President’s Column

By Travis Longcore, Ph.D.

Los Angeles Audubon held its second annual membership meeting this May 19. We discussed the State of the Society and the directions that will be taken in the coming months to ensure our financial stability and build on our exemplary programs. I would like to share some of the information discussed at that meeting with you.

I presented on behalf of the Board of Directors. This spring, the Board opted to nominate each member to serve another one-year term. We added two new members to the Board the previous year, Kara Donohue and Brad Rumble, and everyone on the Board wanted to continue to serve.

Education programs garnered some of the attention they deserve this year, with a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times profiling our collaborative efforts with Leo Politi Elementary School. This program, which combines science with art and excitement for an on-campus wildlife habitat greenspace, is demonstrably effective and has received acknowledgement and encouragement from across the country, including from such luminaries as David Sibley and Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods). Our other education programs have been expanded to include a middle school session along with the elementary program at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, in addition to the well-established Ballona docent-led program for elementary school students (thank you volunteer docents), the education program at Sepulveda Basin, and our thriving high school programs at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Graduating seniors from our Baldwin Hills Restoration Interns program have a 100% college acceptance rate. Vice President and Education Chair Dr. Margot Griswold deserves recognition for her vision and guidance, as does our education staff — Director of Interpretation Stacey Vigallon, Jackie Li, and Cindy Hardin — and especially our many volunteers who contribute across each of these programs.

Our conservation programs include two citizen science programs — one to monitor Western Snowy Plover along the Los Angeles County coastline and another to monitor (and protect) the Least Tern colony at Venice Beach. Hundreds of volunteers have contributed to these two programs, which provide vital information to aid in the conservation of these two species. Our bird-friendly tree trimming guidelines continue to be adopted by local jurisdictions through the advocacy of our members (thank you Eleanor Osgood) and friends. As to the major conservation decisions facing our territory, the Board reviewed the proposed wetland enhancement plans for the Ballona wetlands and communicated a series of concerns about the proposed project to its proponents. In particular, we have expressed concern that important bird habitats, such as the salt panne, which is used extensively by migrating birds and has been stable on the landscape for over 100 years, and marsh habitat for Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, are slated to be removed as part of the current plans. We have also been an active stakeholder in emerging plans for restoration opportunities along the Los Angeles River and recently sent a comment letter to City of Los Angeles in favor of the plastic bag ban that passed.

Nick Freeman continues to organize popular field trips throughout California as Field Trip Chair, with Mary Freeman as an in-demand field trip leader. For birding opportunities within the city, Eleanor Osgood organizes bird walks for beginning to intermediate birders at four locations each month.

Mary Freeman also continues as our Program Chair. After some glitches in the fall — the solar power system was on the fritz — we have settled in to evening programs at the Audubon Center at Debs Park. We have added extra programs in collaboration with UCLA and California State Parks for westside residents. We realize that it is extremely difficult to get from one end of our territory (East Los Angeles) to the other (Brentwood or Westchester) for an evening meeting and so will continue with the regular evening programs at Debs Park (which is freeway-close) and to complement this program with events on the westside.

Our dedicated and diligent volunteer Larry Allen is nearing completion on the Breeding Bird Atlas. The scope and detail of the species accounts will make it the definitive reference source on birds in Los Angeles County. I strongly believe we will go to print before the end of the calendar year.

We remain without a headquarters. Audubon House has not yet been torn down by the City of West Hollywood and local residents there are advocating for our return. We would be delighted if plans changed and we were to be invited back.

Our membership numbers have been relatively stable. We have 1,885 members who come to us by paying their dues to National Audubon Society and 213 people who are “chapter only” members who pay their $25 membership dues to us directly. With our 1,600 followers on Facebook and another 600 on Twitter, we are regularly communicating with 4,300 supporters. Since we enabled online donations on our website, we have seen a tick up in donations from the membership, including generous responses to our year-end appeal and “Spring Into Action” challenge grant.

figure1-assets

Figure 1. Assets of Los Angeles Audubon Society, 2000–2012.

The chapter does face financial challenges. We have over $500,000 in assets that are in a combination of restricted and unrestricted accounts (see Figure 1). This may seem like a lot of money, and it is, but our annual expenses are greater than $300,000 so this amount is needed as an operating fund to allow us to incur expenses that are later reimbursed through grants. These assets are not adequate to fund chapter operations as an endowment.

figure2-annual-income

Figure 2. Annual income for Los Angeles Audubon Society, 2000–2012 (through May).

Our income streams are not, at this point, reliable (see Figure 2). Our two highest income years in the past decade or so came from large bequests ($250,000+ in 2001 and $130,000 in 2011). Back in 2000 the additional income was mostly from our bookstore. However, since then, the bookstore income has declined consistently and now is negligible (Figure 3). The difference between the decreased bookstore income and our total income (and the associated expenses) has been made up by contracts (e.g., Western Snowy Plover surveys) and grants (e.g., various federal, state, and corporate grants to support our education programs).

figure3-gross-income-bookstore

Figure 3. Gross income from the Los Angeles Audubon Society Bookstore, 2000–2012.

With the loss of the bookstore as a source of income — the result of birders deciding to purchase their books and optics online or through discounters rather than by supporting their local chapter — the chapter must now find a way to pay for the services that the bookstore once supported. These include paid staff to maintain membership records, take field trip reservations, and administer the chapter business, as well as the printing and mailing of the Western Tanager. Our local memberships plus the “baseline funding” we are provided by National Audubon Society are about $18,000 per year, while the costs of these core membership services are much higher.

The Board is addressing this challenge in four ways.

First, we must make staff cuts in the short term, reducing the number of days a week our office staff will be available. We value our staff and their dedication to the chapter and hope to reverse this cut in the future.

Second, after long deliberation, we have decided to cease printing and mailing the Western Tanager and will provide it only as an electronic newsletter. It will be formatted the same, but delivered electronically. We recognize that this represents a generational shift, but the chapter simply cannot afford the printing and mailing costs. If funds become available, we will consider printing one year-end issue each year.

Third, the chapter-only membership rate for students and seniors will be returned to $25 from $10. If this is a hardship for any member, we will seek sponsors to subsidize low-cost memberships.

Finally, the Board strongly believes that the chapter’s education and conservation programs could and should be attracting additional outside funding and to this end is entering the process of hiring a person whose responsibility it will be to raise funds for the chapter, through a combination of grant writing and other fundraising approaches. We expect to dip into our reserves to pay for this person when she or he is first hired, but are confident that this approach will pay dividends for the chapter and our long-term financial stability. This has been the case with two previous Executive Directors, Garry George and Mary Loquvam, both of whom substantially increased chapter income.

Your generosity as a member, both through financial support and as a volunteer, is what makes Los Angeles Audubon the regional leader that it is. We hope to work with you and welcome your suggestions as we move through this transitional period between an era when a local bookstore could be the center of birding activity and support a chapter’s operations and this new world of online communities and communications. We want to stay in touch with you in person, so please come out to a field trip or an evening program to learn more or simply enjoy birds and our natural world. Los Angeles is a birding mecca and our programs show that birds and nature can find a way even in the most urban neighborhoods. Please continue to support our efforts to share this message and make this a better city, state, and world for birds and their habitats.

Please contact me with comments or questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (310) 247-9719 (mobile).


Published Western Tanager Vol.78 No. 6 Jul/Aug 2012

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