Taking a Nature Black conference attendee during a sunrise meditation in the woods. Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the ANS
The main environmental organization Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) will change its name, citing the racist reputation of 19th century naturalist John James Audubon. The American ornithologist has become a more and more controversial figure in the midst of a renewed interest in his role as a slaver and anti-abolitionist.
“It’s very exciting here at ANS. We have worked for over a decade to think very carefully about the region we serve, one of the most diverse in the country, ”said Executive Director Lisa Alexander. “As we began to strive to serve everyone in the Washington area, we also began to do a lot of publicity about who Audubon was – a black slaveholder, a published white supremacist. He just didn’t seem like a suitable namesake for us.
The name change is just the most recent move towards inclusiveness within the 124-year-old nonprofit, the oldest independent environmental organization in the DC area. ANS operates two nature sanctuaries in Maryland and Virginia, and conducts a myriad of nature-related and conservation-related activities, events and classes for adults and over 9,000 schoolchildren each year. Over the past decade, the association has updated its strategic plan to include a focus on inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility for the first time in over a century. The group also created two annual conferences to spotlight environmentalists of color, Taking Nature Black and Naturally Latinos, which have attracted approximately 1,300 attendees this year. SNA also recently unveiled a wheelchair accessible trail at its 40-acre headquarters at Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy Chase.
Alexander says the organization will take a year to carefully select a new name, consulting with a brand agency as well as ANS members, partner organizations and environmentalists. In the meantime, the organization will likely use its acronym. Alexander says the ANS has been considering the idea of a name change for some time amid broader national conversations about racism and diversity, particularly with regard to the environmental movement, from racist bird names lack of diversity in conservation organizations.
ANS is the first major organization affiliated with Audubon to erase the naturalist from its name. The National Audubon Society, which claims 500 locals across the country, has condemned Audubon’s role in slavery and recognized its troubled roots. No plans have been announced to change the name.
Alexander says there is no better time for a more inclusive approach than now.
“With soaring temperatures, raging fires and increasingly deadly storms, it is clear that we cannot meet the fundamental challenges of nature conservation without engaging with all communities,” says -he. “It’s time for us to point out that we are all those who connect with nature, because let’s be honest, nature needs all of us.”