By Joshua Malbin
While grassroots organizing has long been the standard of the conservation
movement, some problems require the experience of professionals. The National
Audubon Society's campaign staff takes on those problems across the country.
We asked them about their hopes and plans for the coming century.
Population and Habitat
The Audubon Population and Habitat Campaign has doubled its roster
of supporters to 20,000 in the past year. In the next year this network
will lobby the U.S. government to meet its funding commitment to the Programme
of Action, the United Nations' population-growth agreement. The agreement
aims to slow population growth by providing affordable reproductive-health
services to women worldwide. "If women only had the number of children
they wanted to have, we would begin to see population growth go down,"
says campaign director Pat Waak. Because in the year 2000, 1 billion of
the world's 6 billion residents will reach reproductive age, the campaign
also organizes discussions for young people. "The program's success could
mean a population of 7.3 billion versus a population of 10 billion by 2050,"
says Waak. "We have 50 years to really shape the future of this planet,
and all the wildlife and birds we care about will be dependent on the decisions
What humans are doing in the oceans is the last buffalo hunt," says
Carl Safina, director of the Living Oceans Program. Started in 1993, the
campaign has focused on raising the visibility of ocean wildlife among
conservationists and lobbying for reform of fisheries regulations. It recently
launched a program of consumer education. The campaign's biggest success
so far was the 1996 overhaul of federal fisheries law. "We have had a number
of spectacular recoveries, such as striped bass," says Safina. "But unless
things change we will see some spectacular losses in the future. Salmon,
for instance, will disappear from the coast between British Columbia and
California." To try to stop such losses, the campaign ultimately aims to
overhaul fishing regulations in coastal waters and on the international
high seas. "I hope to see a restoration of abundance that is equal to the
depletion we have caused in the past 30 years," says Safina. "Eventually
I'd like us to be on a footing of sustainable use where we aren't driving
down the overall population anymore."
The biggest tragedy would be to lose the forests we haven't ever cut-virgin,
old- growth, and roadless forests-which is a very real possibility," says
Mike Leahy, director of the Forest Campaign. Forests are home to one-third
of the nation's endangered species. One of the campaign's main goals is
to reform the federal Forest Service's policy toward one of stewardship
of those species. It hopes also to promote conservation-minded management
of private lands, which hold 70 percent of the nation's total forests.
"In 50 years," says Leahy, "I would hope to see a system of connected forest
reserves managed exclusively for the benefit of wildlife species or for
a specific type of ecosystem."
Eighty percent of the nation's endangered or threatened birds depend
on wetlands, and vast numbers of migrating birds use them as stopovers.
But about 100,000 acres of wetlands in the United States are destroyed
each year. The Wetlands Campaign, launched in 1996, combats this loss by
coordinating a wide variety of local, state, and Audubon center wetlands
campaigns. Its staff also works on national issues. The campaign aims to
restore 1 million acres of wetlands by 2005. Ultimately, Naki Stevens,
director of the campaign, would like to see the restoration of 10 million
acres, about 10 percent of the total that has been lost since European
settlement. "Wetlands are where the birds are," she points out. "And Auduboners
National wildlife refuges receive the least federal funding per acre
of any of the federal lands systems," says Evan Hirsche, director of the
Wildlife Refuge Campaign. "We have to recognize the importance of those
places where wildlife comes first." The campaign, begun in 1996 to educate
the public, is set to end in 2003; by then Hirsche hopes to have established
groups that support their local refuges. "The most important threats to
refuges in the future are adjacent development and water quality and quantity.
We really need people to get involved in land-use planning on a local level."
There's only one Everglades," says Vernita Nelson, public affairs associate
at the Audubon Everglades Restoration Campaign. "There's no other ecosystem
like this in the world." The Everglades campaign, which began in 1992,
has focused its attention on the giant water-management and restoration
plan the Army Corps of Engineers sent to Congress this year. The plan will
return much of the water now diverted out to sea for flood control back
to the Everglades. In the next few years the campaign will turn its energies
to getting the Corps plan signed into law. "If the plan passes," says Nelson,
"we expect to see major improvements in the amount and quality of the water
flowing through the Everglades in the next 10 years. In the next 50 years
we hope that leads to an increase in wading-bird population, as opposed
to a 90 percent decrease over the past 50."