter of American birdlife had been attained with congressional passage of the act in 1918. But the state of Missouri challenged the act's legality, contending that the states, not the federal government, have the authority to protect migratory birds.
The Supreme Court affirms the act, noting that it is based on a 1916 treaty between the United States and Great Britain (representing Canada). In his conclusion of the court's opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes writes: "Here a national interest of very nearly the first magnitude is involved. . . . But for the treaty and the statute there soon might be no birds for any powers to deal with. We see nothing in the Constitution that compels the Government to sit by while a food supply is cut off and the protectors of our forests and our crops are destroyed. It is not sufficient to rely upon the States. . . . We are of opinion that the treaty and statute must be upheld."
--Frank Graham Jr.
It is nearly dusk as Cynthia Kobak sits at her computer, gearing up for her annual environmental-education workshop. But the Cooper's hawk swooping down over her driveway is competing for her attention. After all, this is the time of day when many of the regulars show up outside Kobak's home in Guilford, Connecticut. As if on cue, a barred owl appears, banking slowly over her backyard.
"It's like the changing of the guard," says Kobak. "The hawk is going to roost, and the owl is going to work."
For Kobak, who thrives on big initiatives, an appreciation for biodiversity begins at home. And make no mistake about it: Whether it's in her backyard, in her nature column for the town newspaper, or in her work as education chair for Menunkatuck Audubon, Kobak's guiding principle is, Know your natural neighbors. Nothing exemplifies this more than the chapter's first Biodiversity Day, held last September and spearheaded by Kobak. Inspired by a workshop that she had attended in 1998, Kobak persuaded her chapter to sponsor a 24-hour species survey of Madison, one of the six towns included in the chapter's territory. To pull off the documentation, she recruited nearly 100 scientists. "It was fabulous," she says. "We had ornithologists, herpetologists, botanists, entomologists, mycologists--many of them going on four hours' sleep, poking under rocks, sifting through tidal areas, and scouring the skies." The cataloguing is still under way, but thus far, more than 1,900 species have been documented, including 129 species of butterflies and moths. Adds Kobak, "The discoveries they made were spectacular, such as a huge damselfly--the giant spreadwing--which had never been recorded in southern New England."
Kobak's peers in the environmental community laud her drive and vision. "This was an amazing organizational feat that Cindi pulled off," says Carolyn Hughes, deputy director of Audubon Connecticut. "The biodiversity survey is going to have lasting benefits in Madison, probably for decades to come." Results from the event will be used for educational purposes in area schools and by Madison's planning officials. "Now that there's a database of species, the town will have the opportunity to take their natural neighbors into consideration when planning development," says Hughes. Plans are under way for the chapter's next species survey, which will take place in Guilford, where Kobak is already on close terms with some of the town's native species.
Oasis in Ohio
To many longtime visitors, the towering ash and walnut trees that stood like sentries outside the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm in Dayton, Ohio, had become as familiar and special as the 43-year-old center itself. Now, though the trees were cut down to make way for Aullwood's stunning new education wing, they remain--only in another form. "Those trees were
like old friends," says Charity Krueger, Aullwood's executive director. So she made sure to incorporate them into the expansion's design, which tripled the size of the original 8,000-square-foot building. Today the new tree-shaped doors to the refurbished center--hand-carved from the beloved ash and walnut trees--testify to Aullwood's
natural heritage and environmental ethic. Dedicated last October, the Marie S. Aull Education Center is an illustrious addition to the 350-acre wildlife sanctuary, which draws more than 80,000 visitors a year. Originally created in 1957 by Marie Aull, who also donated the land, Aullwood was Audubon's first nature center in the Midwest. Now 104 years old, Aull is recognized as one of Ohio's pioneering environmental champions. Krueger was mindful of the center's rich tradition when the expansion was planned. "We wanted a place that still felt like home, even after all the changes," she says. To that end, the architectural design of the education center captures the feel of the original building, which was built around century-old hand-hewn wooden barn beams.
In six thematic classrooms, visitors to the Aullwood center can learn about plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods by examining live and stuffed specimens. Interactive exhibits in the Birds and Wildlife Discovery Room feature the calls of birds commonly found at the sanctuary. In addition, the Habitat Discovery Room features model exhibits of the forest, prairie, and wetland ecosystems that characterize the landscape at Aullwood. There's also a nature store and a 200-seat auditorium that provides space for school programs, meetings, and conferences.
The new state-of-the-art facility enriches a center that has already captivated millions of visitors. "Aullwood is a place that is so exciting the first time you visit that it makes you want to keep coming back," says Tamar Chotzen, Audubon's senior vice-president of centers and education. "After more than 40 years in Dayton, Aullwood has become what we hope new Audubon centers around the nation will be: the best place in the community to learn about nature."
2020 Vision One of Audubon's newest and most important initiatives is to establish a network of 1,000 nature centers across the country by 2020. Each center will combine science, education, and conservation action appropriate to its location. Audubon's plan is to reach one in four U.S. schoolchildren while helping them develop an appreciation of nature and the skills they need to protect the environment. Each issue of Audubon will feature a center that moves the Audubon Society closer to that goal.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society's current development plans have been hit with a cold splash of water by the Michigan Audubon Society. According to a pending lawsuit filed by the chapter, the historical society's plan calls for enlarging the size of its museum, clearing established bird habitat for a parking lot, and building a septic system 100 yards from Lake Superior, which is on an internationally important migratory corridor. Some 313 bird species have been identified there, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated parts of the beach as critical habitat for the endangered piping plover. "We just want an environmental-impact statement to be done," says Jack Lapinski, chairman of the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, an affiliate of Michigan Audubon. "If they'd adhere to the findings, and scrap their parking lot plans, we could once again become good neighbors."
There isn't a military force in the world that would want to take on the U.S. Navy. But Steve Crawford, president of the Schoodic Audubon chapter in Maine, has battled the Cutler Naval Base for the past six months over the cleanup of its submarine communication towers. The Navy has been using a high-pressure water spray to remove paint laden with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the tower, an action that critics claim shoots a rain of contaminated particles into the surrounding coastal waters. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently tested clams and mussels in the area and found many with PCB levels almost three times the legal limit. To prevent further contamination of the sensitive marine habitat, Crawford and members of the Schoodic chapter have been lobbying the Navy to hand-scrape the paint off the towers. The Navy has rejected this method as both too costly and too time-consuming, and denies that the water blasting is polluting the coastal environment.
E-Troop to the Rescue
After learning that the endangered scrub jay was in dire straits, the Eco-Troop at Pelican Island Elementary School in Sebastian, Florida, quickly sprang into action. Armed with hot dogs, T-shirts, mugs, and the support of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, the fourth and fifth graders took their cause door-to-door and quickly wowed their community. Their efforts raised awareness of the scrub jay's plight, as well as $64,000 for the purchase of undeveloped land near the school that is considered prime habitat for the bird. The Eco-Troop's efforts also resulted in a matching grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and agency officials credit the students with rallying the community behind a controversial habitat-conservation plan. "The children are not only learning," says Jens Tripson, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, "they are teaching the adults as well."
When Barnes Nursery won permission to dig a channel in Sheldon Marsh, a sensitive wetland in Sandusky, Ohio, the ostensible purpose was to create deep-water habitat for nesting birds. But members of Audubon's Firelands chapter suspected that in fact, the company was merely providing irrigation for its nursery. Crying foul, the chapter bombarded state and federal legislators with letters and phone calls about the plan. Soon after, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the permit. Still, 2,000 feet were excavated before the channel was halted, providing an opening for invasive species and imperiling habitat for the endangered piping plover. Now, says Patricia Dwight, co-chair of the Firelands chapter, "We are asking the Corps to restore Sheldon Marsh to its original condition."
Have Binoculars, Will Travel
From the Arizona desert to the Arctic tundra, Bob Turner has enthralled Audubon members for years with his knowledge of avian ecology. But before he became a popular bird guide, Turner was Audubon's Rocky Mountain representative for more than 25 years; he retired from that post in 1995. "He is one of Audubon's best ambassadors," says Glenn Olson, senior vice-president of field operations for Audubon. In recognition of his exceptional long-term contributions to the organization, Turner was recently given the Great Egret Award.
Through mid-April: Wings
Over the Platte Spring Migration, Grand Island, NE. Tours and hikes
to view sandhill cranes. Hall County Convention & Visitor's Bureau
Throughout the spring: National Audubon Birdathon 2001. Audubon's largest fund-raising event. Participants nationwide receive pledges for each species they sight in a single day. Anyone can join the fun, and there are lots of prizes (800-647-2473; www.audubon.org/bird/birdathon).
March 3-4: Atlantic Wildlife Art & Nature Exposition, Virginia Beach, VA. Carvings, paintings, photographs, demonstrations, and a wildlife-art auction. Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum (757-437-8432; www.awhm.org).
March 16-18: Rivers and Wildlife Celebration--2001: A Crane Odyssey, Kearney, NE. Speakers, guided tours, hikes to view sandhill cranes, seminars, and art show. Audubon Nebraska State Office (402-797-2301).
March 23-25: Aleutian Goose Festival: A Celebration of Wildness, Crescent City, CA. More than 45 workshops in celebration of the Aleutian goose. Crescent City Chamber of Commerce (800-343-8300; www.redwoodlink.com/soar).
April 6-8: Eagle Lake's Prairie Chicken Festival, Eagle Lake, TX. Tours to Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, birdwatching, and street dances. Led by Audubon naturalists. Eagle Lake Chamber of Commerce (979-234-2780; www.elc.net/festival).
April 7-8: Bluebird Festival and Wildlife Art Show, Jackson, MI. Guided walks and live-animal programs. Dahlem Environmental Education Center (517-782-3453).
April 13-22: Bird of Prey Week, Rochester, NY. Celebration of the spring hawk migration at Braddock Bay Park. Banding-station tours, talks, arts and crafts, nature walks. Braddock Bay Park (716-392-0344; www.bbrr.com).
April 20: "Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie," PBS, 9:00 PM EDT. Singer Lyle Lovett hosts and actor Michael Murphy narrates this one-hour documentary, a paean to "North America's most endangered and overlooked ecosystem." Check local listings for specific times.
April 27-29: 6th Annual Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival, Hoquiam, WA. Takes place at the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. Birding field trips, cruises on a tall ship, class on birding and local habitat, and kids' activities (360-537-7374; www.ghas.org).
April 27-May 3: Kern Valley/ Southern Sierra BioFest, Kernville, CA. Field trips, children's activities, trout festival, and whitewater rafting. Featuring Audubon's Kern River Preserve and Butterbredt Spring National Important Birding Area. Friends of the Kern River Preserve (760-378-3044; http://frontpage.lightspeed.net/KRP).
© 2001 NASI
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