Birds

A Message from Jon Hayes, Audubon Southwest's Executive Director

As I write this it’s a Saturday morning in late October and I’m sitting in my home in Placitas, NM where we haven’t had a drop of rain in nearly two months. Our last rain came in a storm in early September—so unseasonable and extreme that it caused thousands of migratory birds to perish from exhaustion and starvation. Prior to that was a lackluster summer monsoon season and an early, warm spring that caused our snowpack to melt and run down the rivers, months before normal. If I look north I can see the haze from late season wildfires raging in the Colorado Rockies. To my west, Phoenix’s record-setting summer continues after already logging the most consecutive days above 100 degrees and dozens of days with never before seen highs. It’s hot and it’s dry in the Southwest.

In this part of the world we are “through the looking glass” of climate change. The effects are no longer projections but rather part of everyday life. We taste the smoke when we go outside in the morning, we see the sandy channel where once a river flowed, and we feel the heat of the summer sun persist into autumn. None of our senses are spared from these changes.

If you’re like me, and I know many of you are, your mind goes to the birds. That wild assemblage of flying critters that fill our trees and skies with an array of shapes, colors, and sounds. What is their fate in this new world? Where will the Clark’s Nutcracker go once it’s chased off the top of its mountains by the upward climb of changing weather and vegetation? Where will the Cuckoo go when the waterways next to which it nests have gone dry? Where will the Pinyon Jay go after the Pinyon Pines have succumbed to fire, bugs, and drought? We don’t know the answers to these questions.

Beyond birds, the changing climate will have a crippling effect on us as a people—particularly BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) who are historically the most vulnerable to environmental racism and environmental hazards. The increasing warming of our globe will only make this worse.

Our response as a species to the life-threatening conditions we have created on this planet have to-date fallen well short of what is needed. Not unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, we struggle to heed the warnings of future misery, instead choosing to fulfill our near term desires. The result, a fully predictable crisis that is accelerated and intensified by our failure to act. A failure that is even more frustrating because we know exactly what the needed actions are. With each dire prediction of catastrophe comes a manual for how to avoid it. Whether it’s restoring forests and grasslands or transitioning away from fossil fuels, the science and the experts have told us what we need to do yet we fail to follow their prescriptions.

But today I am hopeful because there’s snow in the forecast.

There’s snow in the forecast and when it begins to fall, it will mark the start of a new season with new opportunities. For a brief time the air will cool, the rivers will flow, and the fires will die. We will be given respite and a chance to steal a glimpse of a future we want to see. A future in which our rivers, prairies, and mountains are cooled and quenched. And a future in which birds and people can thrive. When afforded this glimpse, what will be our response? Will we do what’s needed and get organized, take action and shape a future that sustains life on this planet instead of threatening it?

There’s snow in the forecast and when it begins to fall, the Audubon Southwest team will go to work as we always do, protecting our flowing rivers, building resilient ecosystems, influencing policymakers and educating the next generation of environmental stewards. Our work protects birds and all of us in the Southwest. We hope you’ll join us.

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