Audubon Society

Audubon Society

Audubon Society, National, one of the oldest and best-known U.S. environmental organizations; founded 1886 by George Cird Grinnell and named for John James Audubon. The nonprofit organization, which has a membership of 550,000, operates 100 wildlife sanctuaries and nature centers, as well as camps and other educational programs. Current high-priority projects include protection for wetlands, ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Platte River, an important migratory bird stopover. Its publications include American Bird and Audubon, the society's official magazine.
The National Audubon Society is an American non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservancy. Incorporated in 1905, it is one of the oldest of such organizations in the world. It is named in honor of John James Audubon, a Franco-American ornithologist and naturalist who painted, catalogued, and described the birds of North America in his famous book Birds of America published in sections between 1827 and 1838.

The society publishes an illustrated magazine, Audubon, on nature. It has many 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., an example of citizen science.

Its main offices are in New York City and Washington, D.C., and has other state offices in about thirty states. It also owns and operates a number of nature centers open to the public, located at bird refuges, urban settings and other natural areas, as part of its mission to educate the public about birds and to preserve avian and other habitats.


Grinnell's contribution

The NAS has its roots in one hunter's love for wildlife and his desire to see winged creatures proliferate and not perish. 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 seminal work by the great 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.

The public response to Grinnell's call for the protection of fowl was said to be instant and impressive: Within a year of its foundation, the early Audubon Society claimed 39,000 members, each of whom 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. Such an organization was not wholly new.

American Ornithologists' Union

The American Ornithologists' Union, founded in 1883, was already 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.

Birds in the US were were threatened by hunting for sport as well as for the fashion industry. Pressure from shooting enthusiasts was intense. Great auks, for example, 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 turn of the century, the sale of bird flesh was never 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.

But public opinion soon turned on the fashion industry. Bolstered by the support of hunter/naturalist President Theodore Roosevelt, who was 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 ultimately eradicated by such laws as the New York State Audubon Plumage Law (1910), which banned the sales of plumes of all native birds in the state.

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 and, to this day, continues to maintain an extensive sanctuary system. The largest is the Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary in Louisiana, acquired in 1924. After nearly three-quarters of a century, the National Wildlife Refuge Campaign remains a key component of overall NAS policy.

Prosperity through publication

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. 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.

Nature centers and refuges

Nature centers and wildlife sanctuaries have long been an important part of Audubon’s work to educate and inspire the public about the environment, its importance, and how to conserve it. Some of the organization’s earliest nature centers are still teaching young and old alike about the natural world. Those include the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center in New York, established in 1923, and the Audubon Center of Greenwich, Connecticut, founded in 1943. From these beginnings, Audubon continued to expand its network of centers. 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. Audubon’s national network currently includes more than 45 nature centers and 150 sanctuaries nationwide.

Modern issues: DDT, the prairie dog, 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.

The poison was aimed chiefly at coyotes and prairie dogs, both considered pests by the politically influential stockmen of the western United States. This provoked the ringing question, "What constitutes a 'good' versus a 'bad' animal?" In addition to the prairie dog, DDT was responsible for the near-complete extinction of the black-footed ferret. In the five years leading up to 1972, nearly 40,000 acres (160 km²) of Dakota prairie dog towns were saturated with DDT. Backed by scientific findings on DDTs long lasting and carcinogenic qualities, the NAS campaigned successfully to convincing governments worldwide to ban the chemical for use or production.

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 the 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 eliminating 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 whale "harvesting" was approved. 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.

In 1995 the NAS elected as its president John Flicker, attorney and the former General Counsel and head of The Nature Conservancy's Florida State Program. In his leadership of The Nature Conservancy, Flicker raised funds for purchasing key Everglades and unique wilderness lands in Florida. A seasoned lobbyist, Flicker has set about increasing NAS presence in the halls of Congress. High atop his list of goals for the NAS in the late 20th century was the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling interests and the uniting with rainforest activists to protect tropical hardwood areas from excessive deforestation.

Drilling for natural gas

Although the Audubon society opposes drilling for gas on national reserves, they have drilled repeatedly for natural gas and oil on their own wildlife sanctuary. This has led to charges of hypocrisy from various observers. Others, such as Walter Block from the Frasier Institute believe this shows how the free market can go about creating nature preserves without the use of taxpayer money or regulations.

We live in a In-Voluntary Democracy; which means regulation, lobbying, rent controls, price fixing, Fiat Inflation, a centralized Gov't, and massive protectionism (Corp Welfare and Bailouts).

In a society that Dr. Block is talking about a "Voluntary Republic with Free-Market Economics governing policy" you will see: Zero regulation in the markets, powerful private property laws (greatest vanguard against enviromental polution, organic farming, of air and water quality), Zero Lobbying (read why below), Zero price fixing, where gov't prints money with no interest charge, free-market gold standard, competition in money (we are moving in this direction already - price cards provided by corporations), and a decentralized gov't.

How? It's easiest to see in the following example - "Corporate Income" -- Before that we must agree that consumers pay all forms of taxation (income tax thru inheritance tax - corporate tax thru all forms of accounting tax - inflationary tax thru gas tax) and that Slavery means owning zero percent of ones labor. In this In-Voluntary Democracy how many months per year are you a slave given the above taxes? Income Tax alone makes you a slave 3 months per year (how many months of labor it takes to pay for a 1 years worth of taxes). The rest of the taxes brings your labor loss to 6 - 9 months (if that doesn't make sense then you need to study inflationary tax and fiat currency deficit spending and what that does to the purchasing power of your dollar -- also, difference between nominal income and "real" income). Also, you need to understand the difference between Neoconservative "Free-Markets" and Truly Free-Markets -- Like the word "natural" at one time meant "organic" so the word free-market has been hijacked for totalitarian principles. The difference between NAFTA-CAFTA type of regulated free-trade and Hayek's interpretation of "free-markets" outlined in this link -- Go Read -->

The ways a Corporation generates Income in an In-Voluntary Deomcracy: 1) Consumer Purchases, 2) Consumer Investors (stocks, bonds, et al), and 3) Gov't Subsidization (Corp Welfare).

The ways a Corporation generates Income in a Voluntary Republic (in a "truly" Free-Market): 1) Consumer Purchases and 2) Consumer Investors

In the first model (the In-Voluntary One) if consumers decided to boycott a product owing to enviromental concerns or price gouging or otherwise "bad business dealings" (sweat shops or something) - when these consumers pull their daily-dollar-vote consumer investors begin to shake (some sell off begins); however, they wait to see what the gov't will do. If the gov't runs a bail-out then Consumer Investors stay or buy. If revenues are not hurt corporations stay the course -- especially given the cost of change which pulls money away from competitive measures (R&D - entrepreneurialism - innovation).

In the second model (the Voluntary One) if consumers decide to boycott a product (pull their daily dollar vote) consumer investors pull their stock (sell off). With no gov't bailout possible (since the impose of taxation or the freedom by gov't to print money for bailout is NOT VOLUNTARY) with no lobbyists "renting" the politicians vote there is no incentive to bailout (to make the un-constitutional vote) by the gov't agent. So the corporation is under the daily scrutiny of the consumer and is forced by consumer investor board of directors to make the necessary changes or to go out of business. Want to save the black rhino or the elephant -- get them out of the "commons" and into private market where property rights are fully enforced (with no lobbying obeying the constitution to earn the respect of voters is strictly observed). You ever seen a person machine gun their livestock? Worried about Factory Farming or Poisoned Crop Conventional Farms (genetic splicing) then relax because in a Voluntary Republic farmers do not get subsidized and Organic Farming and Free-Range Livestock are healthier on the soil and bring in greater yields then convetional (protectionistic bailout farming practices).

In the latter imagine how fast we can make changes in society with no lobbying, regulation (the power tool that creates room for lobbying - vast dollars - by the corrupt politician), and zero bailouts!

Popular culture references

In Ian Fleming's novel Dr. No (1958), secret agent James Bond discusses the society with his superior Miles Messervy; the Society complained that some migratory birds (roseate spoonbills) on the guano island owned by Julius No are seeing their nesting sites disturbed and destroyed. The organization is unflatteringly described as a "club made up of old spinsters".

The Society is mentioned in the song "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" by Tom Lehrer.



  • Frank Graham, Jr., The Audubon Ark: A History of the National Audubon Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990) ISBN 0-394-58164-46754

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