October 6, 2010.
The National Audubon Society named Donal O’Brien as the 51st recipient of its prestigious Audubon Medal, in recognition of his dedication to advancing conservation on a global scale for five decades.
A giant of conservation, O’Brien served in leadership roles in numerous organizations, including 25 years on the Board of the National Audubon Society, 15 of them as Chairman. In this role he was largely responsible for introducing a globally significant conservation initiative to the Western hemisphere: the Important Bird Area program. To date, 2,500 places across the United States, encompassing more than 300 million acres, have been identified as vital to bird survival.
“Few Americans have contributed as much to conservation as Donal O’Brien,” said Audubon Chairman B. Holt Thrasher. “He not only introduced critical new conservation initiatives to the western hemisphere, he also provided some of the steadiest and inspired leadership that Audubon ever had.”
O’Brien’s reach and influence within the conservation community is legend. In Connecticut, he was appointed as Chairman of the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality by three governors, and also served as Commissioner of the Connecticut State Board of Fisheries and Game. Elsewhere, he served as Chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, former Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Nature Conservancy, and Former President of the International Council for Bird Preservation.
In addition, the Donal O’Brien Chair in Bird Conservation through Advocacy and Public Policy has helped to mobilize grass roots activists on behalf of important conservation policies. Advocacy successes include defeat of efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act, and a ten year moratorium on oil and gas drilling at Teshekpuk Lake, a maze of Alaskan Lakes and tundra vital to an amazing array of shore birds, water fowl and other wildlife. It has also boosted federal funding for bird protection through the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
“Before joining Audubon I learned much about the huge role that Donal O’Brien played in increasing its reach and influence across the US. I was even more amazed at how he managed so many responsibilities so well,” said Audubon President, David Yarnold.
O’Brien managed his conservation duties while leading a career as partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy in New York City. He was chief legal counsel to the Rockefeller Family & Associates, and President of the Rockefeller Trust Company.
His dedication to conservation has been fueled by a love of the outdoors cultivated from childhood. An avid outdoorsman, O’Brien along with his wife, Katie, have held “birdathons” for almost 30 consecutive years in which they have counted up to 200 species in a one day and raised millions for bird conservation in the process. He is also an accomplished wood carver who has twice won the US National Amateur championship. His puffin decoys were used to help reintroduce Puffins off the coast of Maine.
Previous winners of the Audubon medal include Robert Redford, E. O Wilson, Roger Tory Peterson, Ted Turner, William Conway, Rachel Carson, Walt Disney, Stewart Udall, Julie Packard and Richard Louv.
O’Brien was honored at a dinner October 2 in Greenwich CT. Current and former Audubon Board members, as well as many friends, Audubon leaders and staff, were on hand to applaud. See video.