Audubon Society Honors Women Conservationists

I am admittedly more sensitive than many people about the lack of attention paid to the contributions of women in science. Since I was a young girl, I have bristled at stories about women who did the same work as men — better, often enough — but whose names never were put forth for prizes, awards, or any kind of recognition. The simple fact is, more talented women have been overlooked by history than celebrated in it. Certainly, this is also true in cases of racial and ethnic inequities, and I ache to hear these stories, too. Though I do not wish to denigrate the work of talented, deserving men of any race or religion, my own hot button, quite honestly, is about women. So, I was gratified to find in my inbox today a press release about an award honoring the contributions of six outstanding women conservationists.

The Audubon Society's Rachel Carson Awards ceremony at the Plaza Hotel. Photo: The Audubon Society

The Audubon Society's Rachel Carson Awards ceremony at the Plaza Hotel. Photo: The Audubon Society

You may know the Audubon Society as the protector of birds, as well as other wildlife and their habitats. The Society’s dedication is legendary. This 200-year-old organization supports a national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, as well as educational and scientific programs. Significantly, it also awards women environmentalists for their important — and often overlooked — contributions toward conservation.

Since 2004, the Audubon Society has been honoring “visionary women whose dedication, talent and energy have advanced conservation and environmental education locally and on a global scale.” The award is named for Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, who revealed to the world the environmental tragedy of DDT and other pesticides. Carson is often said to have started the environmental movement, and the award is fittingly named in her honor.

The 2009 award ceremony, which took place on May 19 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, honored recipients Dr. Sylvia Earle; Sally Jewell; Elizabeth C. Titus Putnam; and Elizabeth Colleton, Jane Evans, and Susan Haspel.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

Dr. Earle is described by the Audubon Society as “a leading oceanographer, author, lecturer and National Geographic Explorer in Residence whose work has expanded awareness and conservation of the fragile marine environment.” Previously, she served as the chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She founded, and is currently president of, Deep Search International.

Award recipient Dr. Sylvia Earle. Photo: The Audubon Society

Award recipient Dr. Sylvia Earle. Photo: The Audubon Society

In 1970, she led the first expedition comprised solely of women aquanauts. The leader of more than 60 deep sea expeditions, Earle is also known for solo diving to a record depth of 3,300 feet. Her research is centered on deep-sea ecosystems and remote environments. You might recognize Dr. Earle as a 2009 recipient of the TED Prize. At the end of her TED Prize speech, she declared her wish that we all would work to protect the “blue heart” of our planet, the oceans — something she has been doing for decades.

Sally Jewell

As president and CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), Ms. Jewell was acknowledged for her role in environmental preservation and for her work to get children outside to play in a natural environment. REI, which markets outdoor gear and apparel, does its best to inspire, educate — and outfit — people who love the outdoors and want to protect it. Jewell currently serves on the National Parks Second Century Commission and The National Forum on Children and Nature Advisory Board. She is a member of the board of directors of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the University of Washington, the Initiative for Global Development, and the National Parks Conservation Association.  She also serves on The National Forum on Children and Nature Advisory Board and the National Parks Second Century Commission.

Elizabeth C. Titus Putnam

Ms. Putnam is the president and founder of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), the nation’s largest youth conservation leadership organization. The SCA grew out of Ms. Putnam’s vision and activism while a student at Vassar College in the 1950s. Today, as a result of her efforts, some 4,000 SCA students volunteer at U.S. parks and recreation areas, giving more than 2 million hours of their time and talents.

Elizabeth Colleton, Jane Evans and Susan Haspel

Honorees Susan Haspel, Elizabeth Colleton, and Jane Evans. Photo: The Audubon Society

Honorees Susan Haspel, Elizabeth Colleton, and Jane Evans. Photo: The Audubon Society

Environmentalism doesn’t always happen outdoors, as evidenced by the recognition of three executives responsible for NBC Universal’s “Green is Universal” Initiative. Susan Haspel, Jane Evans, and Beth Colleton are implementing a variety of green programs, including a pilot program that will serve to green NBC’s operations, reduce carbon emissions, and provide green grants totaling more than $300,000 to under-served public education programs. The purpose of Green Is Universal is to heighten awareness of environmental issues and encourage people to take positive action.


Whenever an environmentalist is singled out for his or her accomplishments, I feel deep gratitude. The road is difficult for anyone who fights to protect the planet against the financial, political, and industrial forces that seem to be hell-bent on destroying it. And when the fighter is a woman, I am even more impressed, because, in most cases, the odds she has battled have been much greater than those of her male peers. Kudos to Dr. Earle, Ms. Jewell, Ms. Putnam, and Ms. Colleton, Ms. Evans, and Ms. Haspel. I applaud you and thank you for your contributions to the collective welfare of all the travelers on this planet.

Julia Wasson

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