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An Open Letter to the National Audubon Society: Please Stop Funding Pro-Timber Educational Materials
Published on Monday, November 14, 2005 by
An Open Letter to the National Audubon Society: Please Stop Funding Pro-Timber Educational Materials
by John F. Borowski

The National Audubon is a multi-million dollar environmental powerhouse with tens of thousands of members. A recent survey suggests that nearly 50 million Americans bird watch! Yet, go to the American Forest Foundation donor list (an organization loaded with multinational timber corporations who thrive on cutting bird habitat) and you find a most unusual “donor”: the National Audubon Society.

One-fifth of all bird species on earth are now facing extinction (some 1,212 species!) and the major cause is habitat loss: mass deforestation and fragmentation of habitat. Why is this organization (Audubon) recognized as the environmental group most associated with our feathery friends colluding with the worst forest destroyers and actually funding their education programs? With one-third of U.S. bird species facing extinction, students and their parents need accurate data on habitat loss.

The American Forest Foundation (AFF) produces environmental education materials with the earthy name, Project Learning Tree. One might suspect that any “educational materials” supported by the likes of the Weyerhaeuser, Georgia-Pacific and Sierra Pacific timber companies might be prone to omission or bias. And why would a prominently timber funded curricula have the name “National Audubon” in the midst of its donors? Is it politics, the neutering effect of trying to be centrists or maybe just a simple lack of courage to stand up? The timber industry wields vast financial assets to influence public opinion. It is unseemly to have the credibility of their omission- laced curricula validated by the “protectors of birds”: the National Audubon Society.

Some will suggest an “anti-Project Learning Tree” agenda tone to this letter. I do: I want it either taken out of every school and outdoor learning center in America or I want the curriculum to fill in the omissions. How could Audubon help fund “miseducation” materials that fail to discuss forest fragmentation, the problems caused by mass clear cutting, cutting forests and replacing them with tree plantations and total avoidance of the horrendous track record of timber multinationals? Native forests are not prone to fire, it is the replanted tree farms, dried out by winds channeled through logging roads and the disastrous after effects of years of clear cutting that is the main fire culprit.

Upon reading that Audubon continues to fund “big timber omissions” through AFF, I decided to go public with this story. Many will find it interesting that Audubon bigwigs looked to libel my efforts to “get the word out”, yet, openly pander to the timber industry’s vehement backers of forest education minus the reason why 1/5 of all birds are now endangered.

Some vital e-mail data is at the heart of this open letter and connect the puzzle pieces. I joined an “Audubon-Chat” list back in late 2001. In early January, 2002 (1/8/02 to be exact) an Audubon e-mail from Audubon Senior staff person John Bianchi (now Director of Communications) brought joy and hope to my heart. It states a simple message,

(Addressed to Ann)- Audubon does not support Project Learning Tree. I’m not sure why there has been multiple postings to the contrary, but they’re wrong. Audubon does not endorse PLT. We recommend against its use in Audubon Centers. -- John Bianchi”

The words, “ Audubon does not support Project Learning Tree” and “we recommend against its use” left me ecstatic. Overjoyed, I sat up late into the night and e-mailed this piece to a number of Audubon members, members of the environmental education community and providers of Project Learning Tree around the nation. With Mr. Bianchi’s exact message as above, I included a simple note.

“ Great news…Audubon senior staffer says NOT to use PLT…Send John Bianchi an e-mail and a great big thanks. PLT is finally being recognized for its omissions, corporate bad guy- funders and its agenda. Thanks and Blessings and freedom to you all. John Borowski”

This e-mail created a firestorm of controversy, with many PLT supporters outraged and some Audubon members nervous about the use of PLT in Audubon centers across America. I called John Bianchi in New York City to get clarification, because he now was pulling a “Bush administration ploy:” let’ s change the official transcript. In our private conversation, Bianchi admitted to me that PLT’s materials had a timber bias and had many crucial omissions. He stated if it were up to him, he would like to see its use stopped. Yet, he stated that since many people used PLT, it would upset many to take a strong stand. I have kept this to myself for a few years now, since it was a private conversation. Yet, John Bianchi attacked me in public e-mails, tried to rewrite history and succumbed to pressure put on him by pro-timber interests who dominate Project Learning Tree. Seeing Audubon’s name on AFF’s current corporate donor list forced me not to be a silent lapdog. Children, some 55 million nationwide, are now being served up this type of “corporate sponsored” curriculum.

Evidence that John Bianchi now would use “political spin” to cover up his original statement went nationwide in 2002. (I have the original e-mails and will kindly make them available to anyone who would like to read them.)

An angry PLT supporter from South Carolina who sits on the SC Forestry Commission became unglued about the buzz created over Bianchi’s statement in the 2002 e-mail Bianchi sent back a public e-mail to this individual in South Carolina that relies of bold faced lies and smacks of quisling politics.

“John Borowski does not speak for Audubon-he has modified and forwarded my statements all over the country this AM-and totally blown them up. Apparently John has little or no acquaintance with the truth. This is the last time I’ll be so naïve as to think anything I ever post to Chat won’t be either totally misconstrued or come back to haunt me out of context. Where the hell does it say we call anything in the curriculum false or misleading? I’d like to see everything you’ve been sent on this, if you don’t mind forwarding it. Thanks -- John (Bianchi, Wednesday, 9 January 2002)

I thought about John Bianchi this past August. While finishing a Power point program for teachers, comparing tree plantations to native forests (which PLT conveniently omits in its “dubious curricula”) I traveled to the Biscuit timber sale in Southern Oregon. A few years ago, the Biscuit fire had been the biggest wildfire in the United States. Now the timber industry was adding insult to injury by clear cutting the remaining live trees in the name of “forest health.” As I snapped pictures of mass clear cuts, where big, healthy Ponderosa pines had been butchered, I wondered if school children would ever learn the truth about the salvage hoax? And now, some in Congress want to “speed-up” salvage logging and replant tree farms. Fire is a natural and needed tool for forests: these forests are not sick the science behind salvage is political and rooted in timber spun lies.

Well, John Bianchi and President of the National Audubon Society John Flicker, school children are not going to learn about the this tragedy of “salvage logging” from a program you sent money to: Project Learning Tree. And they are not going to learn about how forests are not tree plantations either. They are not going to get the facts behind the massive fragmentation of native forests on public lands either from Project Learning Tree. Shouldn ’t children learn how timber multinationals have manipulated science, fought the listing of the Spotted Owl and now want the Marbled Murrelet taken off the threatened list? Will PLT curriculum discuss how a pro-“get the cut out” timber lawyer is now a Bush point person on forests? Mark Rey is orchestrating a plan to open roadless lands to logging across America. Or is it another simple omission by Project Learning Tree and the American Forest Foundation? I was told as a boy that omission is the greatest form of a sin.

Mr. Bianchi I do have great acquaintance with the truth. Massively fragmented forests, where silt chokes out ancient salmon runs and fire prone tree farms now stand in place of old growth forests, surround my home. I invite you and the entire operating committee of Project Learning Tree to visit these areas: any time. Bring along some reporters and a camera and let ’s talk about the truth. This ruthless damage is done and continues to be done by the same funders of Project Learning Tree.

The National Audubon Society stands at a crossroads. Birds, the symbol of the Audubon Society, are in great peril, mainly due to deforestation and mass clear cutting. The paying members of Audubon must have the same fervor of protecting forests as they show when they mark down the birds they have witnessed at an annual “Audubon bird count.” How will future bird watchers, indoctrinated by corporate sponsored curriculum, supported by an influential environmental groups know the truth? It will not come from PLT.

Mr. Bianchi and Audubon President Mr. Flicker must demand that either PLT fill in their “pro-timber omissions” or remove PLT from its recommended tools for education. Do Audubon members want their monies given to the likes of the American Forest Foundation? Will Audubon members stand up and demand that our children, the “future” birdwatchers, be fostered with accurate and current scientific data? The old saying, “this is for the birds” apparently doesn’t apply to Audubon and their unsavory alliance with the American Forest Foundation.

John F. Borowski is an environmental and marine science teacher in Oregon. He is an educational advisor to the Native Forest Council and has written pieces about education in the NY Times, UTNE Reader, Z Magazine and numerous other sites. He can be reached at


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