This year was a highly productive one for our team in their efforts to protect birds and the places they need in the Southwest. With the support of our 13 chapters and over 40,000 members throughout New Mexico and Arizona we delivered impactful wins that have the potential to transform how we protect and manage our natural resources, the birds, and communities that depend on them. Here are a few examples of how our work in 2021 has helped to ensure the Southwest continues to be a place where birds thrive and people prosper.
Ended “use it or lose it” water management in Arizona
Nearly one thousand Audubon advocates in Arizona urged their legislators to support HB 2056, a bill that ultimately passed, giving some farmers an incentive to conserve water on their property, and significantly update and outdated law. This legislation protects irrigators who submit a water conservation plan to the Arizona Department of Water Resources from losing their water rights for use in the future. Now, a water user who decides to conserve water (which benefits the whole system) can be assured that they are not abandoning or forfeiting the rights to the water they save. This will keep more water in Arizona’s rivers because water users are incentivized to use only what they need. By creating a voluntary conservation plan, water users can more effectively manage their water, and the entire river system will benefit.
Protecting one of North America’s most imperiled bird species
In response to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 22,000 Audubon members voiced their support for extending these further protections to the bird. The ESA prohibits anyone from harming listed species either directly or indirectly, and it requires the development of a recovery plan for the species and the identification of critical habitat. This proposal by FWS will not only benefit the Lesser Prairie-Chicken but it will also improve the places we share with it. New federal investments and incentives for landowners resulting from the listing decision will make our grasslands healthier, improve the infiltration of groundwater, sequester carbon, and make the rangeland more resilient overall. This is good for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, ranchers, farmers, and communities who depend on these resources.
Delivered over 80 million gallons of water to the drying Rio Grande
In order to address the Rio Grande’s crippling drought and one of the driest water supplies in over 50 years, Audubon is doing its part to create solutions that work for people and the birds that rely on a healthy flowing river. Through long-term funding support from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Audubon released over 80 million gallons of water into the Rio Grande in an effort that is tightly coordinated with water managers and biologists to ensure effective and efficient use. Audubon secures this water through voluntary leases of water rights from water users. For our farming communities, this means an ability to manage through crop shortfalls—to come out the other side of a growing season with the farm intact and hope for future revenue. For our river this means an ability to survive drying and associated stresses to riverside plant and animal communities.
Building new community partnerships in South Phoenix
Under the direction of our Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center Director, Genaro Ruiz, we have begun deepening our relationship with South Phoenix residents through building new partnerships with community organizations and diversifying our programing to reach new audiences with relevant content and events. Some 2021 events we hosted at the center included: local South Phoenix arts organization, Sagrado’s 5th Annual Mujeres del Desierto art exhibit; we partnered with Corazon Latino, Chicanos por la Causa, and the League of United Latin American Citizens to host a World Environment Day event targeting the local Spanish-speaking community; and FWS used our center as the site for their Walk for the Wild event with the goal of introducing new audiences to the outdoors. We hope that by deepening our relationship with our local community we will be better equipped to meet the needs of birds and people in South Phoenix.
New legislation creates a comprehensive environmental database in New Mexico
During the 2021 legislative session, Audubon staff developed and led the effort to pass HB 51, the Environmental Database Act, which will create a centralized public website that consolidates New Mexico's environmental and public health data onto one user-friendly and interactive map of the state. This database will enable agencies, the public, and industry to have a quick and comprehensive view of what's occurring and will lead to better-informed decision making when it comes to land, air, water, and wildlife. During the legislative session, Audubon members were vocal in support of this act and ultimately helped it pass with bipartisan support.
Completed Nature Discovery Area at Randall Davey Audubon Center
After a nearly decade-long capital fundraising and construction effort, we have completed a major expansion of the facilities at our Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe that includes a multi-use event pavilion completed in 2019 and now the recently completed Nature Discovery Area that includes a treehouse that has to be seen to be believed. These additional facilities will enable us to double our summer camp size along with other education programs while also attracting residents of Northern New Mexico up the Santa Fe River watershed to visit our center and learn how they can help protect the natural world that inspires us all. If you are in Santa Fe please swing by and take a look, it’s worth the trip.
Of course, none of this work is possible without the support from our members, donors, chapters and partners. If you are able, please consider a donation to our work. Every dollar you give helps to protect our rivers, save our most vulnerable species, and bring new people into the conservation movement. Thank you for all you do for the birds and people in the Southwest. Happy Holidays!