Top 10 takeaways from the 2019 Audubon Convention

Audubon staff and members of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay chapter meet with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in Washington, D.C. in April 2019. Photo by Luke Franke/Audubon

6: College chapters

When you think of Audubon, you may think of the national society or, just as likely, your local or state chapter — or one of the 41 Audubon centers and sanctuaries around the U.S. These organizations traditionally appeal to older adults and families with young kids who attend Audubon-led programs. That leaves out a broad demographic — young adults. To close the gap, in the last two years, Audubon has opened 61 college chapters around the country.

Yarnold thanked the leaders of the chapter at San Diego City College, which has 75 members, and noted that it’s the model that’s being used to create new chapters.

Jason St. Sauver accepts the Tamar Chotzen Educator of the Year Award. Photo by Matt Mendenhall

5: Welcoming everyone

In addition to its work for bird conservation, Audubon over the last several years has embraced a work ethic that makes all people feel welcome. It’s referred to in short as EDI — equity, diversity, and inclusion. The ethic was incorporated into the convention’s theme — “Audubon for Everyone” — and came up in more than one of the workshops I attended.

At the Saturday night awards banquet, Audubon presented the Tamar Chotzen Educator of the Year Award to Jason St. Sauver, Audubon Nebraska’s director of education and outreach and a former staffer at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center in Texas. At Mitchell Lake, he created a Birding for the Blind program that invited young children with visual impairments to use their auditory strengths to discover the birds all around them. In Nebraska, Jason created “Let’s Go Birding Together!” to welcome LGBTQ people into Audubon and birding. Through Jason’s advocacy and enthusiasm, Let’s Go Birding Together became an Audubon initiative nationwide (this year there are nearly 40 pride season bird walks, and an official T-shirt) and established a model for other cultural heritage month celebrations at Audubon.

“The best among us are those whose personal mission is centered on positive change and delivered in all aspects of their lives,” says Kristal Stoner, Audubon Nebraska’s executive director and vice president. “Jason’s passion for inclusion, birds, and conservation is completely intertwined in all of his work.”

4: Expanding Audubon’s reach

Two of the breakout sessions I attended showed how Audubon is expanding its reach to other audiences that you might not expect.

During a session about the crisis for North American grassland birds, I was surprised to learn that Audubon is working with ranchers in the Plains states to make their land more bird-friendly. It encourages rotational grazing, managing invasive species, and protecting streams to enhance habitats for plants, insects, and birds. And Audubon has recently started certifying beef that is produced from ranches that manage their grasslands with birds in mind. The beef is available from more than 40 retailers in eight states.

I was also surprised by a session about local Audubon chapters that are working with faith communities to grow native plants on the grounds of their churches, schools, and other facilities. The initiative makes sense because most religions espouse care for nature. And the gardens are highly visible, and they are typically maintained by many people, which engages even more people in work that benefits birds.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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