National Audubon responds to Working Waterfront article

The following update — posted at audubon.org on October 29, 2010 — is reprinted with permission of the National Audubon Society. We have also posted the original [intlink id=”3150″ type=”post”]article[/intlink] from Working Waterfront.

Update on Hog Island Planning

From David Yarnold, Audubon President & CEO

To the Friends of Hog Island and other members of the Audubon family:

As you may be aware, the website, Working Waterfront yesterday published an [intlink id=”3150″ type=”post”]article[/intlink] about Audubon’s plans for Hog Island. While it painted a vivid picture of what has made the island such a special place and conservation resource for 75 years, the article was much less accurate regarding the status of Audubon’s planning for the property.

We are grateful for the generous support we have received from the Friends of Hog Island and others to ensure that this treasure will continue to be a place for discovery, inspiration, and conservation. And for all concerned about this special place, here are the facts:

Q. Is it Audubon’s intent to close the Hog Island education programming?

A. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are exploring a relationship with  Kieve-Wavus Education, with the intent of strengthening Hog Island’s long-term sustainability.

Q. Is there a deal for a transfer of property ownership, as the Waterfront reported?

A. No. We are currently in negotiations. Details of a potential agreement, including specifics related to property ownership, have not been finalized.

Q. Why is Audubon considering a new approach for Hog Island at all?

A. Audubon is committed to the ongoing preservation of Hog Island’s biodiversity and wilderness. And we treasure the transformational education and conservation experiences its programs have provided.  However, for more than a decade, Hog Island has faced financial challenges related to running and operating residential camp programs, including increasingly high operational costs, shifting consumer travel choices, and changes in the camping industry.

Q. Did Audubon just decide to do this based on a home office decision?

A. No, in 2009, Audubon and Maine Audubon conducted a comprehensive assessment of the camp’s programming, marketing, and operations. We received substantial input from many stakeholders as we explored potential solutions that would preserve the island’s wilderness and allow for the continuation of educational programming. We concluded that collaboration with a strategic partner would offer the clearest path to achieving our goals.

Q. How did you choose a prospective partner? What’s their reputation?

A. Our assessment led us to our current discussions with Kieve-Wavus Education, a local nonprofit organization whose camps “promote the values of teamwork, kindness, respect, and environmental stewardship” for youth and adults. Audubon and Kieve-Wavus have been working together informally for more than 30 years, and we have been working more closely together in the past two years. Kieve-Wavus Education has an excellent reputation for offering high-quality active-learning educational experiences for young people for the past 85 years. Our discussions are continuing and may offer exciting new opportunities to engage a wider audience in conservation education.

Q. So, are campers going to be able to continue to enjoy the birding experience at Hog Island?

A. We are committed to finding a solution that will ensure that future generations will be inspired by their experiences at Hog Island like the campers who took part in this past summer’s inspiring and successful programs.

Q. Are next year’s programs in limbo?

A. No. Steve Kress and his team have already put together a terrific line-up for next summer’s programming.To check the schedule and availability please go to http://www.projectpuffin.org/OrnithCamps.html.

And if you have questions, please email jbraus@audubon.org.

Working Waterfront reports on Hog Island developments

The following article — posted on the Working Waterfront website on October 27, 2010 — is reprinted with permission of the Island Institute. We have also posted an [intlink id=”3157″ type=”post”]update[/intlink] from National Audubon.

Audubon turning Hog Island over to Camp Kieve

A Muscongus Bay island, famous among birders, will likely have new owners, the National Audubon Society says.

A visitor reads the Hog Island dedication plaque in 1961. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Hog Island

Hog Island, in the past host to legendary luminaries such as ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson and naturalist Rachel Carson, has been losing money for years and could change hands by the end of the year. Discussions between Audubon officials and Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, also known as Kieve-Wavus Education Inc., are reportedly close to agreement on a deal to transfer the $5 million property. It’s been an Audubon camp and education center since 1936, and over the decades thousands of birders have flocked to the rustic buildings and mossy paths of Hog Island.

The 300-acre island includes a dock, dining and kitchen area, lecture hall and dormitory, as well as rocky shore and beaches. It lies within the town of Bremen, and is tax-exempt. When long-ago owner Millicent Bingham gave the island to National Audubon, she stipulated that it was “to be used solely as a wildlife sanctuary in teaching the aims and ideals of the (society) in the study of conservation and wildlife, and not for any business or commercial purpose.”

Kieve, a nonprofit program that operates year-round, says on its web site that it “empowers young people and adults to contribute positively to society.” Kieve runs programs for Maine public school children to build confidence through individual and group challenges, the site says.

Not everyone is happy about the anticipated transfer of Hog Island. The Mid-coast Audubon Society has sent a letter to its national counterpart saying, “The board and members of Mid-Coast Audubon are alarmed by recent rumors of the imminent transfer of Hog Island to Camp Kieve… If these rumors are true, we are disappointed that we were left in the dark and had no opportunity until now to approach our membership and the local community for possible alternatives.”

Juanita Roushdy said she moved to Maine from North Carolina a year ago to be near Hog Island where she had happy memories. She had hoped National Audubon would give her group, Friends of Hog Island, a chance to make the center viable again. Audubon officially closed the island operation last year. But Roushdy pointed out that a program this past summer called The Puffin Project, run by Steve Kress from the Cornell lab of ornithology, was successful.

She said she is concerned that Hog Island’s mission may change because Camp Kieve is “not an environmental stewardship or conservation organization.”

Judy Braus, vice president for education and centers at National Audubon, has been involved in continuing negotiations with Kieve and Maine Audubon. She confirmed that her group is concerned that Hog Island has been expensive. Maine Audubon spent several hundred thousand dollars on upkeep, while enrollment in popular summer programs failed to balance the books. “How can we make this not a financial drain? We’re committed to finding a solution that carries on a tradition. Change is hard for everyone,” she acknowledged.

Braus has visited Hog Island many times and said it’s a life-changing experience. She said no donors have come forward to infuse cash into the programs. “I think we have gained an ally with Camp Kieve,” she said, adding, “I was sad no (donor) stepped forward.”

Henry Kennedy, third-generation camp director at Kieve, said he is excited about partnering with Audubon: “Kieve’s niche has been as leaders in character education, in part since our neighbors down the road at Chewonki (a camp and school in Wiscasset) do such great work in environmental education; it makes good sense not to duplicate resources, but we’ve always done our best to foster kids’ curiosity about their surroundings as well. When people feel more confident about themselves, they have a natural tendency to take better care of the people and world around them, especially when armed with the right knowledge and role models. What better way to achieve that goal for thousands of people a year then a Kieve/Audubon partnership?”

Hog Island, a short boat trip from the mainland, is about ten miles from Kieve’s campus on Damariscotta Lake. Said Kennedy: “It makes great sense for two non-profits with such similar missions and passions who literally abut one another geographically to share resources in these trying times.”

Bos Savage, property manager for Maine Audubon, said he is convinced that both sides will benefit through a land transfer, although no money is expected to change hands. Savage said Kieve’s takeover could enable Hog Island “to carry on as an environmental program site. Maine Audubon has tried very hard to play a real role (in negotiations).” Savage said that a consultant’s search revealed “a limited number of choices of who might partner with National Audubon. I think Camp Kieve is dedicated to weaving more environmental education into its curriculum. We’re comfortable with that.”

Ted Koffman, Maine Audubon’s director, said he hopes the partnership with Kieve will enable Hog Island to become sustainable. He said this past summer’s Audubon programs, conducted by Steve Kress of the Cornell ornithology lab, were successful and that such programs could continue in spring and fall-when birds migrate-under Kieve’s ownership.

Native Americans dug clams on the shores of Hog Island until driven off by European settlers who in the 1600s allegedly purchased the island, apparently to raise hogs. White pines were cut down for ship’s spars. In 1908, Mabel and David Todd acquired Hog Island to prevent overgrazing of pastures and clear-cutting of timber. The Todds built a summer cottage at one end of the island, now in decay. Their daughter Millicent worked with John Baker, then head of National Audubon, to establish that group’s first educational center, also known as Todd Wildlife Sanctuary.

A sail loft on the other end of the island, and a large frame house and dormitory, remain part of a cluster of rustic Audubon camp buildings. National Audubon turned over that portion of the property to Maine Audubon in 2000, while retaining title to most of the undeveloped island. The simple, shared bathroom aspects of the camp were upgraded to a higher comfort level with the hope of attracting more paying guests, but apparently those renovations have not eased the financial burden for Audubon.

The letter to National Audubon from Mid-coast Audubon board members concludes: “Hog Island holds a special place in the hearts of all those who have spent time on it. We trust that it will remain under the aegis of National Audubon, that Audubon programs will continue on the island, and that any legal changes would be transparent.”

Audubon officials expect negotiations with Kieve to be completed in the next few months. Hog Island celebrates its 75th year as a study center for birders in 2011.

Letter from Mid-Coast Audubon to National Audubon

Dear Mr. Yarnold,

The board and members of Mid-Coast Audubon are alarmed by recent rumors of the imminent transfer of Hog Island to Camp Kieve. As representatives of Audubon in mid-coast Maine, we would like to respond knowledgeably to inquiries about this. Could you verify whether these rumors are true?

We realize that National Audubon and Maine Audubon have been struggling with the financial aspect of keeping Hog Island viable, but we believe that the new model tried by Steve Kress this year proved itself and proved its potential to continue the programs. The programs had great support by volunteers who contributed over 3,500 hours in 2010 and committed to 2011. At long last, we seem to be on a successful path with the right mix of partnerships, programs, and people.

If these rumors are true, we are disappointed that we were left in the dark and had no opportunity until now to approach our membership and the local community for possible alternatives.

Hog Island holds a special place in the hearts of all those who have spent time on it. We trust that it will remain under the aegis of National Audubon, that Audubon programs will continue on the island, and that any legal changes would be transparent.

We hope that the 75th anniversary of Hog Island in 2011 will be cause for celebration and a bright future with Audubon at the helm.

Sincerely,

Susan Schubel,
President,
Mid-Coast Audubon Society

On behalf of the Mid-Coast Audubon Board:

Bill Goodwill, Kristin Pennock, John Tobin, Don Reimer, John Weinrich, Juanita Roushdy, Connie Arness, Kathy Cartright, Carolyn Gray, Jerry Therrien, Phyllis Cohuelo

And membership.

ecc. President, Maine Audubon
Presidents of Maine Chapters
Friends of Hog Island

Saving Hog Island (Down East)

“Birders have been coming to the island, a few hundred yards off the Bremen shore, for seventy-two of the past seventy-four seasons, drawn by the opportunity to immerse themselves in its ecosystem in the company of extremely knowledgeable teachers….

“’Once you spend a week on that island, it can be a life changing experience,’ says Judy Braus, senior vice president for education at National Audubon in Washington, which has owned the island since 1936. ‘You interact with other participants and this ecologically diverse place, and I’ve seen people come with one set of values and expectations and in one week have changed them.’…

“But this year’s programs — which include a session for teens — have a lot on the line. The camp, which has been managed by Maine Audubon for the past decade, was closed last season because the Falmouth-based organization could no longer bear its all-too-frequent operating shortfalls. Myriad stakeholders have been at work to craft a viable model, but it’s not yet certain whether the birding programs are on the verge of a glorious new chapter, or experiencing their last hurrah….

“The loss of Hog Island’s bird program would likely close the book on one of the country’s most storied and venerable nature camps. Its birth predates the modern environmental movement by the better part of a century, to a time when few Americans had much sympathy for nature and even fewer realized that it was being undone by the excesses of the industrial age.”