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Portland Audubon: History Exhibit a Strong Reminder of our Statewide Impact

From now until June 10, 2018, the Oregon Historical Society is showcasing an exciting exhibit about how two of our founders—William Finley and Herman Bohlman—launched Oregon’s conservation movement.

By Nick Hardigg, Executive Director

From now until June 10, 2018, the Oregon Historical Society is showcasing an exciting exhibit about how two of our founders—William Finley and Herman Bohlman—launched Oregon’s conservation movement. Their groundbreaking photography and outreach showed birds as few had seen them before, and helped propel this chapter from a small nonprofit into a statewide powerhouse for conservation, far beyond birds and Portland.

Finley and Bohlman risked life and limb to capture images of threatened birds and beautiful landscapes. They also travelled tirelessly on lecture circuits with suitcases of glass lantern slides, sharing the magnificent beauty of wildlife that was being decimated by the women’s hat trade. Entire flocks of birds were being wiped out to adorn hats with their plumes.

Through their pioneering efforts as photographers, organizers, and leaders of Oregon Audubon (our original name), they raised awareness of what was being lost forever and helped pass Oregon’s earliest conservation legislation: the Model Bird Act of 1903. They were also instrumental in lobbying President Theodore Roosevelt to create the first National Wildlife Refuges in the western US, at Klamath, Malheur, and Three Arch Rocks. As rumor has it, President Roosevelt arrived in Portland in 1903 wanting nothing of its crowds, instead demanding, “Where’s Finley?”

Finley and Bohlman were hugely successful with their conservation campaigns, with Finley continuing into public service. He eventually become Oregon’s first Fish and Game commissioner, until losing the job because his conservationist leanings were considered incompatible with his post. One hundred and sixteen years later, Finley and Bohlman’s effective continuum—from fostering connection with nature to raising knowledge and awareness to conservation advocacy— continues at Portland Audubon. We are known for many things. Our education programs serve thousands every year, young and old. Our Wildlife Care Center is the busiest wildlife rehabilitation center in Oregon, and the oldest in America (1938). In the 1980s, we helped establish and popularize the concept of “wild in the city”— recognizing that nature in backyards, parks, and rooftops plays a critical role providing wildlife habitat and improving our own quality of life.

Thanks in part to these strong programs in the Portland metro region, our vital statewide work—past and present— may sometimes go unnoticed. To raise support and awareness of this work, we are sharing some highlights that may cause some to rethink what “Portland Audubon” means to conservation. Our story is the dedicated work of many members, partners, donors, activists, volunteers, scientists, and educators, past and present. As the Oregon Historical Society correctly presents it, our work sprung from a foundation created by Finley and Bohlman, and the movement never stops. We hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit this remarkable exhibit. Our sincere thanks go out to the team at the Oregon Historical Society and archivist Laura Cray.

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge

As early as 1922, our impact extended beyond birds by blocking plans to eradicate rookeries of Northern Sea Lions along Oregon’s coast (blamed for eating salmon, but we showed otherwise). We also helped save North America’s fastest land animal—the pronghorn—from extinction by lobbying for creation of the 270,000 acre Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in Central Oregon (along with our partner, the Boone and Crockett Club). Today, the Hart Mountain region is recognized as an Important Birding Area, with 239 species documented, including Greater Sage Grouse, Short-eared and Burrowing Owls, to name just a few.

Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuges

In the 1960s, a longstanding effort to establish three new wildlife refuges was nearly stopped when the Oregon Legislature passed legislation barring creation of any new wildlife refuge in Oregon without local approval. Biologist Dave Marshall and a team of board members arranged a meeting with Governor Hatfield to garner his veto, protecting 11,000 acres of critical bird habitat and leaving the door open for future refuges to come.

Today, across Oregon, our conservation efforts continue in force. In coastal areas, we continue to advocate for Marine Reserves and Protected Areas, having played a major role in the 2012 establishment of Oregon’s first five Marine Reserves and Protected Areas. These offshore underwater parks protect fish and wildlife while also increasing area productivity and resiliency for the health of our entire coastal ecosystem. Just last month, protections for the Marbled Murrelet were increased when it was uplisted from “threatened” to “endangered” status by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, requiring plans for habitat protection.

Last year, we helped block the privatization of Elliott State Forest— including critical old-growth habitat—and set it on a pathway for stronger protection. Further south, in Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, we continue advocating to keep globally significant wetlands from going dry due to diversion of water for agriculture on refuge-leased lands. At Malheur, we will soon hire our first year-round staff member, continuing our work to ensure a healthy ecosystem through monitoring and restoration of Malheur Lake.

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