Like many Audubon members, Don Ireland cares deeply about birds. He wants to leave his grandchildren with a healthy environment and tries to do so by promoting bird-friendly gardens, emailing politicians, and supporting Audubon. But he also understands the impact of speaking directly to his legislators. “We need to speak up for ourselves. The birds...unfortunately can’t speak for themselves. So I think we as human beings should stand up and say the right things to those state leaders,” said Ireland.
Empowering people to speak up for birds is a core part of Audubon’s conservation strategy. Last February, Audubon members gathered in Denver to learn about the current bills affecting birds and the rivers they depend on in Colorado and lobby their legislators. Called Getting Green Laws, this two-day event was hosted by Audubon Rockies and Denver Audubon. “Now, more than ever, it’s important for conservation to be part of policy discussions. To make that happen we need people to tell their representatives that they care,” said Daly Edmunds, director of policy and outreach for Audubon Rockies.
Getting Green Laws consisted of an evening workshop and a morning of training and lobbying. The evening portion—attended by Audubon supporters ranging from seasoned conservation advocates to college students—featured an overview of the current bills affecting birds and river health in Colorado. Participants received a breakdown on how decisions are made in the state legislature and discussed how those decisions impact quality of life and conservation values.
Audubon also provided training on the variety of ways in which the public can interact effectively with decision makers at the local level, whether in-person meeting or via email, providing tips and responding to questions about being effective conservation advocates. Before the evening concluded, Senator Jeff Bridges spoke to participants about the legislative process, Colorado's Water Plan, and bills of importance.
You Don’t Need to be An Expert, You Just Need to Care
On day two, Audubon members met at the Colorado Capitol to speak with their legislators. First, Audubon Rockies's lobbyist, Jen Boulton, briefed the group on two bills that were being considered: House Bill 1113 (Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts) and Senate CR-001 (Transfer of Great Outdoors Colorado Money to State Education Fund). The first bill sought to protect Colorado's streams and water in regard to mining operations and was supported by Audubon. The second aimed to transfer money earmarked for preserving open spaces and river health projects into the State Education Fund and was opposed by Audubon.
One challenge that participants encountered was condensing complicated and technical information into a message short enough to convince a busy legislator. Abby Burk, western rivers regional program manager for Audubon Rockies, encouraged them to focus on their personal connection to what was at stake. It’s easy to tell yourself, “I’m not an expert, why should they listen to me?” but you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to care. Sharing your passion with a decision maker is one of the most impactful things you can do for birds.
After running through a couple of practice runs, the team set off to speak to their legislators. Participants shared their personal stories with their legislators and encouraged conservation-oriented actions, often referring to the legacy we leave behind. In these brief encounters, participants broke down that barrier between voters and politicians and built connections with their legislators.
“When People Connect with People, Good Things Can Happen”
This was Audubon member Smita Skrivanek’s first time lobbying a politician. She, like many of the participants, felt daunted initially but highly accomplished in the end. “While it seems quite intimidating, it really isn’t. They’re really very friendly people once you get to talk to them,” she advised.
Despite their influence, senators and representatives are still people, and often the best way to convince a person is to talk to them. “I think when people connect with people, good things can happen,” said Ireland.
Following the Getting Green Laws Lobby Day, HB19-1113 passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and SCR19-001 failed on a party line vote. Getting Green Laws certainly can’t take all the credit for the outcomes, but it did do something equally important: it inspired future advocates. Participants learned how to prepare a stance on a given issue, walk into their legislator’s office, and speak up for birds.
Before leaving the event, Ireland reflected, “I’m going to go home after this and follow up with emails about why it’s important to me, why it’s important for my grandchildren too. Most of them are too little to write, except with a crayon. So I want to be an advocate for them too."