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Kathleen Foley is a 'Disney Conservation Hero' for her work with the San Juan Islands Bluebird Reintroduction Project

Kathleen Foley holds a recently banded bluebird. She has been named a
Kathleen Foley holds a recently banded bluebird. She has been named a 'Disney Conservation Hero' for her work to restore the San Juan Islands bluebird population.
— image credit: Anna Sample

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has selected Kathleen Foley, director of education and outreach for the San Juan Preservation Trust, as one of six international 2010 Disney Conservation Heroes.

Foley was chosen for her leadership of the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project in the San Juan Islands, and is the only American to receive the award.

The Disney Conservation Hero award recognizes citizens around the world for their tireless efforts at the local level to save wildlife, protect habitats and educate the communities around them.

"Conservation efforts around the globe and in our own backyard rely on the local community and direct involvement of dedicated people like our Disney Conservation Heroes," said Dr. Jackie Ogden, vice president, Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

"These are extraordinary individuals who are passionate about protecting animals and habitats in areas of critical concern."

Once a common sight in the San Juan Islands, the Western bluebird disappeared completely from the archipelago in the early 1960s. To reintroduce this extirpated species, Foley has been leading a community outreach effort in support of the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project, a partnership that includes American Bird Conservancy, Ecostudies Institute, San Juan Islands Audubon Society, Department of Defense Fort Lewis Military Installation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and the San Juan Preservation Trust (Foley’s employer).

Just completing its fourth year, this reintroduction project has enjoyed resounding success, recording annual increases in returning bluebirds, nesting populations and number of birds fledged. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund specifically called out Foley’s tireless efforts to integrate the island community into the project by reaching out to residents, businesses and tourists, speaking to schools, enlisting and leading volunteers, and educating landowners about habitat values on their properties.

“Kathleen has single-handedly elevated awareness of wildlife habitat conservation in our islands,” said Tim Seifert, executive director of the San Juan Preservation Trust. “It is gratifying to see her acknowledged for the inspirational work she is doing.” Project manager Bob Altman of American Bird Conservancy added “The success of the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project is directly related to Kathleen’s passion and commitment to the birds, the habitat, and the people on the San Juan Island.”

This year’s other Disney Conservation Hero honorees are leading conservation programs across the globe to protect habitat on behalf of chimpanzees in Guinea, diving ducks and birds of prey in Madagascar, lizards in Guatemala, spectacled bears in Peru, and leatherback sea turtles in Papua New Guinea. Recipients each receive a $1,000 cash award. Foley has already dedicated her award to the bluebird reintroduction program.

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) is an annual awards program focused on the study and protection of the world's wildlife and ecosystems, involving communities and addressing human needs. The DWCF has taken Walt Disney’s legacy across the globe with more than $15 million in grants across 110 countries.

The DWCF is funded by Disney and donations from Guests of Walt Disney World Resort, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Disney Vacation Club and Disney Cruise Line.

The Walt Disney Company has a longstanding commitment to conservation, dating back to Walt himself. Today, that legacy is carried forward through initiatives like the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund that positively impact the planet and inspire a conservational spirit in others. Other examples include Walt Disney Studios’ Disneynature films; Disney Friends for Change: Project Green campaign which helps kids help the planet; and Disney Planet Challenge, an environmental competition for the classroom. For more information, visit www.disney.com/responsibility.

In 2007, the San Juan Islands Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project initiated a five-year program to release up to 90 Western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) to suitable habitat in the San Juan Islands, part of the birds’ historic breeding range. Western bluebirds had been extirpated from the San Juans since the 1960s, primarily due to the significant alteration of habitat and the resulting loss of many natural nest cavities. With help from many volunteers and supporters, the project partners aim to re-establish a healthy breeding population of this native songbird, in addition to increasing awareness through education of the disappearing Garry oak ecosystem, a preferred habitat for the bluebird. www.sjpt.org/page.php?content_id=92

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to conserve wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC draws on people and organizations through bird conservation networks to identify the most critical issues affecting birds in the Americas. It builds coalitions of conservation groups, scientists, and the public to tackle conservation priorities using the best skills and expertise available. www.abcbirds.org

Founded in 1979, the San Juan Preservation Trust (www.sjpt.org) is a private, non-profit and membership-based land trust dedicated to helping people and communities conserve land in the San Juan archipelago. The Preservation Trust has permanently protected 270 properties, 32 miles of shoreline, and 13,700 acres on 19 islands, including land now managed as public parks, private nature preserves, and working farms and forests.

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