New York City Audubon: The First Thirty Years
2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the New York City chapter of the National Audubon Society. From the outset, New York City Audubon's mission has been to advocate for birds, open space, wildlife habitat, and environmental quality.
The following history highlights the major efforts in that mission and mentions some of the hundreds of volunteers who have served as board and committee members, as office help, field trip leaders and coordinators, and in many other capacities. We regret that it is impossible to name all the others who have contributed so much throughout our more than 30 years.
Most of this document is the work of Geoffrey Cobb Ryan, a founding member of New York City Audubon. Because of Geoff's untimely death in 2007, the history of the years after 2005 has been added by other writers.
1979: Twenty-nine members of the National Audubon Society established the New York City Audubon Society as a provisional chapter of the National Audubon Society. A steering committee was organized, as well as conservation, newsletter, program, and field trip committees.
1980: One of the programs most closely associated with New York City Audubon was initiated after egrets were discovered nesting on Shooters Island, off Staten Island. New York City Audubon formed a Harbor Herons committee to press for protection of this and other islands where nesting wading birds were soon discovered. Also in 1980:
1981: New York City Audubon rented its first office space, in the Masonic Building on 23rd Street at Sixth Avenue. Norman Stotz volunteered to serve as office manager and remained in that position until 1993, when the first professional executive director was hired. Also in 1981:
1982: New York City Audubon's first nature photography course was conducted by Milton Heiberg. Notable graduates of the courses have included Arthur Morris and Rob Villani.
Conservation efforts in 1982 included support for a state-wide bottle bill; advocacy for the federal Clean Air Act and for renewal of the Endangered Species Act; opposition to a plan of the Department of Parks & Recreation to use aerial spraying and chemical pesticides against gypsy moths; and a campaign against the Department's tree cutting in Central Park's Ramble that garnered front-page coverage and an editorial in The New York Times.
1983: This year Emily Jones taught the first of many bird identification classes offered by New York City Audubon over the years. Other instructors have included Starr Saphir, Sarah Elliott, Joe Giunta, and Gabriel Willow.
1984: New York City Audubon's education committee issued its first natural science publication for children, called Look Around New York (later renamed Look Around New York City). Topics included New York City's water supply and birds on National Audubon's watchlist, such as the chimney swift and the piping plover.
1985: New York City Audubon conferred its first annual awards, honoring distinguished service to the environmental cause. Recipients have included the Brooklyn Bird Club, the Hudson River Park Alliance, Bette Midler and the New York Restoration Project, and Natural Resources Defense Council.
1986: From its inception, New York City Audubon had offered monthly lecture programs to the public. In 1986 it was reported that these programs "[could] equal, if not surpass, those of the American Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum." Speakers have included Elizabeth Kolbert, Peter Matthiessen, Roger Tory Peterson, Jonathan Rosen, Carl Safina, Erik Sanderson, Robert Sullivan, Scott Weidensaul, and Marie Winn.
1987: As part of its ongoing work in the city's waterfront areas, New York City Audubon's conservation committee assembled a task force to address problems at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The goal was to ensure that the anticipated redevelopment of the Park be conducted in a way that protected natural areas and the native wildlife and plant communities they supported.
A Jamaica Bay protection plan, Buffer the Bay, was presented by authors Albert F. Appleton of New York City Audubon and David Tiemann of the Trust for Public Land.
1988: Norman Stotz and Geoffrey Cobb Ryan helped establish the Audubon Council of New York State, an umbrella group for the 30-some National Audubon chapters across the state.
The Urban Audubon, under the editorship of Danielle Ponsolle, adopted a new format.
1989: New York City Audubon joined National Audubon's campaign to preserve Long Island Sound. It also joined a coalition to protect Sterling Forest, 21,000 acres of mostly undeveloped, open space within an hour of New York City. In later years, most of this acreage was purchased by the states of New York and New Jersey for use as parkland and watershed protection.
1990: After a broken pipeline belonging to Exxon spilled almost 600,000 gallons of heating oil into the Arthur Kill, off Staten Island, New York City Audubon called on volunteers to help rescue endangered birds on Prall's Island and Shooters Island, both central to the Harbor Herons project. The director of the project, Katharine C. Parsons, PhD., of the Manomet Bird Observatory, also organized an effort to monitor later effects on the islands' birds as the oil moved through the food chain from invertebrates and fish to the birds themselves.
1991: Geoffrey Cobb Ryan represented the chapters of the northeastern states at a National Audubon meeting convened to discuss the future of Audubon in its second century. He helped promote the establishment of National Audubon state offices.
1992: New York City Audubon opposed proposals for incinerating the City's garbage because of probable damage to air quality and the environment.
1992 saw the publication by New York City Audubon and The Trust for Public Land of Buffer the Bay Revisited. The principal author was Peter P. Blanchard III of The Trust for Public Land and New York City Audubon's advisory council, with assistance from New York City Audubon's David Burg. The publication served as a vital advocacy tool for preserving coastal and upland areas of Jamaica Bay.
1993: New York City Audubon, an all-volunteer organization since 1979, hired Marcia T. Fowle as its first executive director.
Important advocacy work in 1993 included support for passage of the Adirondack Bill and the Environmental Bond Act in the New York State legislature.
1994: New York City Audubon established a family birding club at the Dana Discovery Center in northern Central Park. Also in 1994:
1995: New York City Audubon revised its bylaws and established an advisory council of "persons who have demonstrated significant support for New York City Audubon, distinguished themselves by performance in fields of interest to New York City Audubon, and [can] be of assistance in fostering the purposes and goals of New York City Audubon."
1996: New York City Audubon's most significant conservation effort this year was advocating for passage of New York State's Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. In other news:
1997: New York City Audubon advocated for the creation of a Hudson River Park from Battery Park to 59th Street. It was in 1997 that New York City Audubon member Rebekah Creshkoff first noticed dead birds on the sidewalk in the downtown financial district, leading to the establishment of Project Safe Flight, perhaps the chapter's best-known program.
1998: Audubon New York published Important Bird Areas in New York State. It included ten sites in New York City, many of them nominated by New York City Audubon, and nine sites that are wholly or partially within the watersheds of New York City's upstate reservoirs. Other events at New York City Audubon that year:
1999: New York City Audubon pushed for a ban on Avitrol, an acutely toxic pesticide that was being used for pigeon control but had also killed other birds, both non-native and native. In the following year, Governor Pataki signed a new law banning Avitrol in New York City, though not elsewhere in the state.
Advisory Council member Dr. Claude Bloch gave a grant to fund New York City Audubon's lecture program; he has continued to do so on an annual basis.
2000: National Audubon announced a new policy of no longer sharing membership dues with chapters, although it subsequently replaced part of that money with base payments to the chapters, together with grants for conservation activities. This new policy was an incentive for New York City Audubon to institute a direct membership program of its own.
2001: As a result of advocacy by Norman Stotz, as well as by other New York City Audubon members and area residents, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation set aside twelve acres in Manhattan's Riverside Park for a bird sanctuary. Norman Stotz died later in the year. In a later issue of The Urban Audubon, Peter Rhoades Mott, then president, referred to him as "a combination of Saint Francis and Clark Kent."
2002: New York City Audubon sponsored screenings of Pale Male, a documentary movie by Frédéric Lilien, in several venues around the city, culminating in a sold-out audience at the American Museum of Natural History. (The film was subsequently shown on public television stations in August of 2004 and again after December, 2004, when Pale Male and Lola's nest was removed from its location at 927 Fifth Avenue.) In other news:
2003: The Natural Areas Initiative (NAI), a project of New York City Audubon and New Yorkers for Parks (formerly known as the Parks Council), completed a survey of all five boroughs that identified 188 sites that provide habitat for wildlife in the city, such as salt marshes, maritime dunes, grasslands, and forests. These sites were later incorporated into the Open Accessible Space Information System (OASIS) website, a mapping database that helps city residents discover natural areas in their neighborhoods. In the same year:
2004: On December 7, the management of the apartment building at 927 Fifth Avenue removed Pale Male and Lola's nest and its moorings from its longtime home outside the top floor of the building, where the hawks' comings and goings had for over a decade been monitored by loyal fans in Central Park. New York City Audubon alerted the press and organized vigils across the street from the building. New York City Audubon, National Audubon, and New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe negotiated with the building's management to have the nest moorings returned to the original location, with a new platform to be designed by architect Dan Ionescu. Earlier in the year:
2005: New York City Audubon was honored with the 2005 August Heckscher Award from CIVITAS, an Upper East Side and East Harlem quality-of-urban-life organization, for "its steadfast role in environmental education over many years' time and its successful campaign to restore Pale Male and Lola to their nest." In addition, from the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York it received a "Super Service Certificate in Recognition of the Support Given to Girl Scouting by New York City Audubon." In other news:
2006: Conservation efforts this year included ensuring that birds, open space, and native plants have a place of importance in the master plan for the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island; recommending that an 80-acre section of Governor's Island, transferred to New York City in 2003, be planted with native vegetation and used as a natural and educational resource; supporting New York State legislation to protect small wetlands; asking the National Park Service to develop a plan for protecting the salt marsh at Plumb Beach in Jamaica Bay; voicing its opposition to using part of Floyd Bennett Field–the focus of the Grassland Restoration and Management Project (GRAMP), initiated by Ron Bourque, a former president of New York City Audubon, and his wife Jean–for a racetrack; and submitting comments for the Environmental Impact Statement on the planned NASCAR racetrack on Staten Island. Also in 2006:
2007: Glenn Phillips, previously vice president for education and programs at the Prospect Park Alliance, began serving as executive director of New York City Audubon in February, replacing E. J. McAdams, who had resigned the previous October. Also in 2007:
2008: Because Pale Male and Lola had failed to reproduce since 2004, despite the new nest cradle built for them, New York City Audubon under the leadership of Sandy Fiebelkorn brought in ornithologists to study the problem. Their recommendation to remove the cradle's spikes was acted on, but once again, the eggs failed to hatch. Other news:
2009: Under the general term "Together Green," New York City Audubon's education and conservation work in Jamaica Bay was greatly expanded. New projects included IWASH (Improving Wetland Accessibility for Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs), for which volunteers counted horseshoe crabs and shorebirds at four Jamaica Bay beaches between mid-April and mid-June; and an ecosystem education and beach cleanup program for high-school students in Sheepshead Bay, using a plan developed by New York University graduate students. Other important events:
2010: New York City Audubon celebrated its 30th anniversary by thanking its members, staff, and volunteers for their work in protecting habitats throughout the five boroughs.