Expanding NYC Audubon's Reach: Meet Roslyn Rivas
Public Programs Manager Roslyn Rivas holds a Merlin at Raptorama! in Marine Park, Brooklyn. Photo: Tod Winston
EXPANDING NYC AUDUBON'S REACH: MEET ROSLYN RIVAS
This article appears in the Spring 2023 issue of The Urban Audubon.
By Mary Jane Kaplan
New York City Audubon’s members, volunteers, and friends are a passionate group. Whether we're birders, environmental activists, all-around nature lovers, or some combination thereof, we're brought together by a love of birds.
In the face of the great challenges our birds face however— up to a quarter of a million deaths from collisions each year in New York City; dwindling habitat due to rising sea levels; and nationwide declines in the majority of bird species—one thing is clear. Our passionate cadre of bird lovers is not enough. In a city of 8.5 milliion, we must raise our sights. We must enlist many, many more of our fellow New Yorkers in this fight.
It is no small task. But Roslyn Rivas, NYC Audubon's public programs manager, has signed up for the job. You may already have met Roslyn on a bird outing, at our Shorebird, Pollinator, or Raptorama! festivals, or virtually, introducing our lecture series. Since joining us last August, she has been hard at work expanding bird outings across the City, hiring new guides, forming new community partnerships, and making our programs more accessible to a wider audience.
Longtime Urban Audubon contributor and Advisory Council Member Mary Jane Kaplan recently chatted with Roslyn to get to know her and learn what she has planned.
Hi, Roslyn—and a belated welcome to NYC Audubon. When did you first become interested in working with an environmental organization?
Hello and thank you! I was born and raised in the Bronx and grew up not far from the Bronx Zoo. I visited the Zoo almost every other weekend as a young child, and I definitely credit that as being my “origin story.” The Zoo really fostered my love for nature and animals. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something with wildlife and biology when I got older. I used to carry an animal encyclopedia with me everywhere! Back then, my dream was to be a “real” biologist, out there in the rainforests and savannahs.
How did you go about preparing for that career?
I studied ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and got my bachelor of science in 2017. After graduating, I worked at the New York Botanical Garden up in the Bronx and then at National Audubon, updating its Plants for Birds native plants database —I wrote over 300 descriptions of native plants!—and helping with Climate Watch as part of Audubon’s community science team. Since that time, I also earned a graduate certificate in wildlife management from Oregon State University.
Did your experience at National Audubon influence your long-term career plans?
Working at National really made me conscious of how much wildlife—particularly birds—there is under our noses. There’s so much here! People say things like, “Wildlife in New York City? You mean pigeons?” I tell them to look more closely and they’ll find lots of flora and fauna, even in densely urban spaces. (And besides—I love pigeons; I would never insult them!) I’ve learned that green roofs are just as important as forests for studying wildlife.
Do you have particular goals in mind for the coming year?
Yes! For example, we now hold monthly lectures November through March. I’d like to expand them throughout the year, with speakers from as diverse backgrounds as possible, especially scientists, activists, and educators of color.
As for bird outings, I want to make sure we hold events in parks and neighborhoods we don’t usually visit.
Central and Prospect Parks are incredible birding spots, but there’s more to NYC than just those popular areas, such as Crotona and Soundview Parks in the Bronx, and Conference House and Brookfield Parks in Staten Island. These “new” locations sometimes require new guides, and luckily the City is full of experienced and blossoming local birders. I’m using my own birder network to find them, as well as relying on our website to attract prospective guides (nycaudubon.org/join-our-team).
Increasing accessibility is also one of my priorities. We are making all our platforms accessible for people with disabilities and adding accessibility information to all our event descriptions.
How are you connecting with New Yorkers who aren't part of NYC Audubon's usual audience?
In addition to expanding the areas where we hold events, forming new partnerships is a great way to reach more City residents. I’m collaborating with local groups across the City, such as the Bronx River Alliance, various park conservancies, and community gardens. I'm also very happy to be continuing relationships with organizations like the Feminist Bird Club, Latino Outdoors, and Outdoor Afro. Our festivals in Jamaica Bay, Marine Park, and on Governors Island also draw many NYC residents who aren't familiar with our work.
Overall, my goal is to expand the wildlife conservation network in New York City, especially in marginalized communities. Not everyone has equal access to green space, especially in urban areas, so I want to make sure we reach people who don’t often have a chance to connect with nature. Everyone should have a positive experience with the environment, and birding is one of the many activities that can provide just that. I really want to emphasize that birding is for everyone. It isn’t an exclusive club, and you don’t need fancy equipment to participate. Over the years, I’ve realized that I can work at wildlife conservation just as well in the City as in a tropical rainforest. I might even think about pursuing a degree in urban ecology in the future.
What is your biggest challenge in the new job?
Trying to balance all my ideas!
See all of NYC Audubon's spring outings and classes here.