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Madison Audubon becomes Badgerland Bird Alliance

The name change aims at making the birding group more inclusive

Participants in a waterfowl ID course from last November search for birds at Nine Springs. Caitlyn Schuchhardt/Badgerland Bird Alliance

The Madison Audubon has renamed itself Badgerland Bird Alliance after a vote earlier this week.

It is one of many local affiliated chapters of the National Audubon Society that rebranded itself over concerns about namesake John James Audubon’s history. Audubon was a wildlife artist in the late 18th and early 19th century known for his illustrations compiled in the book “The Birds of America.” But he also enslaved Black people and opposed emancipation.

Members of the Madison chapter started researching the naturalist and illustrator’s history two years ago.

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After that research raised concerns, the club created a renaming committee made up in part of its chapter’s board members and leaders from other birding groups. Between March and late summer, they narrowed 125 name suggestions down to one.

Matt Reetz, executive director of Badgerland Bird Alliance, said every part of the new name reflects the group’s values. Badger was used because it is the state mammal. Land was included because it is an accredited land trust and the organization works on restoring native habitats. Reetz said a majority of the organization’s work is with birds so that word was a given.

He said the word alliance resonated with the committee, the board and its members.

“It really represents collaboration and that birds are for all, and they need all. It’s inclusive in that manner and really helps us move our work forward together,” Reetz said.

Reetz said the group sought input from the community about the name change via surveys. He found people either didn’t know what Audubon meant or associated it with harm.

“Our previous name was creating significant barriers for people to really benefit from and enjoy our work and for our work to benefit from inclusion of all people,” Reetz said.

Jeff Galligan, Badgerland Bird Alliance secretary and co-founder of BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin, was on the committee.

Galligan said the outdoors is a space for everyone to enjoy, but he said organizations with exclusive or racist names and histories do not make people feel welcome.

“The outdoors is for all of us, and I think that a connection to the outdoors is important for people to have and to pass on to their children,” Galligan said.

He said exclusion hurts people and the natural world alike.

“If you’re not aware of the issues facing our environment, our land, our resources and protecting and conserving them, that’s not good for anybody,” Galligan said. “And I think everybody needs to have a seat at that table.”

Reetz said there was some constructive criticism which the committee “took that to heart.” There was concern that a name change would erase history. He said the new name was doing the opposite.

“We are recognizing the full history of a complicated legacy. John James Audubon’s prints and his contributions to ornithology will always remain,” Reetz said. “But to celebrate that name is another thing entirely.”

Badgerland Bird Alliance is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society, although they are independent of each other. They do separate fundraising, programming and governance.

The National Audubon Society voted to keep its name in March. Both Reetz and Galligan were disappointed by this news.

A spokesperson for the National Audubon Society said local chapters have the autonomy and authority to pick their own name. A small number of chapters around the nation have opted to drop the Audubon name.

“Whatever their decisions, we will continue to support and work closely with chapters and move forward as one unified community,” the Audubon organization stated.

Reetz said the Badgerland Bird Alliance plans to keep its affiliation with the national organization.

“There’s a whole lot of work that we need to do for birds and for people, and natural resources that we can achieve better with this new name,” he said.