By Ilana DeBare
Cynical folks like to joke about the “turkeys” who serve in elected office.
But we encountered only one turkey last Wednesday during a full day of citizen advocacy at the California State Capitol – a live Wild Turkey strolling across the building’s north-facing steps!
Meanwhile, inside the building, we received a warm welcome as we met with our state representatives and their legislative staff.
A dozen Golden Gate Audubon Society members traveled to Sacramento last Wednesday to take part in Audubon California’s annual Advocacy Day. Some of us – including Janet McGarry, Chris Winn, and Marjorie Powell – were old hands who had done this in prior years. Others were new to Audubon lobbying.
Veteran or novice, everyone had a great time. These were friendly conversations. We’re fortunate that our Bay Area representatives are, by and large, supportive of environmental protection and wildlife conservation.
But even liberal, pro-environment lawmakers aren’t necessarily familiar with issues affecting birds – which is why it’s so important that Audubon members make their voices heard.
As part of that, we started the day with dozens of other Audubon members from around the state at a breakfast orientation led by a familiar face — Mike Lynes, the former Executive Director of GGAS who is now Policy Director for Audubon California.
Then we split into teams to meet with the assembly members and state senators who represent our geographic areas.
This year our top priority was getting their support for AB 2627, a bill that would partly counteract President Trump’s “reinterpretation” (polite phrase for gutting) of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The MBTA — one of the country’s very first conservation laws — was passed in 1918. Bird advocates were all set to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. Then the Trump Administration changed the way the federal government interprets a key provision about “incidental take.”
Through both Democratic and Republican Administrations, the MBTA has always been interpreted to bar both purposeful and accidental killing of migratory, non-game birds. It’s been just as illegal to kill birds through an oil spill or through badly-designed wind turbines as to purposely shoot them.
But the Trump Administration changed that – saying the federal government would now allow accidental killing of birds through oil spills, wind farms, pesticide use, and other industrial activities.
Audubon and other groups have gone to court to challenge this new interpretation on the national level. Meanwhile, Audubon California worked with Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose, to introduce AB 2627, which would reinstate some of this lost protection within California.
The bill – which passed the Assembly and now needs to be approved by the state Senate and then signed by Governor Brown – would reemphasize California’s commitment to protection of migratory birds. It would allow incidental take only if companies comply with “best management practices” around bird protection.
A specific example: Some birds will inevitably be killed by wind turbines. But wind companies would have to self-certify that they are using best practices to reduce those deaths, such as siting turbines and scheduling turbine operation to minimize harm to birds.
You can help!! Email or call your Assembly member and state Senator in support of AB 2627. Ask your friends and family outside the Bay Area to do this too – it’s especially important that lawmakers in more conservative districts hear support for AB 2627 from their constituents.
AB 2627 is a modest bill that doesn’t damage our economy or add bureaucracy; it simply continues century-old federal requirements on the state level. It is an important addition to the “green wall” that California lawmakers have tried to build to protect our state’s environment from Trump. And it could set a national precedent: California is the first state considering legislation to backfill the erosion of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Thank you to all the Golden Gate Audubon citizen-lobbyists for your time last week! And for the rest of you… consider joining us next year. It was a fun and educational day, and we even took time out to stroll through the Capitol’s lovely gardens and post some sightings on eBird.
They included Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and – yes – that Wild Turkey.
Ilana DeBare was Communications Director for GGAS until January. Now she is a regular GGAS member (and citizen-lobbyist) who needs to get out on more field trips.