Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP) is a welcoming, diverse, growing organization working to meet the needs of today’s birdwatchers and nature lovers. Like many streets, companies, and organizations nationwide, our name—Audubon—connects back to John James Audubon, an individual who painted birds and helped to popularize birdwatching.
- Has spent over 100 years making a positive impact in the natural world.
- Connects people to nature and makes learning accessible to people across generations and cultures.
- Is forward-thinking and committed to engaging the wider community in facing the challenges of inclusivity, climate change, and man-made issues impacting wildlife.
- Believes that by acting as a responsible steward of the nature world, we set an example to make our region a better place for birds and for people.
While we appreciate the value of John James Audubon’s artwork and the interest it built in birdwatching, we acknowledge his troublesome history. We’ve been a leader in holding discussions with Audubon chapters across the country to talk about the implications of keeping our name—or changing it. The goal is to have a comprehensive vision moving forward, one that we all can be proud of and that speaks to our successes as public-serving organizations.
We acknowledge that John James Audubon:
- Was a slaveowner and a racist
- Invented birds he’d claimed to have discovered and falsified scientific data to meet his own needs.
In keeping with our commitment to open dialogue, ASWP held public conversations about the
Audubon name and wrote about his misdeeds in our publications. We’ve discussed the issue frequently at staff and board meetings, and with colleagues across the country. We have learned that people are quick to separate ASWP from John James Audubon’s personal history—that the public views ASWP as an organization that empowers all people to connect to birds and nature.
The conversation is not over. We will continue to listen and talk as our organization grows to meet the needs of tomorrow’s birders and nature lovers.
Whether it’s the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the incident in Central Park with Chris Cooper, it is clear to anyone with a conscience that racism continues to be a pervasive problem in America. These videos provide a glimpse into the day-to-day realities that are life, and death, for people of color in our country.
Silence adds to this problem and Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP) believes that we must all reflect on, and speak to, the root causes of racism. We condemn racism and discrimination of any kind and want to do what we can to take meaningful action. We know we don’t have the answers, but are committed to listening, learning, and working every day to effect change. But I need your help. As the organization's Executive Director, I invite you to contact me directly and let me know what our staff and board should be doing to address the problem.
Sadly, because the roots of racism run deep, we know that change will not come quickly enough. Until such time, ASWP makes the following offers to everyone, but especially to our friends of color:
- You are always welcome at any of our locations and are encouraged to explore our facilities, trails, and reserves at any time. If you ever experience a problem or feel uncomfortable at one of our locations, please let me know immediately.
- If you are unable to get to one of our locations, or feel uncomfortable getting here, please let me know. We will help to find safe transportation.
- If you would like to go birding or explore nature anywhere in the area and believe you would be safer in a group, please let me know and we will find someone to join you.
ASWP is committed to making our programs, projects, and places as inclusive and welcoming as possible. Nature should be accessible to everyone. I ask you to help us with this goal and thank you for your continued support.
(412) 963-6100, ext. 11
Things you can do right now
Read recent articles related to this topic, such as:
#BlackBirdersWeek Aims to Raise Awareness, Grow Community - BirdWatching Magazine
Nine New Revelations for the Black American Bird-Watcher - Another great piece by our friend Dr. Drew Lanham from Vanity Fair
For the past few years, we’ve been sharing information about the troublesome legacy of John James Audubon – a man with whom we share a name. Through public programs, printed materials, and posting on our website, we have detailed his history of being an enslaver, anti-abolitionist, and plagiarizer, among other misdeeds. We have had long and thoughtful internal discussions and engaged graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs to research the issue and develop case studies. All of this has helped to inform our decision regarding whether we should continue to use the word Audubon as part of our name.
In March 2023, National Audubon—after completing its own lengthy decision-making process—announced that it would retain Audubon as part of its organization’s name. Conversely, a handful of chapters around the country have decided to drop Audubon from their names. Our board has made the decision to retain our current name. There were many considerations that factored into our decision, and two stood out the most.
First, we were not named for the man, we were named for the movement his artwork engendered. When Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall (the founders of the first Audubon Society) began their campaign to stop killing birds for feathers to adorn hats, they needed a word that had an association with birds. “Audubon” was an obvious choice. It is hard to appreciate now, but the images in Audubon’s Birds of America had such an impact on people that multiple towns and counties—and hundreds of streets and parks—were given the name Audubon. By the time ASWP was formed in 1916, the word had become shorthand for bird conservation and respect for nature.
Even more importantly, ASWP has worked tirelessly since 1916 to provide the very best in environmental education, habitat protection, and all things bird to people in our region. What we’ve discovered during this process is that our organization, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, is highly regarded—not just here but across the country. Few people are aware that there even was a John James Audubon.
We’ve created an organization dedicated to conservation and education work and family-friendly events. Our nature trails are open and welcoming to everyone. We’ve spent 107 years connecting people to birds and nature and making Audubon a positive word—and we’ll continue that work for generations to come.