Supporter Spotlight: From Birders to Conservationists Championing Sustainable Livelihoods

Each and every one of our supporters have a favorite project or initiative that brings them to Amazon Conservation and gets them excited about protecting the Amazon. With a broad portfolio of work spanning wildlife, landscapes, science, people, and technology, it’s hard not to find a piece of our work that resonates with you. And for some of our long-time donors, the all-encompassing nature of Amazon Conservation’s work and the real impact of our small organization on the ground is what keeps them as part of our community.

Connie and Jeff Woodman have been active supporters of Amazon Conservation since 2010. The seeds of conservationism were planted when an old birding book met an aptly-timed camping trip in Big Bend National Park; the seeds began to bud as they became more dedicated birders and eventually met one of Amazon Conservation’s co-founders, Adrian Forsyth. Since then, Connie and Jeff have nurtured a growing appreciation for the importance of protected areas, not only for their birding hobby but also for the well-being of wildlife and people. Over the years, they have become more than lifelong supporters; they are an integral part of the family that is making sure that Amazon Conservation has boots on the ground for the long term.

Read on to learn more about why Connie and Jeff support Amazon Conservation.

Connie and Jeff on a balsa raft in the Peruvian Amazon

Can you tell us a little background about yourselves? How did you initially learn about Amazon Conservation? 

Connie: We spent our honeymoon in Big Bend, in a tent. We’re birders. That’s one of the ways we became interested in conservation. So we like to go birding, and we’re thinking, we’ve got to do more than just going around looking at birds, so we became interested in conservation. Jeff started out on the board of ABC—American Bird Conservancy, so we learned quite a bit with that organization. 

Jeff: And then we met Adrian [Forsyth] through [ABC]. ABC had a trip down to Costa Rica, so we went and met Adrian. His charisma inspired us to join him and others on a trip to Peru, and that’s when we got introduced to Amazon Conservation. He can inspire people. 

Connie: Hard to say “no” to that much enthusiasm and knowledge; it’s just incredible all those stories! 

When did you get into birding? What initially inspired you to support environmental causes generally? 

Jeff: We got into birding on our honeymoon; Connie brought a really old bird book. We’d been interested, but we were in Big Bend without realizing it was early May when all the birds were migrating through. It was so cool. So we had this old bird book… 

Connie: …and sharing a tiny little pair of binoculars. Some person we met said, “that’ll change”.

Jeff: And then we got back to Houston, and people were saying Houston is a great place to bird right on the Texas coast. So we went down to High Island in July, not realizing… we were like, “where are all the birds?” We only saw a kingfisher. But, that got us thinking about conservation. We didn’t realize it before, but if you’re birding on the Texas coast where millions of birds are flying across the Gulf of Mexico from the tropics, there are so few places for them to stop over. There are people that had the foresight to protect these areas.

Connie: Like Houston Audubon was doing that, right on the coast where we were birding. We joined them, then we realized the importance of conservation. If we don’t take care of these [birds], we’re not going to be able to go birding and from that, we realized we can’t just care about a bird. We have to care about the insects and the butterflies and the plants and the PEOPLE! That was a really big thing with Amazon Conservation because when we were down there on that trip [in Peru], we were introduced to the Wachiperi…

Jeff: …near Villa Carmen, a community where people were logging and trying to get titles to their land. That was an experience we’d never had, meeting them, and it was really interesting. It seemed like there had been a lot of projects with Amazon Conservation over the years, but we really felt—and feel—like Amazon Conservation is trying to obviously protect areas in the Amazon, but doing it by working with these communities, with local people, trying to empower them and make it easier for them to live on the land, get an income from that, and they try to come up with creative solutions to do that. And just the staff too, the people working for the organization, as I’m sure you see, and in Peru and in Bolivia, people care, they’re working hard. It’s an inspiring group to be a part of. 

Jeff: Connie didn’t go, but I did go to Bolivia, and that was an amazing trip. We went from Peru, took a boat into Bolivia with Marcos Teran and Lucio, and we met and stayed with people from the Tacana indigenous group living in a large area in northern Bolivia. Their primary means of income is harvesting Brazil nuts. It was really cool because Marcos had had a number of meetings with them, asking them what they need, rather than us trying to impose [by saying], “Here’s what you should do.” What they needed was this form of a drying rack to dry the Brazil nuts because what they had been doing was collecting and carrying these heavy bags and putting these bags down outside, and the harvest happens during the rainy season, so they’d lose 15% of all this harvest through spoilage. So Amazon Conservation raised money for them to get materials to build an open-air barn, but smaller, where they could lay out the Brazil nuts so that they could dry. And the production loss dropped to almost 0%. So more money for them, and it was generated by their thinking. There’s a lot more to the story, but it’s really interesting. 

Connie: I think you got to go out with them and try to carry one of those bags. 

Jeff: I was with them when they were harvesting. Seriously, they’re built like wrestlers, really muscular, maybe 5’4”, not really tall, but they would carry these bags that could be 130 lbs, really heavy and carrying them up and down the terrain, which is not flat, up and down hills and through mud. They just did it, and they did it for generations. So it felt meaningful to do something that could help the community and the community’s livelihood depended on harvesting Brazil nuts—and Brazil nut trees are a keystone species. So protecting the forest helps both the Tacana and obviously works to protect the Amazon.

Connie, do you have a favorite program or initiative of Amazon Conservation?

Connie: I don’t know that I have a favorite one, but I really admire how Amazon Conservation works with a community. And I think Amazon Conservation and the communities are really hard-working, forward-thinking people, and I really appreciate that. 

The other thing is the MAAP program where they use drones to monitor deforestation. I think that is hugely important, to know when fires are breaking out, illegal logging, and gold mining too. And I think they’ve earned a lot of respect from the government too.


Your first gift to Amazon Conservation was in 2010. Why have you chosen to donate to us for so long? What makes Amazon Conservation special to you? 

Jeff: We feel like the donations are being put to good use, that is the bottom line; the way the organization works with communities, protecting the forest, and a lot of different things that Amazon Conservation does. It’s not just a one-style approach. They’re trying to study the areas, use research to determine what kind of strategies work best to conserve a certain area. You have a cloud forest, you have the lowlands, you have now in Bolivia the Beni, which is a whole different type of habitat, requiring lots of ranchers. So they’re really trying to figure out the best ways to conserve an area. And I think they’re lean.

Connie: That’s what I was going to say. I feel like it’s kind of like a personal organization. We know some of the people, we’ve been down there, and it’s not like we’re donating to an organization that’s so huge. 

Jeff: You can see the benefits of a donation. Trying to conserve the Amazon, it’s a huge problem.But I feel like Amazon Conservation is trying to identify areas where they can effect change.. They’re getting partners who can donate, partners who can help with research, partners on the ground. I think they’re doing a good job. 

Why is continued support important for conservation efforts and ongoing, local projects in the Amazon?

Jeff: I mean, serving the Amazon is a long-term proposition. You can’t expect to go in for one, three, five years. Five years maybe you can get things going in an area, but you have to be in for the long term. That’s been a core belief of Amazon Conservation, to be there for the long term. In certain areas, like a new area in Peru,  you can’t just drop in and start working in an area. You have to build trust, and that takes years. But once you get trust, that trust can filter through to different areas and you get a reputation of trying to do good work and doing the things that you say. Gaining and building trust with communities makes all the difference.

Is there something you want to say to someone who wants to get involved and make a difference in the Amazon and/or in general to help fight climate change?

Connie: I would tell people first and foremost how much we feel like a family with Amazon Conservation. I think that if I was a new donor, I would want to reach out to whomever and let them tell me more about it, rather than just your webpage. I think that you guys are responsive to questions from new and even older donors. You guys really know how to stretch a dollar and put it to good use.

Jeff: I would also add, for a new donor wondering, “is this going to make a difference?” Pick a program or something that seems interesting to them that can benefit, because there are a number of programs and areas, from indigenous people, sustainability, trying to improve livelihoods, the many programs you have. Someone could donate something to one of those and see the impact, see what’s happening, and ask staff for updates. For us, you learn a bit about what’s going on and what’s happening, and the feeling that a donation is making a difference is important and for us, that’s meaningful. Like Connie was saying, as opposed to: you just donate, you don’t really know what’s going on, you hope it’s doing good, but you don’t know. But here [with Amazon Conservation], you can see how your donation is making a difference.

Do you have anything else to add that you’d like people to know?

Jeff: I feel like it’s a good organization, the Board is excellent, and people care!

Jeff and Connie on the Blanding River near Bears Ears National Monument the very day that the original boundary for Bears Ears was reinstated


Check out the real impact our supporters are having in the Amazon, learn more about our long-term strategy from our 10-year strategy for 2020-2030, and help support this critical work by making a contribution today!

Supporter Spotlight: Long-Time Donors Challenge Us and Encourage Our Growth

It may sound cliché to say our long-term supporters are the backbone that keeps Amazon Conservation learning and growing, but it’s true. When couple Elizabeth Cadwalader and Gene Baron first reached out to donate to our organization in 2012, they wanted to donate stock and at the time our organization wasn’t sure how or if we could receive a stock donation. Thanks to Elizabeth and Gene’s encouragement and patience, Amazon Conservation was able to set up the necessary systems to accept stock donations. Supporters like them have been crucial in encouraging our growth and expansion – whether it’s donation methods or programs — over the years and have thus been a large factor in our success.

What was it about our organization that made Elizabeth and Gene believe in our mission so strongly that they were willing to work with us through the whole process of setting up stock accounts with us? In a recent chat, they told us that it was our on-the-ground presence in the Amazon and our record of following up on projects to ensure their effectiveness that convinced them. Since their first stock donation, they have been sustaining supporters because they appreciate Amazon Conservation’s work that works alongside – not against – governments and businesses to achieve the best result for all. Read more about our talk with Elizabeth and Gene below.

Learn more about all the ways you can donate, including stock, DAFs, QCDs, estate gifts, and cryptocurrency, at the bottom of our donate page.

Elizabeth and Gene in the countryside of Harford County, Maryland.

Can you tell us a little more background about you?

Elizabeth: I grew up in Baltimore, traveled around the country and some of the world for about 11 years, and then came back to Baltimore to visit for a summer, and then I met Gene and here I am!

I had spent 3 years as a [AmeriCorps] VISTA volunteer, and I got very interested in teaching English as a second language. I spent a few years in Mexico under the mistaken impression that I needed to know Spanish for that, which I didn’t. I had majored in French in college, so I was very interested in languages and other countries and cultures. For the last 21 years I’ve been a painter, which is what I do now. One of your former employees actually bought one of my paintings – that was nice!

Gene: For my background, I’ve always been in Baltimore, born and raised here, except for a couple of years while at grad school. I was a music major in school, and I played what I would call semi-professionally while in college and after, then I worked in record stores in Baltimore for 8 or 9 years. Then in 1985 I went back to school to learn how to do mainframe programming. Starting in early 1986, I went to work for McCormick & Co., headquartered just north of Baltimore, and I worked for them doing various IT-related things for about 30 years. In 2015, I retired, and I got back into music. For the past few years, I have played the hammered dulcimer, which is a lovely instrument. Other than that, I’ve been taking care of things around the house and trying to travel a bunch.

Like Elizabeth, I have an interest in other cultures and languages. I was a very active international folk dancer for thirty years – mostly line and circle dancing from Eastern Europe, along with a smattering of other areas too. Actually, what I studied was ethnomusicology – studying music and cultures of the world. So our interest in other parts of the world is very strong for both of us.

What initially inspired you to support environmental causes generally and to help conserve the Amazon rainforest more specifically?

Elizabeth: I think the motivation was more reading about, first of all, how important the Amazon is, the oxygen, and all the different animal species, the people who live there, and reading all of the terrible things happening there – burning and cutting it down. I think the first thing I recall reading about was, Gee, they’re cutting this down to have more cattle so that we can all have cheap hamburgers. So we went on Charity Navigator and looked for someone that was working in the Amazon.

How did you initially learn about Amazon Conservation?

Elizabeth: After reading about the terrible things happening there, we went on Charity Navigator and that’s where we found you. I think before that, we really had only given $25 here or there, but didn’t really have the resources to do a lot. But I had some appreciated stock that had an unbelievably low cost basis, so we thought why don’t we donate stock. I remember that, because you had never gotten it before and it was a bit of a big thing to get that set up with a bank and get an account set up so that you could do it.

Once we decide on something – we give to a spectrum of charities, we have various ones in different areas, and then once we have our list, unless something stops working, unless a charity is no longer doing what we thought or hoped it would do, we keep on because I think you need to sustain what you started.

Why did you choose to support Amazon Conservation? What makes Amazon Conservation special to you?

Gene: Something else we look for in charities, like we’ve seen in a few cases where other excellent charities in, for example, Africa, but then there’s no real follow up. Like if they put in wells for people, they don’t come back to check that the wells are still going 5 to 6 to 10 weeks later. We look for an established charity that’s got a presence there and that is going to remain.

Elizabeth: Another thing we really appreciate with Amazon Conservation is everyone has really been friendly and made it feel like we’re a part of it. You can give to some organizations, and you basically just get your thank you note, and that’s it. But we feel like “part of the family”.

Do you have a favorite program or initiative that stands out to you?

Gene: I would say 2 things, and they’re the major things that you’re working on. One is all of the things that you’re doing to stop deforestation. What I didn’t know as much about, which I learned at the last event in Washington, DC, was the science and technology to track illegal logging and things like that, which it seems is the best way to do that. I really appreciate that!

Elizabeth: You also mentioned, which I also remember from Mr. [Bruce] Babbitt’s talk about 8 or 10 years ago, how well you work with companies so that they can do business and find ways to do it without destroying everything.

Gene: The example that I remember was where a natural gas platform was constructed solely by helicopter, airborne, so no one had to cut down forest to build access roads and things like that. It’s an Impressive way to do that. Years ago, if you just went right up against the government and large companies, you certainly would lose. So trying to work collaboratively, where possible, to get what you want while they also get what they want as much as possible.

Elizabeth: We also really liked those Luci Lights, so that people who couldn’t get electricity could still have solar light. You were really helping families and communities. Also, we have a son who is 34, so of course we are thinking about the future world and what will be still around.

Gene: That also means we want to see more political pressure in that part of the world, as [thinking about the future] just makes this work a more urgent matter.

Do you have anything else to add that you’d like people to know about our work in the Amazon?

Gene: Keep doing what you’re doing! Keep awareness up of how incredibly diverse and how important that part of the world is, with all the different animal species. It’s important for everyone to know that.

Elizabeth: I do try to tell people about it, to share things on social media. I think people aren’t as aware as they should be about how diverse with so many different species and how many are endangered and also the various people who live there who are being crowded out and their whole way of life is being threatened. I think it’s really interesting that even when they know that they could live in the “modern world”, they don’t want to.

And also – GIVE your stock to the Amazon! Then you won’t have to pay capital gains tax!

Learn more about all the ways you can donate, including stock, DAFs, QCDs, estate gifts, and cryptocurrency, at the bottom of our donate page.