Friday, February 24, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration 4

Friday’s presentation schedule began with Audubon Arkansas’ state director, Ken Smith. He described Audubon’s mission and its programs, including its education program called Common Ground. It works with schools to educate teenagers about nature and get them into the field, and its partners include EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology), which provides useful gadgets that appeal to the youngsters.

Smith said the Common Ground excursions sometimes offer the first opportunity for some schoolchildren to see birds upclose and to use a binocular. One girl never had seen a duck fly, but when she observed a flock take off from a pond, she became really excited. “We might’ve hooked that kid into being excited about nature,” he said.

Aside from the educational programs, Audubon Arkansas contributes to scientific efforts such as the Important Bird Area program. That 2-year-old program identifies sites with significant numbers of birds and variety of species and a conservation benefit, and the state contains 22 IBAs.

A town sits near each IBA, Smith said, and that offers an opportunity for the towns to develop eco-tourism within their economies. I really like that idea – the possibility of developing jobs based on nature’s appeal to birders and nonbirders. Towns near IBAs with special birds can educate residents and attract visitors.

That’s the point of a joint effort between Audubon Arkansas and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Suzanne Langley described Sustainable Ecotourism for Corridor of Hope Communities, which encompasses towns from Augusta to Stuttgart.

Audubon Arkansas is working with towns, such as Brinkley, to learn what they need and what their challenges are, Langley said. Sometimes those needs can be met by already existing, free or low-cost resources from the local, state and federal governments. It’s a matter of educating residents about those resources and helping them see the benefits of providing services to birders who want to see the special birds within the IBAs.

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