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New Audubon NM Society director seeks common ground

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The birds of New Mexico have a new advocate well versed in forming community partnerships to enhance conservation efforts.

The National Audubon Society announced in early December that it has named Jonathan Hayes as executive director of Audubon New Mexico. Hayes’ office is located at the Historic Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary in Santa Fe. The 140-acre sanctuary sits in the Santa Fe National Forest and was once the property of artist Randall Davey.

“Birds are a means to conserve ecosystems,” Hayes said. “I know coming here and helping birds I’m going to help the natural world.”

Hayes, 34, is a native of Michigan and grew up enjoying outdoor activities. A backpacking trip to Oregon as a child solidified his love for the natural world and his desire to protect it.

“I realized how valuable the lands are,” he said. “That put the hook into me.”

The Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary is a 140-acre property in Santa Fe that once belonged to local artist Randall Davey. (Courtesy of Audubon New Mexico)

The Audubon’s main focus is to conserve native bird species and their habitats, which in New Mexico are rivers, grasslands and forests. Hayes said New Mexico has 542 bird species. As the new director, Hayes is responsible for bird conservation efforts around the state, managing the sanctuary, and building relationships with private citizens, other government organizations, community groups and private corporations.

Strong partners

The New Mexico organization is part of the National Audubon Society. Brian Trusty, the Central Flyway vice president, called Hayes a rising star in the conservation field. He said Hayes’ strengths lined up with the society’s values.

“He’s extremely entrepreneurial and creative in building strong partnerships with both private and public interests,” he said. “It’s such a complex challenge that solutions must include an inclusive approach.”

Jonathan Hayes, new executive director of Audubon New Mexico speaks with visitors to the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary in Santa Fe. (Elaine D. Briseño/Albuquerque Journal)

Hayes attended college at the University of Colorado-Boulder where he earned his wildlife biology degree. He met his wife while living in Colorado and the two moved to Missoula, Mont., where he attended graduate school.

“I became interested in not just wildlife but the human proponent,” he said. “We do not have much luck telling animals where and how to live but we can with people. We need to be able to work with people to find solutions.”

For his thesis, he studied ranchers in the area and what impacts their decisions when it comes to resources and wildlife. Hayes said he learned a valuable lesson. He said conservation is almost always the goal for both groups but how they get there is sometimes the sticking point that lands the two on opposing sides of conservation efforts.

“They (ranchers) really have a sense of stewardship,” he said. “There’s common ground. Eighty percent we agree on but we get caught up in the 20 percent.”

Focus on education

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents several farming and ranching groups in New Mexico including New Mexico Wool Growers Inc., New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, filed a petition in 2015 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the removal of the Southwestern willow flycatcher from the endangered species list. The willow depends on a healthy riparian, or river, environment to thrive. Fish and Wildlife denied the request in December, saying that although some improvements have occurred, the birds and their environment are still threatened.

Ranchers have argued that protective measures they took on their own before the species was listed as endangered actually helped secure the bird’s continued existence. Ranchers must also fence off livestock from streams and rivers to protect the flycatcher’s habitat, a costly task.

“Audubon approaches conservation issues in a solution-oriented way,” Hayes said. “They want to help wildlife and people at the same time. That appeals to me.”

He said one of the best ways to secure conservation efforts is through education.

“When I look at the long game and how we are going to have tangible outcomes I think it’s by supporting a generation that is connected to the outdoors and cares about it,” he said. “The most immediate impact is to build a community of people who are conservation minded.”

Hayes and his wife relocated to central Texas after graduate school where he once again was in a position to interact with the public. He was an on-staff biologist for the state of Texas, working with private landowners to restore grassland habitats. Just a year ago he took a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in New Mexico as a wildlife biologist. He said he decided to make a change when the new president was elected because he was unsure how much support there would be for the work he wants to do.

“What were the priorities going to be?” he said. “I want to do work where we are talking about and can talk about climate change and looking to find solutions.”