Same Mission, Now Searching for a New Name

by Ali Berman, Communications and Marketing Director

As we hope all of you saw in our last Warbler, after much deliberation, Portland Audubon has announced its decision to drop the name “Audubon” and find a new name that better reflects our mission and values. We’re thankful to be in good company: Seattle, Madison, New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. chapters have decided to change their names as well. Now we start the process of seeking input from the community, hiring a firm to help us select a name, and then finally debuting our new name to the world. If you missed our original announcement, you can view it here.


Western Tanager singing from atop a snag.
Western Tanager, photo by Scott Carpenter

While our name will change, our mission remains the same: to inspire people to love and protect birds, wildlife, and the natural environment upon which life depends. With a new name we have the opportunity to better tell our story and communicate our pivotal role within Oregon advancing conservation, education, and land restoration, and creating more equitable access to nature. We also get to help make that mission more easily understood for the public, including the significant number of people who don’t know the name Audubon or associate it with birds, conservation, or nature education. And we get to move away from a name that communities of color have expressed is harmful and a barrier to participating in our work and programs.

In addition to the survey, we plan on soliciting feedback from many members of the community, ranging from our own staff members to volunteers to community partners, to people we haven’t yet been able to reach. We’re in the early stages of designing that process but will be excited to share more information with you in the July/August Warbler.

We’ll then work to understand the feedback and find a name that reflects our deep history of conservation, mission to inspire people to love and protect wildlife, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We’re putting together a team of staff, board members, volunteers, and partners who will be charged with overseeing this process. In the coming weeks, look on our website to see who will serve on the renaming committee. When bringing together this committee, we wanted to ensure we had individuals who each held a different expertise or perspective and all who care deeply about our mission.

We had hoped that National Audubon would also decide to change their name, allowing all 450 chapters to adopt the same name and maintain the continuity of the shared brand. In March National Audubon announced that they plan to keep the name Audubon, a move that has been controversial and has sparked backlash from their own staff members, other chapters, and the public. While in the future we will no longer share a name with National Audubon, we plan on continuing to be a part of the network of chapters around the country. We know that some of our most important work is done alongside our 10 sister chapters across the state.

After we announced our own decision to drop Audubon, hundreds of people wrote to us, from members to volunteers to partners to complete strangers. The majority of the people who reached out expressed excitement and gratitude for the decision. Many noted that it made them proud to be a member here. A number of people also expressed concerns, and at times significant disagreement with the decision. What we know for sure is that everyone who took the time to write or call us cares deeply about the organization and the work we do.

As we noted in our announcement, while John James Audubon is best known for his drawings of birds and contributions to ornithology, he also enslaved and sold Black people, was anti-abolitionist, and robbed the graves of Native Americans and Mexican soldiers to secure human remains. Those human remains were then used in phrenology, a study of human skulls that was used to argue that people of color were inferior to white people. To those who were excited by our decision to move away from Audubon, this change signifies an effort to make the environmental movement and our own organization a more inclusive place for all people. To those who expressed concern or disagreement, they feared we were judging a historical figure by today’s standards and giving up a name that to many is synonymous with bird conservation.

We recognize John James Audubon’s contributions to ornithology. His work was too influential to ever disregard. However, we do know that many of his actions go against the values we hold today, and because of that, his name is a barrier to participation for many people. We recognize that this change has trade-offs, like giving up a brand name that we’ve helped build for 121 years. While that brand has undeniable value, we firmly believe that its negative impacts will inhibit our growth, our effectiveness, and ultimately our mission. Nature needs everyone, and a name that stops people from joining the movement is a name that does a disservice to the movement.

We want to create an organization that everyone can believe in. By finding a new name and continuing our work to improve equitable access to nature for all people, we can build a more inclusive movement and make an even bigger difference for native birds, their habitat, and people all across Oregon.

We hope you’ll help us find a name that truly brings us together for nature. Stay tuned as we move through this process with you.

Take Our Survey to Help Us Find a New Name

In order to ensure we get the best possible name, we’re asking for your feedback, name suggestions, and what drives you to care about birds, habitat, and the natural world. We launched a survey for members, donors, volunteers, partners, and the larger community to share their thoughts on what we should consider when choosing a new name. We hope you’ll take a few minutes to fill it out, and share your insights with us. Many of you have been involved with Portland Audubon for years, decades, or even a half century. We know that in order to find a name that represents our past, present, and future, your voice is absolutely essential.

Take the Survey