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Portland’s former Audubon group changes name to ‘Bird Alliance of Oregon'

Stuart Wells, the executive director of the group formerly known as Portland Audubon, takes a look at construction at the nonprofit's animal hospital on March 1, 2023.
Kristian Foden-Vencil
Stuart Wells, the executive director of the group formerly known as Portland Audubon, takes a look at construction at the nonprofit's animal hospital on March 1, 2023.

After 121 years of environmental advocacy, the group formerly known as Portland Audubon is changing its name to the “Bird Alliance of Oregon.”

The conservation group took its original name from John James Audubon, the American artist, adventurer and naturalist best known for the book “The Birds of America,” published in 1827. That work includes 435 stunning, life-sized watercolors of birds, and original copies are now sold for as much as $7 million.

But Audubon was also a slaveholder who criticized the abolitionist movement, saying the British had “acted imprudently and too precipitously” in emancipating people.

“Our adoption of a new name is one of many steps in our years-long equity journey to create a more welcoming place,” said Stuart Wells, executive director of the Bird Alliance of Oregon.

“John James Audubon’s legacy as an enslaver who opposed abolition and as a man who desecrated the graves of Native Americans still causes harm today.”

Wells said he’s very happy with the new name and calls it just one of many steps aimed at creating a more welcoming place.

The local organization shared its decision to drop the name “Audubon” last year and launched a community listening campaign to find a new name. Since then, it’s taken feedback from nearly 2,000 Oregonians.

But the change is a break from the National Audubon Society, which has decided to retain the Audubon name and instead spend $25 million on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Wells doesn’t know why the national society kept the name. But he said Audubon’s views on slavery and the desecration of Native American graves are unacceptable in Oregon.

“For us, we know that kind of thinking was still impacting people of color today,” he said.

Several other local Audubon groups are changing names and adopting a similar naming convention to the Bird Alliance of Oregon. For example, the Chicago Audubon Society is now the Chicago Bird Alliance. And Detroit Audubon is now the Detroit Bird Alliance.

It’s unclear at this point whether the name change will impact fundraising.

“We may have some folks that drop off,” Wells said. “But I also suspect there will be folks who are interested in joining this organization because we’re reaching out and fulfilling a promise of equity and inclusion.”
Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.