SFR: What did you do before you came to Audubon?
KS: I worked at the Trust for Public Land. I was the lead conservation person for New Mexico. I worked a lot with Audubon. My personal interest was in the rivers of New Mexico, which is why I intersected with Audubon a lot; because, where are the birds? They’re mostly along riparian areas. The Rio Grande, cutting right through the heart of our state, really became my program. I did stuff up on the border of Colorado, up in Taos County, all the way down to the border with Texas. I worked a lot helping folks, whether they inherited the land and now were trying to decide what to do with it, or whether they wanted to keep farming or ranching and wanted to stay on the property.
There’s a lot of new building in Santa Fe. What’s your take on how to approach development?
If Santa Fe is going to continue to grow, how far is that going to go? There are areas that we look at and say, ‘Oh, they’re way out in the county.’ But in 10 years, they’re not going to be. We have to think about what we need to do right now to keep those areas wonderful for wildlife, but also remember that a lot of the land here has a cultural, historical side as well. The places where nature and history intersect are the places that are the most deserving of protection.
It seems as if some people don’t realize the historical significance of the Audubon Center.
We just completed a site plan last year to look at the visitor experience through signage, and telling the story a little bit better. We have an acequia that’s as old as Acequia Madre. That’s a huge piece of northern New Mexico history. We should be telling that story better—what acequias are and what the culture is. They planted some fruit trees back there so we have some of the oldest fruit trees in the area. Randall Davey is not the most well-known artist, and we should be better at explaining why we’re the Randall Davey Audubon Center; who is this person? We’re trying to get better about telling that story.
So, who is he?
We’ve met with some of Randall Davey’s heirs to try to get a feeling of him. He was a painter who moved here in the same time period as the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies in the 1920s. He died back in the ’60s, and 20 years later, his family gifted the property to the Audubon Society. He was a pretty outgoing, social person. It’s quite apparent that, during prohibition, there were more than a few parties up here. He really liked to throw some big parties. He was this whimsical, outgoing, really happy guy who loved life. We’re trying to bring out that whimsical nature. We have some serious initiatives and some serious work to do, but we’re really fun, too. This is a beautiful, magical place, and we want folks to come up and reconnect with us.
What other improvements are you looking to make?
We’ve mostly focused on rehab of the facilities and fine-tuning some of the programs that we had previously. Our summer camp in 2007 was a ‘No-Waste Camp.’ We asked the campers to not bring processed food in lots of packaging and to talk about ways that you can make a difference. This summer, we thought we’d fine-tune it. Instead of putting on ‘rules’ to campers, we let the kids show up the first day and we went through it together. We called it more of an ‘Eco-Action’ camp. We’re trying to make conservation more experiential. We’re also working with the state office as far as things like the Endangered Species Act is concerned, and also with river protection and restoration. We’ve been dipping our toe in the Rio Grande and asking whether it should be a bigger initiative.
How does the Endangered Species Act and other things of its ilk affect Audubon’s mission?
There’s a phrase that sticks with me: ‘Birds can’t vote, but you can.’ Voting is just one way for the public to express the issues that they feel are important. We trust that when we put these protections in place that they’re working for us. And this is kind of a reminder that there’s a reason why conservation groups exist; they continue to be the watchdog. They have to make sure that government entities are following through with the laws they’ve passed. We want to do advocacy training to teach the public what power they have. People don’t really know that letters to your elected official or showing up at a public meeting, that you actually do have a lot of power and officials do listen to the constituents.
In the more immediate future, what’s planned for the anniversary?
It will be a community day. We’ll have different tables and booths of all the organizations we partner with. We’ll talk about green building, gardening and we’re also going to have kids’ activities—a scavenger hunt, face painting, arts and crafts projects, all related to nature. We’ll have cake and ice cream and raffles. We’ll have speeches about Audubon and where we’re headed. Some local people are putting together a blessing. We want to make sure that we’re incorporating art and nature—that’s really what this center is about, because of Randall Davey’s influence. We’re not going to throw a party of the kind that Randall Davey did during prohibition, but we’re going to bring that fun spirit back.
If there is one thing you want people to hear, what would it be?
I’m not sure that people really recognize how spectacular our state really is. What I want folks to know is, not only do we have these special places, but individuals do make a difference. We have a really wonderful state and, at an individual level, you can have an impact to keep this a spectacular place.