Audubon Innovation Grants Help Conserve Birds Coast to Coast

NEW YORK, New York, October 21, 2008 (ENS) - The National Audubon Society, supported by Toyota, Tuesday awarded TogetherGreen Conservation Innovation Grants totaling $1.4 million dollars to fund 41 projects in 24 states.

The grants went to Audubon chapters that reached out to partner with other community groups to engage diverse communities that have not been part of the conservation effort before. Grantees devised ways to engage people with their environment - creative approaches that demonstrate everybody has an opportunity to make a difference.

"A small amount of money can produce big results locally," said National Audubon Society President and CEO John Flicker on a teleconference announcing the grants today. "The idea is to give our local Audubon centers around the country the incentive to forge partnerships, to bring in new partners."

"We can limit threat of pollution in communities, limit the threat of global warming, help underpriviledged communities to preserve their local resources," Flicker said. "We need to get everybody involved, engage people from every ethnic and racial community to help preserve the environment."

The grants were bestowed on a wide range of projects. In St. Petersburg, Florida, a $9,000 grant will provide for bird stewards to protect nesting birds such as the threatened least tern and black skimmer.

Beach-goers can trample habitat and their dogs can eat bird eggs, both major contributors to sea bird declines on beaches around the country.

Stewards will be hired from Eckerd College and mentored by an Audubon coordinator. Using telescopes for looking at birds from a distance, pictures and informational materials, the bird stewards will be stationed near nesting areas and will invite beach visitors to see the birds and their chicks from a safe distance.

The largest grant goes to Audubon Pennsylvania and more than a dozen partners throughout the state who will use the funding to help homeowners and renters create backyards that are havens for birds, wildlife and people.

The Audubon At Home in Pennsylvania project will train 25 new Audubon advisors, who in turn will train volunteers around the state to help people manage their yards as habitat. Three demonstration projects will highlight the benefits of sustainable landscaping and more than 500 properties throughout Pennsylvania will be enrolled in Audubon's online Bird Habitat Recognition program.

Critical and endangered shorelines in San Francisco Bay will receive a conservation boost from residents of North Richmond and Bayview-Hunter's Point in the form of a TogetherGreen Innovation Grant.

These two densely developed neighborhoods host some of the most critical reaches of shoreline in central San Francisco Bay, Audubon says.

The North Richmond shoreline hosts historic wetlands and mudflats, which support sensitive species like red knots and endangered clapper rails, as well as the bay's largest eelgrass bed, which serves as habitat for salmon and Pacific herring.

The tidal wetlands along San Francisco's southern waterfront provide habitat for shorebirds and wildlife.

With a TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, the Golden Gate Audubon Society will build on its work with local citizens in the two communities to launch the Wetlands and Wildlands Project to motivate direct and active participation in restoration and clean up efforts.

Patricia Salas Pineda, group vice president, Toyota Motor North America, is pleased with the quality of the projects. "We believe the Together Green initiative fits with our corporate philosophy and we are proud to be partnering with Audubon and grantees," she told reporters on the teleconference.

She says Toyota intends to involve its 36,000 U.S. employees and business partners in the corporation's conservation efforts.

The volunteer days component of the TogetherGreen project are up and running, with more than 11,000 hours volunteered to date.

Toyota employees are already volunteering to improve the environment. Some people helped out at Prospect Park in New York City, while others cleaned up around Mitchell Lake in San Antonia, Texas. Others are engaged in Everglades conservation, said Pineda.

"Over time we will engage all 36,000," she said.

Flicker said it is "enormously generous" of Toyota to provide this funding in tough financial times when dollars are so much harder to find. At a time whan a lot of communities are hurting, he said, it is particularly important to fund projects like this because the needs of the environment, too, are increasing.

{Photo: Endangered least tern male presents fish to female as courtship ritual. Huntington Beach State Park, California (Photo by Hal Beral courtesy California Coastal Commission)}

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