(The Hill) — The National Audubon Society announced Wednesday that it would retain the Audubon name despite calls to drop the reference to the 19th-century naturalist and painter who was also a slave owner and vocal opponent of abolition.
The renowned bird conservation organization, which was named for John James Audubon, said it made the decision after “a lengthy process to examine its name in light of the personal history of its namesake.”
“This is an important time for birds and our shared planet, and this decision positions the organization to focus our equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts and our conservation work where it is most urgently needed,” Susan Bell, the chair of the National Audubon Society’s board of directors, said in a statement.
“The name has come to represent so much more than the work of one person, but a broader love of birds and nature, and a non-partisan approach to conservation,” Bell added.
The society also announced a $25 million commitment to fund its diversity, equity, and inclusion work over the next five years, and vowed to continue to promote awareness and understanding about Audubon’s “problematic legacy” and the inequalities “inherent in the conservation movement.”
The Bird Union, the National Audubon Society’s staff union, slammed the board of directors’ decision Wednesday as displaying a lack of interest in “following through on their commitments to cultivate a fair and equitable workplace.”
“Their decision to double down on celebrating a white supremacist and to continue to brand our good work with his name actively inflicts harm on marginalized communities, including members of our union who for too long have been excluded from the environmental movement,” the union said in a statement.
The group also largely dismissed the society’s commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, adding that “we have heard many empty promises and declarations from [CEO Elizabeth] Gray, and have rarely seen this commitment carried out at the bargaining table.”