We may be far apart, but Audubon advocates from across North Carolina still flocked together in a new and inspiring way for our biggest Advocacy Day yet on June 24, and our first-ever virtual Advocacy Day.
Nearly 100 members tuned in from their couches, kitchens, and back porches, spending the day in online meetings with state lawmakers in Raleigh. The energy from advocates was palpable through screens and keyboards as they shared bird stories and policy priorities with each other and their elected officials.
"It was an amazing day—truly the same high-five, we-did-it energy that we feel in a normal year at an in-person advocacy day," said Kim Brand, Audubon North Carolina director of engagement. "Our advocates felt incredibly empowered, fired up, and connected to the Audubon network even if it was their first Audubon event. I am blown away."
Participants represented Audubon’s geographically and politically diverse membership of nearly 50,000 people in the state, including voices from Murphy to Manteo, but their message was unified: Birds unite people across boundaries. If we protect birds, we can ensure a better future for all.
“It’s so difficult for most of us to stay connected right now. That’s why it was truly inspiring to see Audubon advocates show up and speak for birds in a new way, despite the pandemic and lockdown,” said Andrew Hutson, Audubon North Carolina executive director and National Audubon Society vice president. “We demonstrated to lawmakers the power that birds have to unite us, even during difficult times, and to drive policy solutions that create a better future for all.”
Advocates spent the day in virtual meeting rooms, talking with their senators and representatives about our top policy priorities:
- Grow the state’s conservation trust funds. People are rediscovering the importance of our state’s parks, trails, and gamelands. These places protect bird habitat and continue to see soaring demand as North Carolina grows. Audubon is asking lawmakers to increase the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to $45 million each by 2022.
- Support a cleaner energy future for birds and people. Extreme weather, heavier rains, rising seas—birds are in crisis, even the goldfinches and nuthatches at your backyard feeder. Birds need clean energy solutions now. These solutions will also help rebuild a stronger and more resilient economy for our state.
- Support solutions to the heirs’ property problem. Family-owned land passed down through generations, often without a will, is especailly vulnerable to family land loss and prevents people from accessing federal conservation funding. The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act fixes loopholes that cause these problem and has been adopted by 17 states, including Texas, South Carolina, and Florida. North Carolina should be next.
Half of Advocacy Day participants were new, many having recently connected with Audubon through virtual events since the Covid-19 pandemic began in the spring. All told, advocates met with 27 lawmakers and held 60 virtual meetings throughout the day, including sessions to record video message for lawmakers who couldn’t attend due to the condensed legislative calendar.
“Being virtual was a big challenge since I enjoy connecting with folks in person, but in the end it worked out extremely well,” said Christyna Reagan, a recent high school graduate and first-time Advocacy Day participant. “I was surprised by how many lawmakers were excited to meet with us. So many had bird stories they wanted to share, and they were ready and willing to listen to us.”
Highlights from the day of virtual meetings included a meeting that Wake Audubon members held with Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue, who talked about birding by ear and the importance of native plants, including a serviceberry bush he recently planted in his yard. “I’m pretty sure that he could teach me a few things about birds,” said Mary Abrams, Wake Audubon Advocacy Chairperson. “It was inspiring to hear from a leader who cares about people and nature.”
Another group of members met with leading Republican clean energy advocate Rep. Larry Strickland. Strickland, who was a key player in defeating a harmful provision in a Duke Energy bill last year, thanked Audubon for past guidance on clean energy policy.
In another video chat with Audubon advocates, Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley spoke about how she’s had more time recently to watch the three pairs of cardinals nesting in her yard. Now more than ever, people are reconnecting with nature and birds, she said.
A common thread throughout the day was how many participants and even elected officials have turned to birds and nature as a means to find respite, connection, and even a bit of joy during these difficult times. Despite countless event cancellations and the danger of congregating indoors, birding and enjoying nature have not been cancelled, and remain activities that all people can enjoy.