This article is about the history of Council of Ohio Audubon Chapters (hereafter, COAC) and role of Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society (hereafter, WCAS) and other supporting Ohio chapters in the reactivation of COAC.
WCAS built a network consisting of contacts in each of the 14 currently active chapters in Ohio. Work on this network began in 2017 and continued in 2018. The outcome of this effort celebrates what the Audubon chapters in Ohio are doing now and inspire them to do what they could be doing but are not doing. The WCAS initiative connects to National Audubon's strategic initiatives in collaboration with these chapters and promotion of their efforts in science, engagement, and conservation.
In 2017, WCAS began in earnest to pursue the goal of building a network with the 13 other active Audubon chapters in Ohio in order to collaborate with them on organizational development and conservation projects. Besides celebrating what the Audubon chapters in Ohio are doing now and inspiring them to do what they could be doing but are not doing, our desired outcomes continue to be to bridge the gap left by five former chapters in community engagement and introduce their unserved areas to Audubon's strategic initiatives.
COAC was active as an informal organization from 1970-2000. Its mission was to promote chapter development by sharing best practices, brainstorming solutions to common problems, and developing relationships in workshops and retreats. Despite the best efforts of the Audubon Ohio (AO) state office to revitalize all chapters in Ohio in the 2,000's, five chapters become inactive, significantly diminishing the Audubon presence in the state. The AO office dissolved in 2009 and COAC fell dormant in the same year. Since then, the remaining 14 chapters have functioned with little communication from NAS. They are hard-pressed to reach communities throughout Ohio and are primarily engaged in their own local communities. Until late 2017, no collaboration occurred among them. They had been, to quote the NAS strategic plan, "a collection of conservation islands working passionately in relative isolation, inventing different solutions to the same challenges, over and over." WCAS intended to inspire them to address "shared national conservation goals, priorities, and practices" by meeting together.
In the summer of 2017, WCAS conceived the idea of bringing together the 14 active chapters to carry on the COAC mission. We developed a preliminary network of contacts in the chapters, reached out to them, and invited them to a planning meeting October 1, 2017 to find common ground and determine the level of interest holding a more intensive workshop in 2018. Six chapters, including Columbus Audubon Society, Firelands Audubon Society, Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland, Canton Audubon Society, Blackbrook Audubon Society, and Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society, attended the planning meeting.
At our October 1, 2017 meeting, the representatives of the six chapters developed an agenda that included subjects for discussion that day. These subjects were as follows: growing membership; recruiting volunteers; improving relationships, communications, and interactions; improving member involvement; asking for help for projects; creating and completing conservation projects; and raising funds. Following discussions within focus groups on these subjects, the chapter representatives laid the groundwork for a larger workshop in March 2018. We planned to invite other regional conservation organizations to participate in the March workshop, including Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Ohio Ornithological Society.
Another activity is that WCAS uses digital media and content marketing to raise awareness of what we are doing. The Lights Out Cleveland project is an example. Lights Ohio Cleveland is dedicated to reducing migrating bird mortality rates due to building collisions and increasing data collection success with volunteer training, public outreach, and education. WCAS provided marketing support and outreach that attracted volunteers who collected data that showed there were 1,200 fatal collisions – 255 collisions in one day. In addition, these volunteers collected birds that survived collisions, turning over 640 birds for rehabilitation and release by the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in Bay Village, Ohio. Here is a testimonial from the project leader: "I am pleased to say that 40 people attended on October 26. Almost all were new people and many learned of us from WCAS! Thank you so much for your help with this project!" - Amy LeMonds, Director of Wildlife, Lake Erie Nature & Science Center. A result of this data is that Cleveland Alliance is now coordinating with businesses in Cleveland to turn their lights out during high-collision times to save birds.
We anticipated that the workshop in March 2018 would open up discussions with the participants on aligning their efforts with Audubon's strategic initiatives.
WCAS intends to put into play what NAS calls "a fundamental shift from being a collection of ideas to asserting real leadership." Another outcome of our efforts in building a network with the Audubon chapters in Ohio will be the growth in outreach by all of the chapters.
Here are some examples of how WCAS is increasing our outreach in our own area: Attendance at our popular Second Saturday Bird Walks at the Rocky River (Ohio) Nature Center grew 76 percent from January 2016 to December 2017. Overall, our field trip attendance grew 2.3 percent in 2017. Our e-subscribers grew 67 percent in 2017. Through this project, we expect to expand the outreach of all of the chapters into the rural areas beyond the borders of their own urban areas, thus drawing citizens into the Audubon fold who are not connected as a result of the lack of current outreach.
These are examples of the benefits of chapters reaching out, growing connectivity, and working together to benefit the greater community. When one chapter connects, all chapters connect.
Stories contributed by members, individuals, and affiliates who care about wild animals and habitat conservation.