BirdsCaribbean, the international network committed to conservation of the region's birds, is thrilled to launch the Betty Petersen Conservation Fund to advance the conservation status of birds and habitats in the Caribbean region. The Fund provides competitive grants to groups or individuals who will engage and empower communities and stakeholders to both protect and sustainably benefit from their birds. The Fund and its grants will be administered by a designated advisory group within BirdsCaribbean.
Betty Petersen (1943-2013), a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, was, in her own way, a wizard. With nothing more than donated birding equipment, books, and a bit of cash, she turned local communities and school kids into committed conservationists, struggling NGOs into recognized players on the inter-American scene, and "paper parks" into real protected areas. And in the process she reminded us how rewarding it is to lend a hand when none is expected.
In March of 1989, Betty and a few others met with leading bird conservationists and researchers from Latin America. The Latin Americans raised the issue of how challenging it was in their home countries to get adequate optics and field guides needed to advance their work. Soon, Betty and her colleagues had responded by creating Birders' Exchange, first housed at the (then) Manomet Bird Observatory and later at the American Birding Association. Betty led the project for practically its entire history. In the process, despite not being fluent in the local languages, she not only helped with the equipment needs but empowered, and made lasting friendships with, many recipients and in-country partners. Her sincerity and warmth were unmistakable. In 2006 she was honored by an Argentine conservation group for "Ideas that Change the World."
Betty's connection to the Caribbean was strong. Birders' Exchange provided equipment to people and projects in a number of islands and even had a special Cuba fund initiated by National Book Award-winning author, Phillip Hoose. Nils Navarro's wonderful book, Endemic Birds of Cuba, was also dedicated to Betty. The condolence notes sent by Caribbean ornithologists upon Betty's death were simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking.
Betty's spirit continues to guide and inspire us in the way she:
- embodied the joy of birding and never lost track of the goal to make a difference in the lives of birds and the people who cared for them
- believed in the power of education, changing hearts and minds, one person at a time
- advocated for others looking to do great deeds for birds
- was great at organizing and allocating resources for the greatest impact
- delivered on the promises she made, both professionally and personally
- was as comfortable in the office of senior officials as in a poor village
- taught others to care deeply for birds and the natural world through her own love and actions, and she
- knew both her birds and her fellow birding communities well.