Region served United States
Main organ Board of directors
|Headquarters Manhattan, New York|
President & CEO David Yarnold
Type of business Nonprofit organization
|Purpose Conservation of birds, other wildlife and healthy ecosystems.|
CEO David Yarnold (1 Sep 2010–)
Founders John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, T. Gilbert Pearson
Similar Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Audubon Society of Portland
The National Audubon Society (Audubon) is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation. Located in the United States and incorporated in 1905, Audubon is one of the oldest of such organizations in the world and uses science, education and grassroots advocacy to advance its conservation mission. It is named in honor of John James Audubon, a Franco-American ornithologist and naturalist who painted, cataloged, and described the birds of North America in his famous book Birds of America published in sections between 1827 and 1838.
- Development of Audubon societies
- Bird protection
- Field guides
- DDT whaling and politics
- Television specials
- Audubon Medal
- List of awardees
- Current activities
- Sanctuaries and nature centers
- Drilling for natural gas
- Dan W Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership
- Climate change report
- Audubon magazine
The society has nearly 500 local chapters, each of which is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization voluntarily affiliated with the National Audubon Society, which often organize birdwatching field trips and conservation-related activities. It also coordinates the Christmas Bird Count held each December in the U.S., a model of citizen science, in partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Great Backyard Bird Count each February. Together with Cornell, Audubon created eBird, an online database for bird observation. The National Audubon Society also has many global partners to help birds that migrate beyond the U.S.'s borders, including BirdLife International based in England, Bird Studies Canada, and many partners in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Audubon's International Alliances Program (IAP) brings together people throughout the Western Hemisphere to work together to implement conservation solutions at Important Birds Areas (IBA's).
The society's main offices are in New York City and Washington, D.C., and it has state offices in about 24 states. It also owns and operates a number of nature centers open to the public, located in urban settings, including New York City, Joplin, Phoenix, Dallas, and Los Angeles, as well as at bird refuges and other natural areas. Audubon Centers help to forge lifelong connections between people and nature, developing stewards for conservation among young and diverse communities.
Development of Audubon societies
In 1886 Forest and Stream editor George Bird Grinnell was appalled by the negligent mass slaughter of birds that he saw taking place. As a boy, Grinnell had avidly read Ornithological Biography, a work by the bird painter John James Audubon; he also attended a school for boys conducted by Lucy Audubon. So when Grinnell decided to create an organization devoted to the protection of wild birds and their eggs, he did not have to go far for its namesake.
Within a year of its foundation, the early Audubon Society claimed 39,000 members. Eventually, it attained a membership of 48,862. Each member signed a pledge to "not molest birds." Prominent members included jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier. This society was later discontinued, but the name and plan survived.
Organizations for the protection of birds were not a wholly new idea. Even before Grinnell's Audubon Society was organized, the American Ornithologists' Union, founded in 1883, was aware of the dangers facing many birds in the United States. There were however influential ornithologists who defended the collection of birds. In 1902 Charles B. Cory, the president elect of the AOU refused to attend a meeting of the District of Columbia Audubon Society stating that "I do not protect birds. I kill them."
In 1895 Audubon societies were organized in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and during the next few years bird lovers in many other states followed suit. St. Louis Audubon Society (SLAS) was established in 1916 as the St Louis Bird Club. In 1944, the Bird Club became the first local Audubon chapter in the United States. The national committee of Audubon societies was organized at a meeting held in Washington in 1902. 1905 saw the organization of the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals; William Dutcher was president, and T. Gilbert Pearson was secretary and financial agent. During this time, Albert Willcox provided financial support, more than $331,072 in 1905 and 1906. At the end of 1906, the Association had an interest-bearing endowment fund of more than $336,000 and an income from other sources of approximately $9,000.
Birds in the US were threatened by market hunting as well as for the fashion industry. Pressure from shooting enthusiasts was intense. For example, great auks, whose habit of crowding together on rocks and beaches made them especially easy to hunt, had been driven to extinction early in the century. During one week in the spring of 1897, nature author Florence Merriam claimed to have seen 2,600 robins for sale in one market stall in Washington alone. By the start of the 20th century, the sale of bird flesh had never been greater. The second equally great threat to the bird population was the desire for their plumage. In the late 1890s the American Ornithologists' Union estimated that five million birds were killed annually for the fashion market. In the final quarter of the 19th century, plumes, and even whole birds, decorated the hair, hats, and dresses of women. Poachers killed game warden Guy Bradley on July 8, 1905; poachers killed Game Warden Columbus G. McLeod in November 1908 in Florida and Audubon Society employee Pressly Reeves of South Carolina also in 1908.
But public opinion soon turned on the fashion industry. Bolstered by the support of Boston socialite Harriet Hemenway, President Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed Audubon Society sympathizer, and a widespread letter-writing campaign driven by church associations, many of whom distributed the Audubon message in their various newsletters, the plume trade was halted by such laws as the New York State Audubon Plumage Law (May 1910), which banned the sales of plumes of all native birds in the state. By 1920, similar laws were enacted in about 12 other states. Audubon Society activities are responsible for many laws for the establishment of game commissions and game warden forces, or prohibiting the sale of game.
In 1918, the NAS actively lobbied for the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the 1920s, the organization also played a vital role in convincing the U.S. government to protect vital wildlife areas by including them in a National Wildlife Refuge system.
The association also purchased critical areas itself. The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center in New York was established in 1923, and the Audubon Center of Greenwich, Connecticut was founded in 1943. The Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary in Louisiana was acquired in 1924, and at 26,000 acres (110 km2) it is still the largest.
In the late 20th century, the organization began to place a new emphasis on the development of Centers in urban locations, including Brooklyn, New York; East Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Seattle, Washington.
In 1934, with membership at a low of 3,500, and with the nation in the throes of the Great Depression, John H. Baker became the NAS president. Baker, a World War I aviator and ardent bird lover, was also a businessman, and he set about to invigorate the society and bolster its budget prosperity through publication. Baker's innovation was to begin publishing book-length descriptive and illustrated field guides on major forms of bird and mammal life. Soon, in association with New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf, the Audubon Field Guides became a staple of every artist's and environmentalist's library. Today, many Audubon field guides have been adapted for mobile phone apps. This field guide series covers a wide range of nature-related topics, including rocks and minerals, wildflowers, the night sky, and many animals. This series has sold 18 million copies and uses photographs instead of the commissioned paintings or other drawings that many other field guides possess, such as the Peterson Field Guides.
DDT, whaling, and politics
During the post-World War II period, the NAS was consumed by the battle over the pesticide DDT. As early as 1960, the society circulated draft legislation to establish pesticide control agencies at the state level. In 1962 the publication of Silent Spring by long-time Audubon member Rachel Carson gave the campaign against "persistent pesticides" a huge national forum. Following her death in 1964, the NAS established a fund devoted strictly to the various legal fights in the war against DDT.
Today Audubon selects outstanding women in conservation to receive its prestigious Rachel Carson Award. Honorees include Bette Midler, founder of the New York Restoration Project; Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer and founder of Deep Search International; Majora Carter, Founder and Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx; actress and conservation activist Sigourney Weaver, and NRDC President Frances Beinecke.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, the society began to use its influence to focus attention on a wider range of environmental issues and became involved in developing major new environmental protection policies and laws. Audubon staff and members helped legislators pass the Clean Air, Clean Water, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Endangered Species acts. In 1969 the society opened an office in Washington, D.C., in an effort to keep legislators informed of Audubon's priorities.
By the 1970s, NAS had also extended to global interests. One area that NAS became actively involved with was whaling. Between 1973 and 1974 alone, the poorly regulated whaling industry had succeeded in harvesting 30,000 whales. But by 1985, following the 37th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Bournemouth, England, which was attended by officials from the National Audubon Society and other U.S.-based environmental organizations, a worldwide moratorium on whaling was declared. So successful has this moratorium been in restoring populations of many whales, that "non-consumptive uses of whales" may once again be permitted in some areas.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the National Audubon Society produced a notable series of nature documentary television specials, many of which were entitled The World of Audubon. These included specials on many animals other than birds (the traditional focus of this organization) and on natural areas such as the Great Lakes. This series included a special documenting the rescue efforts to save the black-footed ferret from extinction. Arthur Unger of the Christian Science Monitor reviewed this special very favorably and wrote that this special was "further proof that the Audubon series deserves a place in television's splendid wildlife triumvirate alongside Nature and National Geographic Specials."
The Audubon Medal is given in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of conservation and environmental protection. Launched in 1947, the Medal is one of the highest honors in conservation. Only 52 people have received the honor in Audubon's 108-year history.
List of awardees
Source: Audubon Society
In 2011, Audubon created a new model for positioning energy transmission lines along the East Coast to help preserve bird and wildlife habitat. Audubon President David Yarnold has made environmentally friendly siting for renewable energy one of the organization's highest priorities.
Audubon was instrumental in bird rescue and Gulf Coast wetlands recovery efforts in the aftermath of the April 20, 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Audubon recruited over 34,000 volunteers to assist in rescuing, cleaning and releasing injured brown pelicans and other water birds. In addition, Audubon was a leader in pushing for legislation to use BP oil spill penalties to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
Audubon's Mississippi River and Louisiana Coastal Initiatives have been helping to restore coastal wetlands and to rebuild Mississippi River delta marshlands. The Mississippi Delta loses an area the size of Manhattan to the sea every year, stripping away coastal protections for both human communities and wildlife habitat.
Audubon's Important Bird Area program has been protecting 370 million acres along migratory bird flyways in the United States and is a key part of Audubon's work with BirdLife International and other conservationists around the globe. Audubon is leading the campaign for U.S. Congressional Reauthorization of the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act which would generate as much as $100 million each year to advance hemispheric bird conservation.
In Wyoming and across the Intermountain west, Audubon's Sagebrush Initiative works with industry government, ranchers and conservationists to protect 15 million acres of greater sage grouse Core habitat. It also helps promote the development of renewable energy projects in the area.
Audubon also helped to secure preservation of 240,000 acres of wild lands at the Tejon Ranch, the largest land conservation area created in California history.
Sanctuaries and nature centers
Nature centers and wildlife sanctuaries continue to be an important part of Audubon's work to educate and inspire the public about the environment and how to conserve it. Some of the Audubon's earliest nature centers are still teaching young and old alike about the natural world. In August 2011, Audubon's Hog Island Camp in Maine marked its 75th anniversary. Audubon's national network currently includes more than 45 nature centers and 150 sanctuaries nationwide. After nearly three-quarters of a century, the National Wildlife Refuge Campaign also remains a key component of overall NAS policy.
Drilling for natural gas
The Audubon society opposes drilling for gas on national reserves. Natural gas has been drilled for and produced at its Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary. The society said it was legally compelled to allow gas and oil drilling at the sanctuary under the terms of the land's donation by its original owners. This explanation, however, has been challenged. The presence of oil and gas drilling on Audubon's sanctuaries has been used to illustrate the difference between private and public decision making.
An August 26, 2009 letter included the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, Champaign County Audubon Society, Delaware Audubon Society, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, Huachuca Audubon Society, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Sequoia Audubon Society, and Audubon South Carolina.
Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership
The Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership is a new award that recognizes Dan W. Lufkin's lifetime commitment to the environment and honors individuals who have dedicated their lives to on-the-ground conservation. As part of this award, the recipient receives a $100,000 cash prize, made through an endowment established by Dan's family and friends, to help further his or her conservation efforts. This award will become a signature prize in the field of conservation innovation. George Archibald was the inaugural Dan W. Lufkin Prize recipient for his tireless efforts to protect all species of cranes and their habitats throughout the world. The Wall Street Journal featured Dan W. Lufkin as the Donor of the Day, for the creation of this new Audubon prize.
Climate change report
In September 2014, the Audubon Society released its Audubon Birds and Climate Change report which found that expected changes to North American climate will have a major, detrimental impact on birds in the United States. The scope of the report includes 588 species of birds and found that 314 of those species could lose up to half of their climatic range during the 21st-century.
David Yarnold became Audubon's 10th president in September 2010, expressing a commitment to build on the organization's strong conservation legacy and expand its commitment to improving the quality of life for both birds and people.
Yarnold's leadership plan with Audubon is to align its conservation work along migratory flyways, the "superhighways in the sky" that millions of birds travel each spring and fall. Yarnold is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor San Jose Mercury News. He joined Audubon from the Environmental Defense Fund, where he played a leading role in expanding partnerships with corporations and helped double revenue.
The National Audubon Society publishes a bi-monthly magazine called Audubon.