Campana: John McCain was for the birds!

Senator John McCain was a dedicated naturalist, conservationist and birdwatcher.

Sam Campana

Strolling his Hidden Valley Ranch outside Cottonwood, Ariz. with an Audubon contingent, he picked up a random feather from under a towering cottonwood and quickly identified it from a Black-crowned Night Heron.

He recited the history of the breeding pair of Common Blackhawks that faithfully returned to his property annually, knew the correct names of the many species we saw — Summer Tanagers, Redtail Hawks and the colorful Wood Ducks, for which the Audubon chapter had erected nest boxes — and recognized the lilting song of the Canyon Wren in the sage across the river.

He knew Audubon’s role in helping conserve the less than 100 California Condors remaining in North America and recognized the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency in bringing back the American Bald Eagle.

A soft side of Sen. McCain that few knew — but was astounding to those who did — was his commitment to the environment. The McCains generously allowed Audubon Arizona, the state office of the National Audubon Society, and the local chapter in the Sedona area to celebrate the Lower Oak Creek Important Bird Area near his second Arizona home nestled against Oak Creek.

Joining Sen. McCain was the NAS director of Bird Conservation, Sedona’s mayor and the chair of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society, plus the director of Arizona Game & Fish and commissioners, members of the national NAS board, local chapter members, and Audubon Arizona board and staff members, all gathered with

Sen. McCain to honor the work done to make the IBA available to all visitors and birdwatchers.

We at Audubon knew we had an informed, passionate and impactful advocate with Senator McCain.
Sen. McCain worked closely with Governor Fife Symington and Arizona Senator Carolyn Allen when I was mayor to pass the Arizona Preserve Initiative that resulted in about $81 million for Scottsdale to purchase state trust lands for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

He spoke of that effort at Mayor Drinkwater’s funeral — how proud he was to have been a part of that conservation public policy. I testified in Washington, D.C. as Sen. McCain supported the work of the Land & Water Conservation Fund — so necessary to protecting vulnerable landscapes, flora and fauna in Arizona.

Senator McCain’s current work on the Rio Salado with ASU, anchored by the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, will be one of his lasting legacies to the Valley.

Yes, the Audubon Society’s IBA dedication was important and so, too was Senator McCain’s support of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Rio Salado project – but knowing naturalist Senator McCain was the most important gift of all.

Editor’s note: Ms. Campana is a resident of Scottsdale, a former mayor and serves as president of the Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale Inc.

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