POULSBO — Kitsap Audubon is leading the charge in increasing local participation in a nationwide bird conservation program.
Kitsap hosted the annual state Audubon conference at Poulsbo City Hall last weekend — a pulse-check for statewide activities, and an announcement of the new nationwide conservation plan by Audubon’s CEO and president.
About 100 Washington Audubon members joined national CEO and President David Yarnold and Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson in officially opening the Puget Loop birding trail, the latest addition to the Washington State Birding Trail map. Kitsap Audubon members also successfully rallied state chapters into throwing their full support behind the Kitsap Forest & Bay project, an environmental initiative to buy 7,000 acres of Pope Resources land in North Kitsap for conservation.
The map is the seventh and last one in a 10-year effort to concisely find the state’s best birding spots, which also points out the need for conservation of those locations. Kitsap Audubon President Jim Ullrich said the map cost $175,000, funded partly through grants and whatever each Audubon chapter could afford.
Kitsap donated $3,200 and contributed location specifics of the sites they submitted, including Point No Point in Hansville.
“Bird watching is actually one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country,” conservation chairman Gene Bullock said.
“We are focused on solving local, regional environmental problems. But the thing is, when people begin to treasure birds, they appreciate the natural world more … We’re interfering with the lives of wildlife but the heightened awareness makes people more sensitive to environmental issues.”
Bullock lamented the loss of the state Audubon’s professional staff, including a lobbyist who worked in the Legislature on behalf of Aububon and other environmental organizations. Because of budget cuts, the state office lost those positions in 2010.
However, after a few years of miscommunication, Audubon’s new CEO has formed a broad plan to unite the country, and commended Washington’s practice of protecting the environment.
“You are fortunate to live in a state that values habitat, where you can work in a legislature that will do things important for the environment,” Yarnold said in his keynote address.
Yarnold’s idea is for his organization to once again work as one Audubon — asking four regions to follow their migratory birds, tracking habitats to restore and preserve. These zones — Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic — are called flyways.
The flyways will not just unite the entire county’s Audubon chapters, but communicate with birdlife partners in Central and South America. Tracking the migratory patterns will allow Audubon’s grassroots volunteers to see if development is squeezing out habitat and protect nesting sites.
Kitsap Audubon has nearly 1,000 members that are constantly working on projects to protect delicate areas of the county. Bullock said he understands the need for economic development, but there should be more balance between growth and conservation.
“But there has to be responsibility … A pushback and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have to always do things at the expense of our environment.’ ”
One project is the annual Christmas Bird Count, a tradition that began in 1900 as an alternative to the annual Christmas “shoot,” when people competed to see who could shoot the most birds and animals in one day. This year’s count, Dec. 15, welcomes new birdwatchers to find as many birds as possible in a 15-mile radius.