What prompted the Board’s process to consider a name change?
The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905 and named after John James Audubon, 50 years after his death. Audubon was a naturalist and illustrator whose work was an important contribution to the field of ornithology in the mid-19th century. While there can be no doubt of the impact of his life’s work and passion for birds, he was also an enslaver, whose racism and harmful attitudes toward Black and Indigenous people are now well-understood. Today, more than 100 years later, we are called to re-examine John James Audubon’s legacy through a different lens.
Given his complex legacy, the Board initiated a process to consider whether the organization should change its name.
Why did the Board decide to keep the name?
Based on the critical threats to birds that Audubon must urgently address and the need to remain a non-partisan force for conservation, the Board determined that retaining the name would enable NAS to direct key resources and focus towards enacting the organization’s mission. The Board’s decision enables the organization to focus its time, resources, and capacity on the organization’s new Strategic Plan and putting its equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) commitments into action.
What was the process for reaching this decision?
The Board conducted a thorough evaluation process, which spanned more than 12 months and included input from more than 2,300 people from across the NAS network and beyond—including survey responses from more than 1,700 NAS staff, members, volunteers, donors, chapters, campus chapter members, and partners, and more than 600 external individuals across the country with a focus on reaching people of color and younger people. NAS also commissioned historical research that examined John James Audubon’s life, views, and how they did—and did not—reflect his time.
Will this change Audubon’s mission?
No. Our mission remains unchanged: protecting birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. We will continue its non-partisan commitment to habitat conservation and climate action, its agenda-setting policy work, and its community-building efforts to advance its mission.
We intend to expand further our conservation reach to better engage and serve people and communities whose interests have historically not been meaningfully considered.
How will the organization recognize John James Audubon’s legacy moving forward?
We will continue promoting an awareness and understanding of the problematic legacy of John James Audubon, the man, and the inequalities that have been inherent in the conservation movement.
What else are you doing to expand your equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) work as an organization?
Our new Strategic Plan has been developed with EDIB as a key driver.
In addition to EDIB conservation principles that will guide its programmatic work, we 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, including:
- Scaling efforts to co-develop solutions with communities of color hit hardest by the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.
- Growing educational programs that reach students of color through our campus community chapters focused on HBCU / MSI institutions.
- Investing in Conservation Action Centers that serve diverse, urban communities through conservation, science, and community programming.
- Increasing the diversity of NAS staff and Board of Directors.
- Providing staff training to implement EDIB conservation principles in our work.
The Board has also committed to formalizing its EDIB values in its work, including continuing EDIB education and collaborating with the new Chief EDIB Officer on a Board committee.
We believe that focusing on these efforts both internal and external will drive meaningful impact against our commitment to fostering an equitable and inclusive future for all.
Will Audubon Chapters also keep Audubon in their names?
The Audubon network includes more than 450 chapters and 160 Campus Chapters, which are an essential part of what makes NAS a strong and impactful force for conservation. As independent entities, some chapters have already announced their intention to change their name, while others may elect to keep Audubon in their name. Regardless of their decisions, we plan to work closely with chapter leaders to move forward as one unified community.
Autor National Audubon Society