A New Charter for Audubon Chapters

by Jim Britell, Conservation Chair, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society

Many Audubon chapters now complain about Audubon's slide into "corporate-friendly" environmentalism - this is a proposed statement of principles and values for Audubon's chapters. Posted to an Audubon list 07/00.

Environmental Principles.

  1. Protecting birds and watching birds are two different things. Bird watching is often just passive and observational: while actually protecting birds, requires personal action. A healthy Audubon chapter is a good balance of both. While there will certainly always be a role for bird watching and bird counting for outdoor entertainment and personal education, observing birds benefits only the observers, not the birds. The best and only way to love our bird friends, is to aggressively defend and protect their habitat. The main threat to birds is development and commercialization and the best way to fight this is to fight sprawl and stop the development of wild places. Any fight against development, sprawl and commercialization anywhere is a legitimate Audubon activity because it helps birds everywhere. Any Audubon activity - regardless of motivation - that discourages us from stopping developers, is bad for birds and an anti-Audubon activity.
  2. Government agencies in the US at every level who are responsible for protecting the environment and enforcing environment laws usually won't do so unless someone monitors, sues and pushes them constantly. Only through constant litigation, and aggressive and active measures will federal agencies enforce their own laws and statutes. Partnerships, round tables and win-win processes are no substitutes for and in fact are often inimical to effective activism.
  3. Pursuit of corporate donations is often inconsistent with grassroots activism. For example: if a wealthy corporation is about to give a large grant to build an Audubon Nature Center and that corporation is simultaneously pursuing real estate development on other land of theirs upon which birds depend for habitat, an activist chapter would vigorously oppose the developer even if it is certain that the gift would be lost.
  4. The priceless treasure to an Audubon chapter is the member who goes to public meetings and advocates for the resource, writes letters, and gives of their time actively protecting the environment. For example: If a wealthy Audubon member resigns a membership in a protest of a particular campaign, the activist chapter would say goodbye without a second thought. A chapter that does not have some of its "magazine subscriber members" resigning in protest from time to time, is probably pursuing insufficiently assertive advocacy.
  5. Activist chapters are not much concerned about the beneficence of large corporations, wealthy donors and foundations. If a chapter is doing the right thing for the resource, the chapter will find the resources it requires. On the other hand a chapter that trims its advocacy and pulls its punches to void offending its conservative members seems never to have enough money.
  6. The future of Audubon lies in how well it attracts younger potential activists who have Julia Butterfly - not the Nature Conservancy - as their role model. The former Audubon of white, rich, old, birders, is dying as that pool of people shrinks.
  7. While Audubon sanctuaries are of value and we must always be receptive to gifts of important parcels of hundreds or thousands of acres of important habitat, they cannot serve as an alternative to preventing development on thousands or tens of thousands of undeveloped acres. We reject corporate friendly policies that merely create "postage stamp" sanctuaries in a sea of development.
  8. All money is not green; some money is just bribery. Audubon should not accept money or advertising from, or place on its board, known polluters, corporate bad actors or those who contribute to right wing, "wise use" organizations. The Audubon reputation is too important to compromise it by accepting tainted funds from tainted people.

Organizational Principles.

  1. The number of NAS board members directly elected by the chapters should be increased from 25% to 75%.
  2. Chapters have the inherent right to create "chapter only" local memberships free from interference from any Audubon State or National office.
  3. No chapter should be subject to any national oversight or approval in seeking grants, pursuing litigation, or undertaking projects.
  4. Chapters have the right to share (or not) with NAS or a State office, any membership or fund raising lists they maintain.
  5. Activist chapters acknowledge NAS leadership as legitimate to the extent that the National board follows the above principles.

©2000 Jim Britell
All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without permission.

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