What prompted the name change?
Bird Alliance of Oregon’s commitment to equity and racial justice continues to grow through our programs, partnerships, and the evolution of our internal culture. That the name Audubon celebrates a slaveholder who upheld white supremacist systems goes against that ethic and commitment.
We heard from many staff, volunteers, and community members who are people of color, specifically Black, that it’s painful to bear the name of a slaveholder at the place where they work or volunteer, or to wear a shirt with our name on it. Our goal is to create an inclusive and welcoming organization and community for everyone, and retaining the name Audubon is a major obstacle to that work.
Who was John James Audubon and how is he tied to Bird Alliance of Oregon?
It’s not commonly known that John James Audubon had nothing to do with the founding of the first Audubon societies, nor with Portland Audubon. In fact, he died 51 years before Portland Audubon was founded. One of the founders of the first Audubon Society, George Bird Grinnell, decided to use the name Audubon based on his time being tutored by Lucy Audubon, John James Audubon’s widow. Grinnell valued Audubon’s stature and noted contributions to the understanding of avian natural history, most famously through his book The Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size bird prints. That name stuck as the Audubon chapters around the country began to emerge.
Are you still a part of the Audubon of Oregon network?
Yes. The Audubon network is made up of more than 450 individual chapters, including National Audubon Society. We have no plans to leave the network, which is a powerful system of organizations with similar goals. We regularly work with our 11 sister chapters across the state, with other statewide chapters, and with National Audubon Society to advance our conservation agenda. We are excited to note that other former Audubons have already changed their names, including Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Madison, and San Francisco. Regardless of our name, we plan to maintain those relationships and stay a chapter within the network.
Will my membership stay the same?
Yes, your membership will stay the same. No need to change a thing. Thank you for being a member!
Will donations or legacy gifts to the name Bird Alliance of Oregon still be accepted?
Donations and legacy gifts made out to Bird Alliance of Oregon or Portland Audubon will both be accepted by our bank. Thank you for your gift!
What’s your new website? And email addresses?
www.BirdAllianceOregon.org Emails made out to our old email addresses will still come through, but you can change to our new email addresses by using the first letter of the first name, and then full last name. For example: Maria Jones would be email@example.com
What was your process to find a new name?
We formed a name change committee, made up of staff, board, and community partners. The committee had 14 members, each with expertise in areas like conservation, education, communications, and development. The committee was 60% BIPOC, with representation from LGBTQIA+ and disability communities as well. This committee was charged with leading the process, hiring a marketing firm, doing community outreach, and recommending a name to the board. The board then voted on the final name choice.
What feedback did you get from community listening?
We spent four months gathering input from the community on what our new name should be, hearing from almost 2,000 people. We launched surveys, asked our members, met with partners, advertised in newspapers, tabled at community events, and held BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) listening sessions. We collected detailed demographic information to see who we were hearing from and—perhaps more importantly—who we weren’t hearing from. From early on, the data showed us we needed to do intentional outreach to people under 35, communities of color, and people who live in rural communities. The majority of our outreach centered on those communities, helping us increase participation from those demographics.
We were excited to see that across all demographics, the same themes kept emerging. People want a name that:
- Aligns with mission & values related to bird conservation, wildlife protection, and environmental education
- Creates a sense of unity and connection to address the barriers that racism has created in reaching diverse groups
- Directly reference birds
- Is clear and accessible
- Reflect the organization’s statewide presence
- Reflect the organization’s wide scope of work including birding education and programs, wildlife protection and, land stewardship and conservation
Why did you change from “Portland” to “Oregon”?
Our work has been statewide since our founding in 1902. The name “Portland” has always created confusion and we were glad to take the opportunity to change to “Oregon” to more accurately reflect where we work. Many are surprised to hear that we were originally founded as the Oregon Audubon Society. It wasn’t until 1968 that National Audubon forced us to change our name to Portland to reflect a smaller region if we wanted to be a part of the national network. Thankfully, that restriction no longer applies, and we are free to choose a name that shares our broader geographic range. Our work has always taken place across the state, from ocean to forest to wetlands to mountain to sagebrush steppe. In some cases, we work across political borders, following ecoregions, like in the Klamath Basin, where our work extends into Northern California.
We acknowledge that even “Oregon” is a term that has issues, as Oregon is a colonial boundary that was placed on the land, bisecting both tribal homelands and bioregions. We recognize this challenge with the name, and more broadly with living and working on land that has been colonized.
What else is Bird Alliance of Oregon doing to make the organization a more welcoming place?
Bird Alliance of Oregon’s equity work goes back decades, but has increased drastically over the last decade. Our name change is a continuation of that evolution and work. The organization has invested in shifting its internal culture through staff trainings, board and staff recruitment, programing and advocacy, and the creation of new and updated policies. Those internal changes have resulted in reducing barriers and connecting with more audiences. Examples of previous and ongoing equity work include:
1. Increasing Affordability Through Sliding Scale and Free Programming
Over the last few years Bird Alliance of Oregon has made all our camps for kids sliding scale to ensure more children have access to nature education. Other sliding scale programs include Bird Days of Summer, Accessible Outings for people with disabilities, and the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. Free programs include outings, bird song walks, Swift Watch, Hawks and Hot Chocolate, and other special events.
2. Affinity Outings
We work with partners to offer affinity outings for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities, and work internally to offer accessible outings for the disability community.
3. Green Leaders Program
The Green Leaders is a program done in collaboration with Hacienda Community Development Coalition. It’s a seven month mentorship program for youth ages 15 to 20 who are a part of the Hacienda CDC community. Participants begin by receiving education in the natural history and ecology of the Pacific Northwest while simultaneously undergoing their own personal development. Building off these foundations, youth learn, design, and lead activities for children and families within the Hacienda community.
4. Portland Clean Energy Fund
The Portland Clean Energy Fund was Oregon’s first-ever community of color–led environmental ballot measure, envisioned by a handful of leaders who organized a core coalition, including Bird Alliance of Oregon, that ultimately helped pass it into law. Since it became a law, we’ve continued to work to strengthen the program and support efforts like increasing green infrastructure.
5. Increasing Access to Nature Through Securing Urban Greenspaces
Beginning in the early 1990s, Bird Alliance of Oregon and allies began organizing around the creation of a system of protected greenspaces on the urban landscape. Three decades of continued organizing and campaigns has resulted in nearly $1 billion of public investment in Metro’s greenspace system, with a continued focus on equitable access for all of the region’s residents.
6. Advocating for Urban Trees
For over a decade Bird Alliance of Oregon has worked to increase protections for street trees, knowing that low income communities and communities of color are more likely to have fewer trees, leading to hotter temperatures.
7. Willamette River Superfund
Over the last 20+ years, this flagship project has integrated environmental justice and conservation goals while holding polluters accountable to clean up the Willamette River. The site is contaminated with 29 compounds that pose a risk to human health and 89 compounds that pose a risk to ecological health. The contamination presents a real risk to people, especially those who eat resident fish from the river, fish and wildlife populations on this stretch of river and our economy.