Open Letter from the CEO on Audubon’s Name
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This past year, the National Audubon Society embarked on a process to reexamine the name of our organization, in light of the personal history of the organization’s namesake, John James Audubon.
Our organization was named after John James Audubon, a naturalist and illustrator, more than 50 years after his death. His work was an important contribution to the field of ornithology in the mid-19th century and there can be no doubt of the impact of his life’s work and passion for birds. And yet–he was also an enslaver whose racist views and treatment of Black and Indigenous people must be reckoned with. Read more about John James Audubon here.
Early last year, the Board of Directors of the National Audubon Society began an evaluation process to determine whether our organization should move forward bearing his name. This process was thorough, spanning more than a year and involving extensive feedback from stakeholders within and outside the organization.
This is an issue that elicits strong views. I personally heard from many voices across our network with differing opinions on the right path forward, as did the Board, which was factored into their decision-making.
In March 2023, the Board of Directors voted to retain the organization’s current name–the National Audubon Society. Read more about the Board’s decision here.
We are at a pivotal moment as an organization and as a conservation movement more broadly. The urgency of our climate and biodiversity crises compels us to marshal our resources toward the areas of greatest impact for birds and people. This means centering equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) values in our programmatic work, as well as our internal operations, and implementing our new five-year Strategic Plan–core to which is our EDIB commitment. Regardless of the name we use, this organization must and will address the inequalities and injustices that have historically existed within the conservation movement.
I understand people may be wondering how that is possible if Audubon remains in our name. That is a question the Board has grappled with, and ultimately, they decided that the organization transcends one person’s name. “Audubon” has come to symbolize our mission and significant achievements that this organization has made in its long history.
As we move forward, we will mindfully craft a new future and strategically marshal resources to maximize impact. In doing so, it is critical to empower and resource work to fully realize our values of equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We have therefore announced a new $25 million commitment to fund the expansion of EDIB-specific work in both internal and conservation initiatives over the next five years.
Our conservation work to protect birds also impacts people and communities as well. We must ensure that our influence is felt in those communities who have historically been excluded by the conservation movement and those who are most affected by the threats of climate change. Our commitment to expanding our funding for our EDIB work will enable the organization to build on its success co-developing solutions with communities of color, as we did with the Little Calumet Marsh Restoration Project, and grow educational programs designed to reach students of color, as we did in our Native Plants program in the Delta region. We will expand our efforts to partner with Indigenous communities, like we have with our Boreal Conservation program.
The National Audubon Society has taken many forms throughout its long and storied history: from the founding women of the Audubon movement who rallied against the bird trade, to activists who helped advocate for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, to today’s expansive and diverse network of more than 450 local chapters and 160 campus chapters across the country.
Today, Audubon is committed to uniting people from all walks of life who share a love of birds and a commitment to protecting their environments. As we move forward, we will build on the exceptional accomplishments in conservation that this organization has made since its founding by bringing together communities across the Americas to protect birds and the places they need.