Audubon In Action


Monumental Conservationist

Brian Smale

If you're a deadbeat, he'll track you down. If there's a war and you're not on his side, you'd better look out. If you want to save a river from developers, he's your man. Whatever hat he's wearing--IRS agent, lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, or conservation chair of Washington State's Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society--Rick Leaumont will not be outsmarted, outgunned, or outworked. Nothing attests to this more than his 15-year campaign to preserve a 51-mile undammed stretch of Washington's Columbia River, an effort that culminated last June with President Clinton's designation of the 200,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument.

Mostly off limits to the public for more than half a century, the site was an unlikely conservation battleground. Nine shuttered nuclear reactors line the river's south and west banks, a haunting reminder of the Cold War. (The federal reactors produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.) But beginning in the mid-1960s, when the reactors started getting shut down, a new battle ensued: what to do with the dramatic bluffs and the wild shrubland and grassland habitats that lie untouched along this part of the river. The untrammeled stretch of water is also estimated to contain 80 percent of the Columbia Basin's fall chinook salmon.

Leaumont's greatest challenge was warding off competing claims to the land. Some wanted to develop it; others thought it should be farmland. When the political rhetoric began to escalate on all sides, efforts to win protective measures fell by the wayside. "There were many times when we felt like Hanford Reach would never be protected, but Richard Leaumont never gave up," says Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). In fact, Leaumont, as wily as he is persistent, switched gears. "We realized a legislative solution was not possible," he says, "so we turned our attention to winning an administrative act."

To that end, Leaumont spearheaded an all-out public relations battle to gain federal protection for the Hanford Reach. "He did everything," says Jeff Parsons, executive director of Audubon-Washington. "He recruited volunteers, wrote hundreds of letters; he put together a broad-based coalition of support that developed into a large constituency." Under Leaumont's leadership, the Hanford Reach was propelled from a local concern to a state and federal initiative that ultimately became a national monument. "Thanks to his efforts," says Parsons, "there is now a small part of the globe that is protected."

--David Gruber


Michael Sipes


Tap Tree, Add Snow, and Pass the Pickle

Mike Reagan

Mary Fell, 81, a veteran maple syrup boiler, is standing guard over three pots of bubbling syrup. A heavy maple perfume fills the wintry air. "The trick is to keep your eye on the syrup every single minute, or it will boil over," she says. Fell, an Audubon member for nearly 40 years, is just one of dozens of volunteers helping out at the Green Mountain Audubon Center's Sugar on Snow Festival, which is held every March in Huntington, Vermont.

Having grown up in the South, I've had little experience with snow delicacies, especially ones involving maple syrup and pickles. The center's popular "sugar on snow" dish is created by drizzling boiled maple syrup over a plate of snow. When the maple syrup hits the snow it turns into a taffylike substance, which is then eaten accompanied by a dill pickle to cut the sweetness. Eager to sample this traditional Vermont treat, I was given a small container of snow and advised to add the hot syrup slowly--otherwise I would end up with a slushy mess. As instructed, I first took a big bite of candied syrup, followed by a small taste of pickle. The mingling of the two flavors was delicious. I alternated sweet with sour until the pickle was gone, and then, following the advice of visitors next to me, I sampled the doughnuts available for those who didn't eat pickles. They provided the perfect scooping tool for finishing off any maple syrup that didn't make it onto the snow. "It's so good and super-sweet," says Melissa Hammond, a graduate student at the University of Vermont. "I've had sugar on snow at other places, but this is some of the best I've ever had."

Fueled by my sugar high, I went crunching through three feet of snow to explore some of the center's 255 acres, all of which are open to the public. The center, founded in 1963, has a dense maple, birch, and pine forest that's home to 161 species of birds. During the March to April maple-sugaring season, more than 1,000 schoolchildren tour the sugarbush--a stand of maples that are tapped to make syrup--to learn the entire sap-to-syrup process. Volunteers explain how Native Americans made syrup centuries ago, and how the process has evolved into the evaporation techniques that exist today. Sales from the event also support Audubon's educational and conservation initiatives throughout the state.

Kim Hubbard

Clockwise from top left: When maple sap comes out of the tree, it is about 98 percent water; after the syrup is boiled for two hours and has hit 234 degrees, it reaches the "soft ball" phase, and is ready to be poured on the snow; Matthew Zuanich, 9, uses the snow to cool his hot chocolate.

For Vermonters, the sight of red and sugar maple trees dotted with buckets for collecting sap is less common than it once was. The Green Mountain Audubon Center, about 15 miles southeast of Burlington, is one of the last places where trees are still tapped the old-fashioned way. Emptying each bucket by hand is time-consuming. Audubon can manage only 3 gallons of syrup an hour, while commercial operations, which have mechanized the process, can churn out about 60. But Shay Totten, a regular visitor to the center, would rather support Audubon than a commercial sugarhouse. "It's one of the reasons we bring the kids here," he says, citing his family's tour of the sugarbush. "We actually tapped a tree on our tour."

The center, which hosts more than 20,000 visitors year-round, has more to offer than maple syrup. "On Halloween we do a tour through the woods--they're lit by hundreds of jack-o-lanterns--where we perform about 10 skits with pumpkin heads," says Jim Shallow, Audubon Vermont's executive director. "School trips are also very popular," he adds. The educational programs are seasonal, so kids can learn about tracking wildlife through the snow in winter and explore the mysteries of vernal pools in the spring. And with five miles of trails, hikers might hear the howling of coyotes or stumble upon a flock of wild turkeys.

The center is spearheading several conservation initiatives involving nearby Lake Champlain and the Huntington River. Audubon is helping to restore common tern populations on islands in the lake, and working to improve the river's water quality and reduce erosion. "We also have a statewide program for identifying and protecting important bird areas," says Shallow. "So far we've identified 20, and we're working toward their long-term conservation."

--Kim Hubbard

For information, write to Audubon Vermont, 255 Sherman Hollow Road, Huntington, VT 05462 (802-434-3068;





The Audubon Society of Greater Denver is offering educational programs to assist third- to fifth-graders in meeting state content standards. Classes such as "Bird Beaks and Breakfast" use hands-on techniques to explore topics such as bird biology. "Students discover, through comparative anatomy, some of the fascinating methods different birds use to collect food," says Susan Smith, education director of Denver Audubon. While the chapter has been offering classroom programs for more than a decade, the science content in these hour-long courses is now linked to the Colorado Standards Assessment Program.


Maine Audubon announces Kevin Carley as its new executive director. Carley, a former consultant to the Nature Conservancy's international programs, has worked extensively with Maine environmental organizations. With experience in investment management, he plans to strengthen and expand Maine's education and conservation programs. "I look forward to building partnerships with environmental organizations, state, government, and Maine communities," says Carley.

If you're looking for a way to make this summer a special one, consider spending an engaging week at Audubon's camp in Maine. Located on Hog Island, in Muscongus Bay, the camp offers six-day sessions on bird biology, coastal ecology, nature photography, field sketching, sea kayaking, and more--all of which are taught by nationally recognized experts in their fields. For more information, contact The Audubon Camp in Maine, Maine Audubon Society, 20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth, ME 04015. Or call 888-325-5261 or go to

New York

Audubon New York is rallying support to create a Long Island Sound Reserve System. After holding public forums throughout Connecticut and New York, the state office issued a plan calling for increased access and protection of the waterway. The report, "Listen to the Sound 2000," produced in partnership with Save the Sound and the Regional Plan Association, is based on the testimony of hundreds of citizens. At a news conference in February, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) called the report "a mandate for action" and pledged to push for federal legislation to protect the sound.

North Carolina

Audubon North Carolina has helped the state raise more than $1 million to protect Lea Island from development. Forty lots on the roadless barrier island, home to numerous species of shorebirds and sea turtles, had been sold and slated for development. With the assistance of Audubon's Lea Island Conservation Initiative, state and federal sources were tapped to preserve the habitat. After buying the property, the North Carolina legislature made the island a State Natural Area under Audubon's management.


Audubon Ohio announces the launch of its Birding Trails and Festivals program, an initiative designed to introduce communities throughout the state to the economic and conservation benefits of ecotourism. "We all benefit from expanded opportunities for people to enjoy birds that live and migrate through their area," says Stephen Sedam, executive director of Audubon Ohio. "Communities and businesses will profit financially, and habitats for those birds are more likely to be conserved."



It's not just big companies that are major financial contributors to Audubon. Just as important are Audubon Gift Annuity Donors, like Elisabeth and Edgar Lehman, of Newtown, Pennsylvania. Their decision to make a gift to Audubon came last spring, after they took their 11-year-old grandson, Nicholas, to Audubon's national convention in California. It was there that the Lehmans learned more about Audubon's wide range of programs for young people. A gift annuity to Audubon enables them to support Audubon and its education programs for children, and at the same time be assured of a cash income on an annual basis.


Audubon kicked off its campaign to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with television ads in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan media market that highlight the plight of the refuge and the dangers of oil development. The ad urges President Bush to side with the birds and other wildlife that depend on the Arctic Refuge for their survival. Audubon also launched an Internet campaign that is expected to reach more than a million Americans across the country. Audubon's web page, has a new Save the Arctic page where individuals can take action and alert members of Congress that the time to protect the Arctic is now.


If birds ever got an award for grabbing people's attention, then this year's pick would go to the evening grosbeak. During this year's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), in which 442 species were reported from across the continent, Audubon received more reports of evening grosbeaks in the western United States than in any previous year. Last year an irruption of common redpolls on the East Coast and in the Great Lakes region made its mark on the GBBC. But this year the West's evening grosbeaks stole the show. To explore some of the other findings from the 57,000 checklists submitted, please visit the GBBC web site,


Audubon Nature Odysseys is now offering a special travel opportunity: New Zealand and its sub-Antarctic islands, January 9-25, 2002, aboard the 120-passenger Clipper Odyssey. Led by Audubon's Bob Turner, the highlight of this expedition will be the exploration of New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands, where the photo opportunities will be simply amazing. Travelers should encounter rare rockhoppers, yellow-eye penguins, light-mantled albatrosses, and southern royal albatrosses. New Zealand has it all--flightless birds, breathtaking fjords, breaching whales, and snowcapped peaks. Contact Beth Ryan at 800-967-7425 or e-mail to request a detailed color brochure.






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