FAIRBANKS — The mood was somber at the Alaska Bird Observatory Tuesday as staff, board members and volunteers began packing up offices and the gift shop to close down the nonprofit organization after 21 years of community service.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Laurel Devaney, ABO board president. “The economy has been tough for nonprofits for a few years.”
“It’s been tough on every level for (ABO) members, businesses, corporations, grantors and government issue. In every case, funding has dropped,” Devaney said. “Our income is just not meeting the needs of the organization.”
The ABO board made the decision to shut the doors at Monday night’s board meeting.
The three full-time and two part-time staff members learned Tuesday morning their last day of work would be today, and it is still uncertain when they will receive their final paychecks.
“Everything needs to be negotiated with the bank,” said Mary Teel, an eight-year board member. “They hold the line of credit.”
Rent also is in arrears for the ABO quarters in the Wedgewood complex.
With a budget averaging about $500,000 annually, financial concerns have been tenuous for the past five years.
But the small community-supported organization has continued to fulfill its mission, “to advance the appreciation, understanding, and conservation of birds and their habitats through research and education,” Devaney stated in a Tuesday news release.
The ABO staff continued that mission through this past weekend with 798 people turning out for an ABO Owl Program at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, said Tricia Lake, ABO education coordinator.
The ABO’s multiple, participatory educational and research opportunities during the years have been enjoyed by community members of all ages — not to mention as the go-to place for answers to questions about birds, bird species, bird songs and bird feeders.
School teachers across the community who have incorporated educational bird programs into their curriculum will feel the loss.
“Lots of teachers have been using us as a resource for 20 years,” Blake said.
ABO estimates tens of thousands of people, including 25,000 school children have taken part in ABO programs since its inception — programs as diverse as bird art, bird banding, mentoring, workshops, seminars, research and bird point counts.
The future of the bird banding station at Creamer’s Field also is nebulous, said Sue Guers, ABO research biologist.
“It’s unique,” she said. “There aren’t many in the nation.”
The ABO’s closing affects more than 65 trained volunteers who have had a hand in many of the organization’s programs and projects from working in the gift shop to being involved in long term research projects.
“We’ve trained many of them, hundreds of people,” Guers said.
Referring to the closing, Guers said, “It’s like a death in the family.”