75 years under Audubon's wing

The National Audubon Society in 1980 celebrates its 75th year of defending birds and other wildlife from the ravages of civilization. If animals could cheer, as Dr. Dolittle might say, they would certainly give howling approval to the Audubon Society's recors as one that does humans proud.

Although not always as vocal or as visible as some other, more activist conservation groups in recent years, the Aududon Society has always been a steady voice of reason, educating the public and government officials alike, pointing out alternatives to public works projects that threaten wildlife, for instance, or setting aside sancturies and nature centers for endangered animals.

Moreover, latter-day environmentalists ought not to forget that the Audubon Society was speaking up for wildlife long before ecology and conservation became fashionable. Its roots go back to 1896, in fact, when fashion dictated that well-dressed women decorate hats and dresses with bird plumes and feathers and some 5 million birds a year were killed to satisfy the demand. A group of Massachusetts residents organized to discourage the trend. Ten years later, in January, 1905, 35 state Audubon organizations linked up in a nationwide movement to defend wildlife.

Over the years, the Audubon Society supported laws to protect birds and animals. It pioneered ornithological research. Within the past year it launched an expanded scientific research program designed to provide factual information on such worldwide environmental issues as radiation, population, energy, and toxic chemicals.

Today, with 400,000 members and 435 chapters across the US, the Audubon Society still has work to do. The society's new president, Russell Peterson, describes the challenge this way: "Together, and in alliance with other citizen organizations, we can direct and hasten change in this country -- the change from wasting to conserving, from obsession with quantity to pursuit of quality, from a 'me-first,' live-for-the-moment attitude to a concern for all living things and the kind of life we bequeath to our children and grandchildren."

The Audubon Society, in short, is more than a concerned voice for birds and animals. Its conservation ethic speaks to us all.

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