Dear Audubon Member,

People often ask me what distinguishes Audubon from other conservation organizations. Our love for birds comes to mind, of course. But even more important, Audubon is uniquely committed to engaging people to protect nature. Volunteer action has been growing dramatically at Audubon, and it is taking on many new and different forms. Since I became president of this organization six years ago, our staff and budget have doubled. Although that's impressive, our volunteer growth represents a far more important measure of our success. During those same six years, we have not only significantly increased the number of Audubon volunteers, we have also expanded the ways in which volunteers can make a difference. A few examples:

  • Chapters: With more than 500 local Audubon chapters across the country, I can't begin to reflect all the volunteer action that occurs regularly throughout the Audubon chapter network. For example, in Littleton, Colorado, the Audubon Society of Greater Denver has been working to develop an Audubon Center on land leased for $25 a year from Colorado State Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The chapter is working with Audubon Colorado to develop a business plan, conduct a feasibility study, and begin a capital campaign for the center.

In Mississippi, Louanne Fossler, president of the Pine Woods Audubon Society, is active in a critical fight to kill an unnecessary water project. A group of private citizens is proposing to build a dam that would destroy the free-flowing Bouie River. Louanne has been building opposition to the proposal, including organizing a successful regional workshop on how to fight threats to the river.

In Texas, the Houston Audubon Society recently raised more than $700,000 to purchase a 650-acre addition to Bolivar Flats, the chapter's critical shorebird sanctuary on the Gulf Coast. In a particularly impressive demonstration of collegiality, 8 Texas chapters and 42 chapters from other states contributed to the project, as did numerous individuals.

  • Public Policy Campaigns: The continued health of our environment will be determined through a wide range of public-policy decisions at all levels of government. In the public-policy arena, whoever mobilizes the most people has the best chance to win. Our strength is the constituency we represent and the volunteers we can mobilize to support our public-policy campaigns.

In the campaign for the Everglades, it was our ability to engage volunteers from the diverse communities of South Florida that tipped the balance and produced success. In our Population and Habitat Campaign, Audubon's grassroots organizers have held more than 65 training and outreach events across the country and enlisted more than 7,900 people in four cities to support additional funding for international family planning. We worked with other conservation organizations through the Heritage Forest Campaign to mobilize more than 1.6 million volunteers to submit comments to the Forest Service about protecting roadless areas, and to participate in more than 600 local meetings. These volunteer efforts resulted in a historic executive order by President Bill Clinton to protect some 58 million acres of national forest land.

  • Citizen Science: Five years ago, Audubon adopted the term citizen science to describe the focus of our science programs. But the focus goes back a century, to the beginnings of Audubon's oldest volunteer program, the Christmas Bird Count. Last year more than 50,000 volunteers participated in the CBC. A much newer program, the Great Backyard Bird Count, has grown from 14,000 participants in 1998 to 55,000 in 2001. These nationwide efforts to count birds have spawned BirdSource, a web site that incorporates data on bird ranges, populations, and migrations. It uses the power of the Internet to create a daily electronic Christmas Bird Count for every volunteer birder with access to the web. We hope BirdSource will eventually set the national agenda for bird conservation; it also has enormous potential to engage young people in educational activities on the web.
  • Important Bird Areas: The Important Bird Areas program harnesses all of our bird-inventory data, most collected by thousands of volunteers, to identify the most important places in the nation for birds. Since the program began in 1995, more than 1,200 IBA sites have been formally designated in 34 states. Hundreds of these IBAs have already been protected, by a state government or by their private owner.
  • State Programs: We tend to think of our 25 newly established state programs as simple expansions of our field staff. On the contrary, successful state programs depend as much on volunteers as on staff members. Our volunteer state boards of directors attract some of the most effective conservation leaders in the country. Volunteers also serve as docents and teach classes at state-run sanctuaries, work on state-sponsored habitat-restoration projects, and help with state-level advocacy campaigns.
  • Audubon Centers: Our 2020 Vision calls for Audubon to establish 1,000 Audubon Centers in communities across the country by the year 2020, and for these centers to serve one in four schoolchildren annually. More than 50 centers have already been launched or are in the advanced planning stages. Audubon Centers are made possible by local volunteer activity in every program area.

Part of my job as president of Audubon is to articulate a vision for our future and to inspire people to become involved in our mission. But when I travel around the country to do this, something else usually happens. I'm the one who is inspired--by our volunteers, the committed, hardworking people who care about nature and who have only one motive: to help Audubon protect the environment.

Volunteers are the foundation and the strength of Audubon. If you want to help, send an e-mail to audubonaction@audubon.org or call 800-659-2622.



John Flicker
National Audubon Society


© 2001  NASI

Sound off! Send a letter to the editor
about this piece.

Enjoy Audubon on-line? Check out our print edition!