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Top 10 takeaways from the 2019 Audubon Convention

A Crested Oropendola in Colombia. Photo by German Rodriguez

3: Traveling with Audubon

I also learned that Audubon and its local chapters now provide ecotourism trips to places that support migratory and resident birds — in Belize, Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay, and the Bahamas. As Audubon explains: “These trips are different from other ecotourism efforts because they are based locally. Audubon experts train local guides in bird identification and ecology, and after a few years of assistance, they leave the guides to run the tours themselves. In this way, birders on these tours directly support local people and communities, help preserve IBAs, and nurture an emerging ecotourism industry.”

2: Volunteers are the lifeblood of Audubon

Every nonprofit relies on volunteers, and that is certainly true for Audubon and its many chapters and centers. To celebrate the contributions of volunteers, Audubon awards the Charles H. Callison Volunteer Award. This year, it went to Ruth Russell, an Audubon Arizona advisory board member and a tireless advocate for birds. She has served repeatedly as a board member for Tucson Audubon Society, beginning in the 1970s, and she just recently completed her latest term. She also served 12 years on the National Audubon Society Board of Directors as the Rocky Mountain regional director, including six years as a vice-chair.

Author Kenn Kaufman (BirdWatching’s “ID Tips” columnist) introduced Russell, explaining that she pushed him early in his career as a writer and advocate. “I wouldn’t be here today without the help that Ruth gave me,” he said.

Russell helped establish the Arizona Council of Chapters, working to bring all of Arizona’s Audubon chapters together to advance science, public policy, and conservation measures for birds. She later encouraged and helped lead the formation of the Audubon Arizona office. “When I came to Audubon Arizona, it was Ruth who shared our collective history, generously and wisely counseled me on important relationships to build, mend, and deepen, and encouraged the continued work to more effectively connect our Audubon network,” says Sonia Perillo, Audubon Arizona’s executive director and vice president.

Keynote speaker Winona LaDuke. Photo by Matt Mendenhall

1: A challenge for the future

Winona LaDuke, an author, economist, and executive director of Honor the Earth, delivered the convention’s keynote address. (Watch it on Facebook.) She described the activism that she and other Native Americans and their supporters have engaged in in recent years to stop pipelines that would carry tar sands oil from Canada into the U.S. LaDuke didn’t mince words, detailing the “brutality of force, $38 million dollars’ worth of force that was levied upon our people” and other water protectors in North Dakota.


“We’re at this point of extreme extraction,” she said. “That’s what it’s called when you hit the bottom of the barrel and you start doing crazy stuff to get your oil because you’ve got an addiction.” Mountaintop removal mining, fracking, and deep-ocean oil drilling are all types of extreme extraction, she said, — and they’re all bad for birds.

The challenge for the future, LaDuke explained, is to produce energy from solar and other renewable sources and to greatly increase rail travel to reduce the need to burn fossil fuels. She also called for legal rights for wildlife, water, and plants to precede the rights of corporations.

“There’s not a social-change fairy. There’s not a nuclear-waste fairy or a carbon-sequestration fairy. You all know that, right? The change is us. We’re the ones who change behavior. We’re the ones who change the policies. We’re the one who change how we relate to Mother Earth.”


When she wrapped up her talk, the audience gave LaDuke a sustained standing ovation.

The next Audubon Convention will be held July 15-19, 2021, in Tacoma, Washington.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at [email protected].

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