vanguard of the volunteer
Key Strategist

From her home in Largo, Florida, Joyce King recalls first setting foot on nearby Shell Key to count birds a decade ago, when she was president of the St. Petersburg Audubon Society. Long-legged wading species plied the barrier island's seagrass beds, and its wide, sandy beaches bustled with colonies of shorebirds.

Still, all was not well in this birdwatcher's paradise. As one of the rare undeveloped spots on Florida's Gulf Coast, the key--just a 10-minute boat ride from the crowded peninsula occupied by St. Petersburg and 22 other booming municipalities--was being overrun with boaters and day-trippers.

The island provides stopover, wintering, and breeding habitat for more than 100 bird species, including piping plovers, black skimmers, and American oystercatchers. "Birds were literally forced to nest at the feet of beachgoers," says King, an elementary-school counselor who now sits on the board of Audubon of Florida.

Not long after her visit, the St. Petersburg chapter--which had never before adopted its own conservation projects or goals--began a program to protect the most vulnerable species. Members roped off nesting areas, posted signs advising people not to intrude, and monitored populations. Eventually, the group asked the county to step in and safeguard the fragile ecosystem. "It was too big for a bunch of volunteers," says King.

By 1998 the chapter's efforts had paid off. Pinellas County started acquiring private holdings on the key. More important, the county designated the area as Shell Key Preserve, which encompasses 1,755 acres and includes not only the eponymous barrier island but also adjoining mangrove islands, seagrass beds, salt marshes, and mudflats.

"None of this could have happened without King's involvement," says Rich Paul, manager of the Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries for Audubon of Florida.

Her commitment to conserving her area's unique natural heritage and educating its citizens about it spawned numerous partnerships between the state, the county, and local conservation groups and businesses. "Joyce started to put into place what ultimately became the county's role in protecting Shell Key," says Craig Huegel, a biologist with the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management. "She doesn't give up easily."

King, who is modest about her role in saving Shell Key, chalks it all up to building a culture of conservation within her own chapter. As a result, beachcombers and birds can now coexist.

--Carolyn Shea

 

special report: coping with tragedy
Centers of Hope

 

Audubon Spring Creek Prairie
Denton, Nebraska

"We had our prairie festival at Spring Creek Prairie the Sunday after the disaster," says Marian Langan, education director. "We struggled with what to do and came up with something that worked perfectly for us. Raptor Recovery Nebraska was releasing a rehabbed red-tailed hawk as part of the program. Betsy Finch, the program's director, said some really moving words along the lines of, 'Just as healing hands have mended this bird, healing hands will mend our country.' She started crying as she was talking, which was incredibly moving, because she was saying goodbye to the bird as well. When she did the release, people in the audience were crying openly. It was one of the most powerful things I've experienced. The bird was spectacular.

"We also had a table set up with a blown-up version of Wendell Berry's incredible 'Peace of Wild Things' poem and a vase of goldenrod and sunflowers from our prairie. The goldenrod was perfect to represent the seriousness of the message, but the sunflowers added a note of hope. It was a small gesture, but one to which people really responded."

 

Sharon Audubon Center
Sharon, Connecticut

"At the Sharon Audubon Center, we temporarily waived our trail fee," says Scott Heth, director. "We feel strongly that in this sad and uncertain time, people need to get out and immerse themselves in beautiful and natural places, both individually and with their friends and family, to experience the peace that nature has to offer. The Audubon center is one of many such places here in the northwest corner of Connecticut, and so we have been giving people suggestions of other places to go as well."

 

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
Maitland, Florida

Resee Collins, director of Audubon of Florida's Center for Birds of Prey, and Lynda White, the center's eagle-watch coordinator, helped stir patriotic sentiments when they escorted Trouble, one of the center's resident bald eagles, to a ceremony at Orlando's Florida Hospital. Local firefighters displayed an American flag during the ceremony, which was held to honor the efforts of their fellow firefighters and local doctors, emergency workers, and National Guard employees. In addition, Trouble starred in the Pennies for Hope fund-raiser, during which 400 elementary-school children filled firefighters' boots with change, raising more than $33,000 for the relief effort. In one particularly touching moment, Trouble stretched and flapped his wings while a local second-grade class sang "God Bless America."

"Having the eagle there added another dimension to the ceremonies, and we were honored to do it," says Collins. "Although this doesn't generate funds for Audubon, it is recognizing the spirit of patriotism resurging nationwide, and it is generating goodwill within the community, helping us all to heal."

 

Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm
Dayton, Ohio

On the last weekend in September, more than 7,000 people were on hand to celebrate the fall harvest at the Aullwood Audubon Center's annual Apple Fest. Families were able to take a step back from world events to savor the simple pleasures of apple butter simmering in copper kettles, pies baking in Dutch ovens, apples being pressed into cider, and rides in wagons being pulled by draft horses. Even "Johnny Appleseed" made an appearance, distributing six bushels of apples to children, who later constructed 900 scarecrows from a harvest's worth of straw.

"We feel it is important to continue with all of our special events, to give families an opportunity to enjoy and find peace in nature," says Charity Krueger, executive director. "We noticed during the week of the attack that many people just came and walked the trails or sat quietly and watched nature in the Window on Wildlife Room."

 

Audubon Center in Greenwich
Greenwich, Connecticut

Much to the appreciation of 1,500 attendees, the Audubon Society of Greenwich did not let the events of September 11 stand in the way of its Annual Hawkwatch Festival, which was held the weekend following the attacks. A record crowd came out to admire the migrating birds of prey from atop Quaker Ridge, one of the loftiest points in southeast Connecticut.

Since Greenwich is a commuter town for New York City, and it lost many residents to the tragedy, center officials considered canceling the event, says Marilyn Smith, center manager. "The consensus was that we should go forward with it, and the results were terrific. Attendance was three times the previous high, and many visitors went out of their way to thank us for going ahead with the festival. Parents and grandparents were thankful about having something positive to do with their children. We posted a sign with the following sentiment: 'The Audubon family offers its prayers and deepest sympathies to everyone affected by the unprecedented tragedy of this week. Our sanctuary is a refuge for both wildlife and people, and we welcome all who seek a peaceful place for reflection and renewal.'"

 

Francis Beidler Forest Sanctuary
Harleyville, South Carolina

During the weeks after the tragedy, Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest Sanctuary waived its entrance fee and extended its hours, encouraging visitors to connect with nature in the 11,000 acres that protect a virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest. On September 28, under the light of a full moon, a dozen people hiked into the heart of the woods for a candlelight ceremony under the "meeting tree," a 1,000-year-old bald cypress. As they lit candles and shared a moment of silence for the victims, pileated woodpeckers flew overhead, and a serenade of owls and frogs echoed throughout the canopy.

"We all feel nature has incredible healing power, and allows you to free your mind and heart of heavy burdens," says Ann Shahid, education director. "In nature there are no political boundaries or religious sects. We're all one people and are each connected to the earth. Our hearts and prayers are with each one who was affected by this disaster."

--Shervin Hess

 

 


© 2002  NASI

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STATE OF THE STATES

Ohio
A group of 350 fourth and fifth graders at Englewood Elementary School in Dayton are test-piloting a program that explores the relationship between modern aerodynamics and the flight mechanics of birds and insects. Through Birds, Flight, and the Wrights, an educational initiative coordinated by the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, students investigate the influence that airborne species had on Ohio natives Orville and Wilbur Wright as the brothers first took flight themselves over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Aullwood is helping the school develop an integrated curriculum, including classroom activities and field trips; an October presentation compared the flight adaptations of various birds from around the world, including parrots, a peregrine falcon, an Andean condor, and a kookaburra, provided by the Columbus Zoo. The students will be the creative force behind an interactive exhibit at the Aullwood center that will be unveiled in 2003, during the 100th-anniversary celebration of man's first powered flight.

Alaska
Last July, Audubon Alaska helped two Homer high school juniors and a teacher enjoy the wildlife experience of a lifetime when the three were selected to participate in a six-day scientific expedition to the famed McNeil River Bear Sanctuary. Audubon, along with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and the Pratt Museum, sent them into the home of the world's densest population of brown bears, which congregate on the McNeil River every summer to gorge on spawning salmon. The two students, who conducted behavioral research and produced a short film about the bruins, will soon visit two Homer elementary schools each to share their experience. "This was a great opportunity for Audubon to connect kids with nature, and really build a constituency of conservation," says John Schoen, senior scientist for Audubon Alaska. Now in its second year, the McNeil trip is part of an Audubon- Alaska-coordinated program that educates the public about brown bear conservation and helps fund the bear-proofing of Kenai communities.

North Dakota
Plans to build an Audubon center in Fargo coincide with those to advance Greenway on the Red, a joint project involving three states (North and South Dakota and Minnesota) and one province (Manitoba) that's designed to help curb damage from decades of persistent flooding along the Red River. "Riparian areas preserved as green spaces can help mitigate flood damage in the Red River basin, and have benefits for bird habitat, natural resources, and water quality," says Genevieve Thompson, vice-president and executive director of Audubon Dakota. "We're developing the Fargo Audubon Center in conjunction with plans to push through a contiguous, 600-mile greenbelt from Lake Traverse in South Dakota to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. We see the Audubon center functioning as a 'Gateway to the Greenway.'" Grants and federal funds secured by Audubon Dakota will help assemble the package of habitats, which include land protected by conservation easements and wetlands-reserve programs.

Chapter
News

The Houston Audubon Society has more than doubled the size of its Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary with the purchase of 615 acres at the mouth of Galveston Bay, in south Texas. This highly productive habitat, popular with crabbers and fishermen because of its abundance of marine life, serves as a rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. The removal of invasive species and the restriction of motor vehicles will be the next steps in protecting this world-renowned birding site. If a federal grant is approved, Houston Audubon's stake in nature will grow even larger, with the purchase of the 750-acre Horseshoe Marsh, a neighboring estuarine habitat.

To members of the Audubon Society of Central Oklahoma, the September 11 tragedy evoked painful memories of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building, in Oklahoma City. Chapter volunteers and local Girl Scouts have built an observation tower and a bird blind overlooking an outdoor classroom in Edmond, Oklahoma--a habitat with blue-winged teal, yellowlegs, red-winged blackbirds, and a host of pond creatures. The dedication ceremony is planned for April 22, to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of Earth Day. The ceremony, seven months after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and seven years after the Oklahoma City bombing, will be a combined remembrance of the tragedies as well. Central Oklahoma Audubon, to which many Girl Scout families belong, will erect a peace pole and memorial sign at the outdoor classroom to mark the occasion.

Chapters and members from across the country, touched by September's events, have reached out in a variety of ways. Dick Cripe, a retired psychologist and the vice-president of the Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society in Idaho, went to Ground Zero in New York City to volunteer with the Red Cross to help families that lost loved ones. Many chapters made donations to relief organizations, and attendance at chapter events is reportedly higher than ever. Just weeks after the attacks, the Madison (Wisconsin) Audubon Society purchased 140 acres of prairie to restore as wildlife habitat. Says Marsha Cannon, former chapter president, "It is reassuring and comforting to be part of an environmental organization capable of such a calming and incredibly positive act in the midst of chaos. The sanctuary stands as a refuge to wildlife, and to all of us."

In Memory

Audubon lost a member of its refuge family on September 11 when Richard Guadagno, 38, died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania. Guadagno, who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 17 years, was also a volunteer in the Audubon Refuge Keepers program. His career included stops at seven national wildlife refuges, from New Jersey's Great Swamp to California's Humboldt Bay, where he labored tirelessly on wetlands restoration and other preservation efforts. "We sometimes had 60 volunteers working at the [Baskett Slough and Ankeny] refuges on a Saturday," says Maggie Meikle, a former director of Salem Oregon Audubon. "Those were Rich's days off, but he still showed up and worked alongside them. He cared very deeply about protecting our ecosystems." All those who knew him well are certain that Guadagno, who was a trained law-enforcement officer, showed great courage during his final hour. The Audubon family's thoughts and prayers go out to his family.