Conservation History Provides Lessons We Should Heed

By examining our past, we can navigate toward a better, safer future.

High on the shelves in our art room sits a series of hardbound volumes. Each several inches thick, they hold issues of Bird-Lore, Audubon’s predecessor in print and spirit, dating back to 1899. The stitched black-and-white pages contain the history of the Audubon societies, which eventually formed Audubon, and in no small way a history of the conservation movement itself.

It’s reassuring, this history. It feels solid. It also feels practical. After all, to flip an old aphorism on its head, if we remember the past, we are not condemned to repeat its mistakes. We can make better choices for the future.

The feature stories in this issue grapple with that concept. Our cover story investigates how the chemical carbofuran—after being pulled from shelves due to its extreme toxicity—has not only persisted as a pesticide in some places but also become weaponized against wildlife globally. 

The inmates we spoke with for our story on the Sagebrush in Prisons Project can’t escape the repercussions of their past choices. But they can opt to pursue a more enriching present, for themselves as well as species like the Greater Sage-Grouse, which benefit from the sagebrush seedlings they coax to life.

But perhaps no one understood as intuitively as Joseph Grinnell the extent to which the past could inform the future—at least when it comes to birds. The naturalist’s meticulous, century-old studies of California wildlife are, by design, giving modern scientists insights into the adaptability of species in the face of change. 

During his life, Grinnell wrote for Bird-Lore, and the editors published a tribute after his death in 1939. And so it seems especially appropriate that, in the feature about his work, the font used for the headline is based on the Bird-Lore nameplate in the 1930s. Inspired by the high-contrast brush strokes and “killer serifs,” Audubon graphic designer Alex Tomlinson set about developing that handful of letters into a full alphabet.

Alex is still refining the font, but we’re excited to debut it in our latest issue, which you can see in the photo above. Taking a cue from history, he has aspired to create something new and improved.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2020 issue as "About Time." To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.​