The words “Audubon Society” may bring to mind images of nerdy birdwatchers glued to their telescopes and notebooks, intent on a chance to spot a new species. But our local chapter, Redwood Region Audubon Society (RRAS), is just as involved in environmental activism as in organizing bird-watching tours.
“We go toward the activist side as a chapter in general,” said Jim Clark, longtime member and incoming President-elect.
Several years ago RRAS participated in a lawsuit involving non-mitigated construction of a subdivision on a wetland in McKinleyville. The organization ultimately won a settlement of around $75,000, which became seed money for a sanctuary fund. Later that money, combined with donations, bought 160 acres of mudflats adjacent to Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Clark explained that local Audubon Society chapters are all autonomous. “They can have a different opinion about certain environmental situations than state or national [Audubon Societies],” he said, adding that RRAS doesn’t have to go through a hierarchy when it wants to take a position on a local environmental issue.
New Public Trust
RRAS is in the beginning phases of a long-term project involving its acquisition of a public trust over Parcel 4 (just west of the Bayshore Mall), which the City of Eureka dedicated back to the Coastal Conservancy last year.
“The Coastal Conservancy offered the public trust for the open space to RRAS,” said Clark. “Essentially we have control over space above the parcel.”
Clark said that the organization’s goals include enhancing the area for wildlife habitat and for public viewing of wildlife.
“Those are the specific mandates on the space that we signed with the Coastal Conservancy,” he said, adding that this use will be compatible with the coastal trail being planned for that area.
Clark acknowledged that the cleanup and upgrading of the parcel is going to take a great deal of hard work in addition to grant funding, and he said that RRAS will be working with the City to achieve its goals.
“I think people will fall in love with [this property] once it’s accessible and safe,” he said.
In addition to being a spot to view wildlife, the parcel is an historic mill site and the plans include interpretive historical signage about past uses throughout the centuries and possibly even an interpretive center in the Mall.
“Parcel 4 is a big responsibility for us,” said Chapter President, Ken Burton, “but I think we’re up to the challenge. We have an incredible opportunity here and if we do it right it could even help revitalize commerce in the area while creating a great place for education and recreation right in the city.”
RRAS was recently awarded three grants from Audubon California for snowy plover conservation. It is partnering with Friends of the Dunes (FOD) on all three and is negotiating with FOD towards future collaboration on the new Coastal Nature Center.
“We see a lot of value in partnerships,” said Burton. “There’s no point in competing for limited resources or reinventing the wheel. Our niche in the local environmental community is advocating for birds and using our leverage as part of a much larger organization to support good work that other folks are doing.”
RRAS coordinates many other projects and activities, including a weekly interpretive walk through the Arcata Marsh. Monthly tours are also offered at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge year-round, and at Palco Marsh from fall to spring.
RRAS also leads birding and natural history field trips to locations all over northwestern California, and an evening program is presented the second Friday of each month, September through May. The programs feature slide shows, movies and talks by experienced naturalists and biologists.
Every year the chapter holds a banquet and auction to celebrate its accomplishments and raise money for its work, this year’ on February 20 featuring Brian Sullivan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology as guest speaker. Tickets are available until February 14.
Christmas Bird Count
RRAS just wrapped up its annual Christmas Bird Counts, in which members and other volunteers counted birds throughout the region, including Willow Creek, Crescent City and Ferndale.
“The CBC is the longest-running biological survey in the world,” said Burton, “and serves as a valuable monitoring tool for bird conservation.”
The results of continent-wide Audubon Christmas Bird Counts are published in North American Birds magazine and are available online at audubon.org.
Anyone is welcome to join in this bird counting effort, which takes place every year from mid-December through early January. “It’s a good way to learn about birding,” said Clark.
“But our chapter is not purely about birding,” he said. “There is so much to do and members don’t need to be expert birders.” Members can help out with the annual student bird art contest, with publicity, and with the Chapter’s booth and café at Arcata’s annual Godwit Days event.
Community members who would like to get involved with RRAS can find more information here, and/or in The Sandpiper, the monthly newsletter inserted in each edition of ECONEWS.