Top Audubon Wins for Birds in 2019: Historic Agreements and Protected HabitatsTop Audubon Wins for Birds in 2019: Historic Agreements and Protected Habitats

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This year our conservation leaders, bird advocates, college students, ambassadors, volunteers, and scientists accomplished amazing things. Collectively, almost 150,000 of us took more than 600,000 online actions on behalf of birds. All of the accomplishments listed below come from the hard work and dedication of our members, chapters, volunteers and staff.  We're very proud of what we have been able to accomplish together over the past 12 months.

Keep reading to see the most important ways that our flock worked together this year.

Drought Contingency Plan Will Help Protect 36 Million People and 400 Species of Birds
In January, the Arizona Legislature passed the Drought Contingency Plan, landmark legislation that addresses impending water shortages on the Colorado River. As temperatures continue to rise, the Colorado River Basin will become an even more important resource for economies and cities of the arid West, millions of acres of farmland, people who rely these bodies of water, and birds like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler. Audubon worked strategically throughout the basin on restoration work and coalition building, engaging bird-friendly business and beer collaborations, and forging relationships with local, state and federal leaders.

Utah Legislature Unanimously Passes Resolution which Recognizes Importance of Ensuring Adequate Water Flows to Great Salt Lake and Wetlands
A resolution adopted unanimously by the Utah Legislature and signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert recognizes the critical importance of ensuring adequate water flows to Great Salt Lake and its wetlands. The resolution sets the stage for a collaborative process among a wide-range of stakeholders to develop policy recommendations and other solutions for maintaining a healthy and sustainable lake system.

Drying lake systems in the West and around the globe have produced devastating effects, leaving many communities with limited and costly options for mitigating the negative impacts from dust, harm to birds and other wildlife habitats, and loss of livelihoods. The resolution acknowledges that the best way Utahns can prepare to avoid such serious challenges is by taking steps now. Audubon was actively engaged in supporting this resolution, along with a wide range of interests, including the brine shrimp industry, mineral industry, publicly-owned wastewater treatment operations, hunting and recreation, and conservation groups.

Arizona Legislature Strikes Deal that is a Win for Birds, Water, and Public Lands
The Arizona Legislature spent weeks discussing budget negotiations. And just as the 54th Legislature, 1st Regular Session wrapped, Arizona Republican lawmakers struck a deal. The new budget is a win for birds, water, and public lands because it includes funding for invasive plant removal and replacement, wastewater infrastructure, and water department staff.

This legislative session, Audubon Arizona advocated for (or in some cases, against) several bills directly by testifying in committees, talking directly with lawmakers, and engaging partner organizations. Audubon’s multi-state grassroots effort to protect rivers like the Colorado River and its tributaries, the Wester Rivers Action Network, sent more than 3,000 letters and e-mails to state and federal lawmakers to let them know we support actions that protect precious water resources and the habitat birds need.

A flock of Western Sandpipers in San Jose, California. Photo: Don McCullough/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Migratory Birds Gained Vital Protections in California 
Amidst rollbacks and a new governmental interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the state of California has been a champion in demonstrating that it can protect vulnerable bird species while enjoying a thriving economy. In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 454, an Audubon-sponsored bill protecting California’s migratory birds. The bill, authored by Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), strengthens the state’s protections for migratory birds and closes loopholes by where California law defers to federal law.

Continued to Defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Court
In 2018 we filed a federal lawsuit along with the American Bird Conservancy, National Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, 8 state Attorney Generals also filed suit to defend the MBTA. After we filed the lawsuit, the government tried to get the case dismissed. This past summer the U.S. District Court in New York ruled that the cases should proceed and be consolidated. The next few months will be crucial as the coalition will filed a motion for summary judgment which means we’re asking the court to find in our favor and reinstate the prior interpretation of the MBTA.

Horned Lark foraging on May Valley Ranch, an Audubon-certified ranch, in Prowers County, Colorado. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon

Audubon Scientists Identify Priority Conservation Areas for Disappearing North American Grasslands Birds
The North American Grasslands & Birds Report is a comprehensive analysis of climate change vulnerabilities and land-use threats facing grassland bird species. According to the report, forty-two percent of grassland bird species that depend on tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass prairies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico are highly vulnerable to climate change under current carbon emissions rates. The report also identifies “climate strongholds” in North America that will provide the best habitat for declining grassland birds and Audubon’s conservation strategy to protect these species and the places they need in a fragmented and climate-vulnerable landscape.

Conservation Groups Oppose Arctic Drilling and Seek Permanent Protections in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
For years, Audubon has fought to safeguard the Arctic Refuge, a vital nursery to millions of birds from all 50 states, from destructive oil and gas development. In March, 312 scientists sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior opposing oil and gas leasing in the Refuge. Additionally, members from conservation groups like Audubon Alaska, Alaska Wilderness League, and the Association of Retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Employees worked together to pen a 431 page critique of the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Impact Statement, and more than 41,000 Audubon members sent in comments opposing lease sales in the Refuge. On September 11, the members of the U.S. Senate introduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act that, if passed, would designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain a wilderness area, preventing any oil or gas drilling in the area. The U.S. House of Representatives followed suit the following day with the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Protection Act, which would repeal the leasing program and prohibit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from allowing drilling along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Both bills are major steps toward protecting the Refuge.

Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon

Audubon and Coalition Partners Fight to Protect Threatened Western Landscape
In March, the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management chose to make dramatic changes to the 2015 sagebrush management plans agreed upon by more than 10 states in the Interior West, making it even easier for oil and gas companies to lease and drill in sage-grouse habitat. While a court has put these new plans on hold, Audubon is continuing to fight back against the ongoing threats to sage-grouse and their habitat. Upon closer inspection, Audubon, along with the National Wildlife Federation, and the Wilderness Society, found that the Department of the Interior failed to prioritize oil and gas leasing and drilling outside sage-grouse habitat, as the 2015 and 2019 sagebrush management plans mandate. Between January 2017 and March 2019, the Bureau of Land Management issued leases comprising almost 1.6 million acres and 2,553 drilling permits in sage-grouse habitat.

Despite these challenges, the state of Wyoming, took the lead in sage-grouse conservation, with ongoing support from stakeholders like Audubon. Governor Mark Gordon of Wyoming issued a new Greater Sage-Grouse Executive Order, with a mandate that maintains the level of protections from the 2015 management plans. The Executive Order prioritizes increasing and improving sage-grouse habitat that will subsequently benefit more than 350 species of wildlife.

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