Originally written for the 100th Anniversary in 2014 by Ruth Smith and Robert A. Quinn
During the late 1800’s hunting of birds was common. They were harvested for food, shot for sport and collected for decorations on ladies’ hats. It is estimated that 200 million birds lost their lives annually for the millinery trade. Hats were decorated with feathers, wings and entire birds. Ladies of fashion from London, Paris, New York, Boston and throughout the world unknowingly contributed to the rapid decrease in the population of egrets, herons, terns and many song birds.
Ornithologist Frank Chapman walked the streets of New York and, on two afternoons, tallied 40 species and 173 individual birds on the hats of the women he passed. Cedar Waxwing, Common Tern, Northern Flicker, Bobwhite, Snow Bunting, and Baltimore Oriole topped the list.
George Bird Grinnell who studied with Lucy Audubon, widow of the famous painter and naturalist John James Audubon, became the editor of Forest and Stream magazine (1876- 1911). In an 1883 issue, he wrote an editorial that launched the “Audubon movement”. He suggested the formation of “an association for the protection of wild birds and their eggs, which shall be called the Audubon Society.”
For more information on the life and controversy surrounding John James Audubon, see the following articles published by the National Audubon Society:
The Myth of John James Audubon (July 31, 2020)
What do we do About John James Audubon (Spring 2021)
Note: New Hampshire Audubon is independent and unaffiliated with National Audubon.
Many people, including some in New Hampshire heeded this call. In 1897, a group of 30 women met in Manchester to form the New Hampshire Audubon Society. They took pledges to protect birds and to stop using feathers for “ornaments of dress or household furniture”. One of the first goals of the new society was to have ornithology put into school curriculum and taught in all schools. Unfortunately, this group was short lived, but the movement was not.
Though the Audubon movement made progress elsewhere during the first years of the 20th century, there was still work to be done. On November 25, 1913, several men and women interested in bird protection met at the Unitarian parsonage in Nashua. A committee was formed to investigate the possibility of forming a formal association for bird protection. A second meeting was held at the First Unitarian Congregational Church on February 26, 1914. At this time, a constitution and by-laws were adopted and a slate of officers was elected. The Audubon Society of New Hampshire (now New Hampshire Audubon) was born. The first officers were General Elbert Wheeler – President, General George E. Anderson and Waldo F. Hubbard- Vice-Presidents, Rev. Manley B. Townsend – Secretary and Herbert E. Kendall – Treasurer. All of the officers were from Nashua. Edward H. Forbush (a noted ornithologist of the time) and Winthrop Packard attended and offered assistance from their experience in Massachusetts. Annual dues were set at $1.00 and Life Membership at $25.00. Membership was free for teachers.
Our founding was a direct response to the wanton killing of birds to adorn women’s hats and for food. Ironically, Martha, the very last Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in September 1914. This was a species whose flocks darkened the skies, taking hours to pass overhead and was considered the most numerous bird on the planet. Yet it was hunted to extinction, used primarily for food.
In the November-December 1914 issue of Bird Lore, Manley Townsend gave the first “state report” to the national association. After only eight months, membership stood at 307 and income from life memberships was $425. During this time the State Forester had “offered to cooperate with us to make all the forest reservations in the state into bird sanctuaries – a matter of great importance.”
In the 1915 issue of Bird Lore, Rev. Townsend reported that membership had increased to 548, with over 100 members being teachers. Rev. Townsend also spent considerable time cultivating Junior Audubon members. By year end, 111 Junior Audubon classes had been formed with a membership of 2230. He stated that “Every child interested becomes a missionary and teacher at home, influencing fathers and older brothers for bird protection. A little child shall lead them.” Another triumph for the Society that year was the defeat of a bill in the legislature that would have permitted the killing of herons and Belted Kingfishers.
This educational work and legislative efforts laid a foundation for future work of the New Hampshire Audubon Society.
Similar to the weather in the month of March, the second quarter century of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire (as it was known in those years) came in like a lamb as the damaging effects of the Great Depression and World War II were dauntingly manifest. But the strong foundation of the Society, built by the likes of Rev. Manley Townsend and General Wheeler (See “The First 25 Years” in the NH Audubon Afield, Winter 2013-2014) was resilient enough that the organization persevered. It awakened from its doldrums in the 1950s and positively roared into the 1960s, like the proverbial lion.
Even though it took a few years for that re-invigoration to become obvious, the seeds were sown at the 30th Annual Meeting in 1943 when the Directors voted to resume publishing the Bulletin (the Society’s only publication), broaden the Society’s approach from birds to include all wildlife, set up educational programs, hold meetings around the state and start a membership drive. They also elected an entirely new slate of Directors. Basically they started over, almost from scratch! The driving forces behind this re-birth were Professor Charles F. Jackson of the University of New Hampshire (President), Doug Wade, Naturalist for Dartmouth College (Secretary, and Editor of the Bulletin), and Louise Forsyth (Treasurer).
In 1947 Ludlow Griscom, acknowledged Dean of 20th century birding, spoke at the Annual Meeting which was a collaboration with the New Hampshire Academy of Science. A more academic approach to bird life became noticeable in the Bulletin, replacing the original sentimental attitude.
The post-WW II economic struggles of the organization continued and the quality of the Bulletin declined so the Society ceased publication in 1949. But hope grew, as did the membership, from its nadir of 120 in 1943 to 346 in 1944. The Annual Meeting in 1948 “… marked an important turning point in the history of the Society…” as written by Pauline Merrill in her “History of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. Part III” (NH Audubon Quarterly, Vol. 17, #4, October 1964). The Directors revised the original Constitution and the objectives of the Society, the first Newsletter came out in June 1948, and Tudor Richards became a Vice President. No one knew at that time that Tudor’s impact on the Society would be one of the biggest stories of the subsequent 35 years. In 1949, Tudor became the Editor of The Newsletter, and the first concerns over “the insecticide problem” (DDT) were voiced by the Society, just one example of the forward-thinking actions the Society would take.
The pace of growth and change with the Society accelerated tremendously in the 1950s and these are just a few of the highlights. In 1950, Claire Batchelder was appointed Education Director. Claire’s tenure in this position was one of the most productive and successful volunteer efforts ever by one individual in the organization’s history. After 14 years, she received a national award in recognition of her educational work with the Society.
In 1951, The Newsletter evolved into New Hampshire Bird News with Barbara Richard’s hand-drawn Common Loon on the cover. This began an era of “…improved and systematic amateur ornithology…” (Merrill). All bird records were compiled and published seasonally in systematic fashion in New Hampshire Bird News with Vera Hebert as records editor, “…forming what is probably the most permanently valuable feature of the Society’s publication…” (Merrill). Vera’s modest initial efforts at making the data more consistent and systematic would ultimately result in the impressive and important publication we have today, New Hampshire Bird Records. New Hampshire Bird News continued to be published until 1961 when it became the New Hampshire Audubon Quarterly.
In 1953, Tudor was elected President of NH Audubon and he was also Vice-Chair of the NH Natural Resources Council, formed in 1952 by a consortium of dozens of environmental groups. The Rideout Sanctuary (acquired in 1930) was sold to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the proceeds put into a fund for sanctuaries. NH Audubon opened its first office in Concord courtesy of Claire and Leon Batchelder who generously shared part of their office space with the Society.
The first field trip as part of an Annual Meeting was conducted to the Isles of Shoals in 1953 and the next year, Kimball Elkins was named the first Field Trips Chairman. He greatly expanded the field trip program. Tudor’s Annotated List of the Birds of New Hampshire was published and a joint NH Audubon and NH Fish and Game Department bird field checklist was issued in 1954. In 1957, membership reached 500 and a bequest of $34,000 came from Eleanor E. Whitcomb, by far the largest received by the Society at the time.
In 1958, there was a major effort to draft, support, and successfully pass a Birds of Prey protection bill. It was the Society’s first major legislative success at the State level. Before this law was enacted it was still legal to shoot hawks and owls! The first opposition to a highway through Franconia Notch was raised, an issue that would become significant in the next 25 years.
In 1961, the Bear Brook Nature Center was established in cooperation with what was then the State Department of Recreation. The acquisition of the Pondicherry property was the biggest story in 1962 and 1963 and there were successful land acquisition efforts to protect salt marshes, thanks to the hard work of Robert Rathbone. Regular radio programs featured the Society, and Jane Grant became membership Chairperson beginning her long tenure with the organization.
A big 50th anniversary celebration in 1964 featured Roger Tory Peterson as the guest speaker with a turnout of 300 people! For the first 50 years of its history, everything had been accomplished by volunteers! Membership had expanded to 835, membership dues were $3.00, 28 statewide field trips were run, and 150 acres of salt marsh had been protected. Pondicherry was dedicated as a Sanctuary and Wildlife Refuge with a management agreement with the NH Fish and Game Department. The Society continued to be forward-thinking with more concern expressed about DDT.
The Audubon Society reached its 50th year with tremendous accomplishments and momentum just as the national environmental movement was about to begin.
The second 50 years of New Hampshire Audubon’s history began with the added momentum of a national environmental movement. As the organization celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1974, the first Executive Director, Tudor Richards wrote “… more has happened in the last ten years than occurred in the previous fifty.” The following is a sampling of some of the outstanding achievements of your Society between 1965 and 1989.
One of the most important and momentous actions in the entire history of the Society occurred in 1966 with our participation in a project with the unassuming name of “Conservation Services”. Conservation Services originated with a large grant from the Ford Foundation which was channeled through Massachusetts Audubon to stimulate membership growth in some of New England’s private conservation organizations. One outcome of that investment was that membership in New Hampshire Audubon (NHA) more than doubled from about 1000 in 1966 to over 2000 in 1968!
Between 1965 and 1989 a remarkable number and variety of other successful projects were completed. NHA continued to grow as reflected below:
The membership continued to grow and topped 5,000. With the expansion of Audubon House in 1986 came a nature store, classroom and large meeting room. Additional staff hired included Jackie Tuxill, Adair Mulligan, Chuck Gibilisco, Mary Carr, Josie Gemmill, Stephen Walker, Diane DeLuca, Ruth Smith, Becky Suomala, Iain MacLeod to name a few of the longtime stalwarts.
Ten Chapters were set up throughout the state and many are still active today.
One of the most important efforts ever undertaken by the Society, and one which was spread across all departments, was helping to pass a State Endangered Species Program bill in 1979. We then took the lead in raising money, setting up the projects, and doing a lot of the actual monitoring work during the Program’s early years.
An active environmental education program has been a strong niche for Audubon within the state. The Paradise Point property on Newfound Lake was acquired and a Nature Center built and staffed (seasonally). The much acclaimed and award-winning Project S.E.E. was a resounding success and was ultimately taken over by the Concord Union School District. A fledgling summer nature center was established in Rye at Odiorne Point State Park in 1973, in cooperation with the State Parks Department, and that program would grow to eventually become the multifaceted Seacoast Science Center. A modest education program was also started at Willard Pond in the early 1970s. In 1983, a summer day camp program was launched in Concord which would later expand to other centers.
Weekly radio programs are expanded, thanks to Stacey Cole (Chairman for Public Relations).
NHA properties doubled in size when Willard Pond in Antrim was added in 1971. Over these 25 years other new properties of note were added including Brookside in South Hampton, the Ashuelot Great Blue Heron rookery, and what was to become the Deering Wildlife Sanctuary. In 1980 the Society’s first wildlife management plan was written and habitat management work began at Deering. One of the most remarkable stories related to an NHA property occurred in 1976 with the discovery and identification of bones from the extinct Great Auk (a large, flightless seabird that became extinct in the mid- 19th century due to hunting) on an island in the coastal salt marshes. The reason these remains were discovered was due to a mandatory archaeological dig required before the construction of the Seabrook nuclear power plant.
NHA was involved in prestigious land protection activity as the coordinator of the Local Initiative component of the Trust for New Hampshire Lands, a large-scale statewide land conservation project.
NH Audubon has a long history of lobbying for conservation and one of the most important land use laws ever passed in New Hampshire, the Current Use law, was promoted by the Society for five years before being enacted by the Legislature in 1968. This pioneering act allowed land to be taxed at its “current use,” helping landowners maintain ownership of large acreages. This effort helped create the conditions that eventually led to the formation of our strong local land trusts. In 1981 Jackie Tuxill was hired as the first paid Director of Environmental Affairs. She coordinated a national Conference on Acid Rain held in New Hampshire at which the Rev. Jesse Jackson was a memorable speaker. She led NHA’s effort for the successful passage of the Native Plant Protection bill (with much help from then State Senator Susan McLane). Jackie was deeply involved in the Endangered Species Program (ESP) legislative work as well. She even became the Acting Director for part of 1986. Kirk Stone and others followed Jackie’s lead on the Environmental Affairs staff.
One of NHA’s first ever organized wildlife projects was the Loon Survey that was conducted in 1970. It was so successful and generated so much interest that after continuous annual growth it evolved into the permanent and autonomous Loon Preservation Committee. In 1977 Carol Foss was hired as the Education Director but she soon became the lead biologist in what would become the Wildlife (Conservation) Department. Carol was largely responsible for the phenomenal growth from nothing to a full-fledged State Endangered Species Program in 1979 and 1980. You can read more about the major efforts of the Department in her article.
In 1989 the third quarter century of the NH Audubon came to a fitting and climactic close when for the first time in 40 years Bald Eagles nested once again at Lake Umbagog, in the same tree that housed the last nest 40 years prior. This exciting event was to portend one of the major stories of the last and final 25 years of our first century.
The most recent 25 years of NH Audubon’s history, like much of our past, included ebbs and flows. A few downturns were balanced by exciting growth in programs, centers, land acquisitions, legislative successes and wildlife conservation milestones. As we complete our first century, the overall trend is upward, as we continue, with the help of our donors, partners, volunteers and friends, to protect and enhance NH’s natural environment for wildlife and for people.
The early 1990s was a time of building and expansion. Staff and volunteers at Audubon House (what is now the McLane Center) delivered school programs throughout the state and offered adult and family programs in Concord, seasonally at Paradise Point and at some NH Audubon sanctuaries. Active chapters, as many as 12 at one point, enabled members in all corners of New Hampshire to engage in the organization through local programs and field trips. The idea to bring programs to more people hatched a plan to establish centers in other parts of the state.
After providing summer programs at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye since 1977, NH Audubon became the managing partner of an expanded facility known as the Seacoast Science Center in 1992. Working with the Friends of Odiorne Point, UNH Cooperative Extension/Sea Grant and the State of NH, Division of Parks, NH Audubon staff began to offer year-round programs and summer day camp on the coast.
In 1995 a successful public-private partnership was also established to operate the Amoskeag Fishways Learning Center in Manchester as an outreach arm of NH Audubon (NHA). Working with Public Service of NH, NH Fish and Game Department and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, NHA helped develop new exhibits and staff the fish ladder facility. A presence in New Hampshire’s largest city offered opportunities to reach even more people.
Involvement in the Manchester area expanded with the purchase of the Brown Farm in Auburn in 1996 and the 1998 construction of the Massabesic Audubon Center (MAC). Programs at the center, outreach to area schools and a day camp was launched. With this undertaking, the organization established its first year round center completely owned and operated by NHA beyond Concord.
The partnership model continued with the establishment of the Prescott Farm Audubon Center in Laconia in 1998. The Pardoe Family and Prescott Conservancy worked with NHA to support staffing, program development and the ultimate construction of an energy efficient program building (2005). Local schools were engaged in regular programming, thanks to support from Antioch University New England’s CO-SEED program. A day camp was offered at Prescott Farm, bringing the total number of camps to five. Satellite camps were established in Durham and Newbury to reach children in areas not served by NHA centers.
By 2001 the Seacoast Science Center set sail as an independent organization, continuing to cooperate with NHA. Ultimately Prescott Farm also fledged into the independent Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center. NHA is proud to have been the incubator of these successful programs, just as it was with the Project SEE (Science and Environmental Education) program in the Concord School District in a previous decade.
Meanwhile the Concord headquarters expanded with the construction of a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified “green” facility which accommodated expanding programs, including popular preschool lessons, teacher workshops, adult classes and facility rentals. The McLane Center opened in 2006.
Conservation success occurred on many fronts. The return of nesting Bald Eagles to New Hampshire (1989) was followed by steady growth of their numbers over the following years. In 1998 the Umbagog eagles were joined by a second pair of breeding eagles on Nubanusit Lake in Hancock. Eagles established territories along the Connecticut River, the Lakes Region, Seacoast, and Merrimack Valley to the point where over 40 nesting territories were monitored in 2014.
A similar trend occurred with Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys. Along with NH Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, NHA staff and volunteers spent countless hours monitoring these birds of prey to help increase their success. In 2001 Peregrine Falcons expanded their nesting sites to include an office building in downtown Manchester. A camera was installed at this nest enabling the public to observe as chicks hatch and grow each spring.
In 1997 NHA spearheaded an overwhelmingly successful and innovative program to attract nesting terns back to the Isles of Shoals. Using non-lethal methods to deter gulls and decoys and sound recordings to attract terns, Common Terns resumed nesting. Steady growth from six pairs in 1997 to 1,687 pairs in 2002 surely spelled success.
Common Loon protection continued through the work of the Loon Preservation Committee which expanded, built a new center in Moultonborough and became an official affiliate of NH Audubon.
After years of field data collection, NHA published the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New Hampshire in 1994 – the most massive and complex volunteer project the organization had ever undertaken.
Several other major initiatives and multi-year projects were implemented in the 1990s including the Wetlands Protection Project to design tools for protecting freshwater wetlands; a project to document trends in bird populations within the White Mountains; the Northwoods Project exploring ways to conserve the expansive woods in northern New England and New York; and the Comparative Risk Project. The 2000s found the Conservation staff working on a Biodiversity Project which integrated education and sanctuary efforts to expand awareness of the diversity of wildlife in the state.
Citizen science projects such as dragonfly, vernal pool, and nighthawk surveys, continuing the Backyard Winter Bird Survey, launching raptor observatories on Pack Monadnock in Peterborough and Carter Hill in Concord, provided opportunities for the public to interact with and assist biologists.
Working with partner agencies is a common theme throughout NHA’s history. Projects such as the Important Bird Areas, Great Bay Partnership and the state Wildlife Action Plan are examples of how the conservation staff has provided leg work and brain power for many important wildlife conservation efforts in the state.
Working hand in hand with the conservation staff, the policy (formerly Environmental Affairs) staff and volunteers have been a vigilant presence in the State House and at the table with decision makers throughout the state. Advocating for essential programs such as LCHIP (Land and Community Heritage Program) and conservation license plates; battling for native plant protection, reduction of various air pollutants, gasoline additives, and use of lead fishing tackle; promoting responsible highway expansion and energy projects, NHA always relied on sound science to back up our stance. For this kind of work NHA received the 1994 and 1996 EPA Environmental Merit Award.
This quarter century saw a significant expansion in properties acquired by NHA. Ten additional properties, totaling nearly 900 acres brought the sanctuary holdings to 39 parcels and approximately 7,600 acres. In some cases existing properties were expanded, including two of the largest sanctuaries, Willard Pond in Antrim and Stoney Brook in Newbury. Some properties were acquired to provide habitat protection for rare plants or wildlife (Watts Sanctuary in Effingham, Bear Mountain in Hebron, and the Smith Sisters Sanctuary in Newmarket). The portfolio of wildlife sanctuaries was expanded to include salt marshes and fields, mountains and diverse forests, riparian corridors and islands, and grew to include holdings in each county of the State. NH Audubon also took on the responsibility of holding and monitoring numerous conservation easements, ensuring that these privately-owned parcels of land would never be developed.
Membership numbers are once again growing as we close out our first century. The organization is engaged in exciting programs, essential conservation work, active policy efforts, important land projects and growing support from new, returning and long term members, donors and sponsors.
NH Audubon entered into an association with the National Wildlife Federation and became an official NWF affiliate in 2011. This partnership has opened doors for collaboration on policy, conservation and educational activities and provided opportunities for NWF members to learn more about NHA.
NH Audubon is needed now more than ever to advocate for wildlife in the face of complex conservation challenges such as climate change, development pressure, new classes of pesticides, and threats to birds that cross the hemisphere.
We enter our second century with the knowledge that we stand on the shoulders of thousands of hard working and caring individuals who have persevered through the past 100 years to do good work for wildlife and the natural environment. We look forward to carrying that legacy into the future.