Audubon Dakota not changing name as some chapters part with namesake

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 5:16 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - When you think of bird conservation, one name comes to mind ahead of all others, the Audubon Society. It’s name is derived from naturalist John James Audubon, who set out to paint every bird in North America, but that’s only half the story and some chapters are now trying to distance themselves from the name.

“Although, John James Audubon’s name is synonymous with birds and conservation in the last decade, there’s been a lot of writing and research about some of the less attractive parts of his legacy, including the fact that he was an enslaver, a critic of abolition and contributed data that fuel white supremacy,” explains Jessica Wilson, Executive Director of New York City Audubon.

Because of that history, New York City’s Audubon Society Board of Directors voted to make a name change.

“What we learned was the name Audubon was serving as a impediment, a barrier to getting people involved.”

The New York City chapter’s decision is the opposite of what the national chapter decided to do; they announced last week they will keep the name as is.

Holly Leicht runs the Madison Square Park Conservancy and her organization played a role in the name change.

“We want to encourage new populations that have never thought of birding, or even in some ways nature as a place that they feel safe going and spending time,” Leicht said.

The first to change their name was the Audubon Naturalist Society, which is based just outside of Washington, D.C. — It’s now called Nature Forward.

Audubon Dakota says it is a state office of the national society and won’t be changing its name, which was decided by the national board. Officials say individual chapters can choose any name they select.

You can read an open letter to hear directly from the Audubon Society CEO on why the national organization is keeping its name. The group has also put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the name and the decision to keep it.