The National Audubon Society is an environmentalist nonprofit ostensibly dedicated to the protection of American birds. The Society consists of nearly 500 chapters across the United States, each of which is an independent nonprofit affiliated with the national Society.
The Audubon Society was founded in the 19th century to protect birds hunted for their feathers in clothing production. With ample early funding, the Society spread throughout the US, and by its second decade, began to engage in political lobbying at the state and federal levels for environmental protection laws. Though the Society primarily focuses on the establishment of wildlife preserves, political lobbying has remained an important component of its activities and the Society has played a role in passing environmental legislation, including the Endangered Species Act.
Though the Society is officially non-partisan, it tends to support left-of-center environmentalist policy goals, including increased efforts to combat climate change and restrictions on the natural gas industry. Society personnel and family members primarily donate to Democratic candidates.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society was founded in 1896 by cousins Harriet Hemmingway and Minna Hall. The two socialites often attended upscale Gilded Age dinner parties where women wore hats decorated with the feathers of local and exotic birds acquired through the millinery industry. Hemmingway and Hall became disillusioned with the fashion and attempted to convince their guests to abandon the practice. Their efforts eventually culminated in the founding of the first Audubon Society chapter, named after John James Audubon, a 19th century naturalist and painter of American birds. 
Within two years of the first Society’s founding, 16 more chapters were established across 15 states and Washington, D.C. In 1903, the state-level groups pooled their resources to create the first Audubon wildlife preserve in Florida. Two years later, the National Association of Audubon Societies was founded. In 1940, it would change its name to the National Audubon Society. 
In addition to social activism and creating preserves, the National Association’s leadership engaged in lobbying to pass conservationist legislation. The Association achieved its first success in 1910 when it presented a bill to the New York legislature to stop the sale of plumes.  In 1913, the Society gained its first federal success with the passage of the Migratory Bird Act, which limited legal hunting seasons and ended the importation of birds for millinery. In 1918, it lobbied for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a stronger version of the bill which outlawed all hunting of migratory birds in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. 
Over the following century, the National Association became one of the most prominent environmental conservation groups in the country. It continued to expand its chapter membership, funding, and protected land preserves. The Society played roles in lobbying against the use of DDT pesticides, against international whaling, for the preservation of Alaskan lands as wildlife habitats, and for the Endangered Species Act. 
Lobbying and Politics
The National Audubon Society generally spends between $40,000 and $80,000 per year to lobby for environmentalist legislation. 
Though the Society cannot directly contribute to political causes, the donations of people reporting National Audubon Society as their employer and their family members indicate a left-of-center bent. So far in the 2020 election cycle, they have donated over $31,000 to political campaigns, 80% of to Democrats and 20% to Independents. Among the most supported politicians were former Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).  In the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) received $6,654, the most of any candidate. 
Audubon Birds and Climate Report
In 2014, the National Audubon Society released the “Audubon Birds and Climate Report.” Audubon scientists used temperature models to predict North American weather patterns to determine how the available range of migratory birds would change over the coming century. The report predicted that two-thirds of North American migratory bird species will be threatened, endangered, or extinct by 2080. 
The Society supports efforts to reduce climate change but offers few concrete policy proposals. The organization’s “Action Guide” advocates for individual behavior adjustments (like purchasing hybrid-electric vehicles), joining local environmentalist advocacy groups, lobbying state and federal governments, and voting for environmentalist political candidates. 
The Audubon Society is critical of natural gas drilling and fracking and has opposed efforts to expand natural gas exploration across the United States. Society press releases cite concerns over damage to animal habitats, forest fragmentation, waterbed contamination, and general leakage.  In February 2017, the Society endorsed a bill to require companies to capture and sell the estimated 5% of leaked natural gas production. The bill was defeated in the House of Representatives. 
In 2010, the Society surprisingly considered opening up its wetlands sanctuary in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, to oil and natural gas drilling. Due to the engineering works on the Mississippi River, the sanctuary was in rapid decline, and transitioning the lands to resource extraction to finance other sanctuaries offered a way to capitalize on the lands. Ultimately, the Society decided not to permit drilling in the sanctuary. 
2019 Endangered Species Act Changes
In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a set of regulations which prohibit a wide range of commercial and residential activities in spaces occupied by animal species that are considered to be close to extinction. The Act, which was lobbied by the National Audubon Society, has been controversial since its establishment. Environmentalists have been generally supportive, but many wish the act had more enforcement power. Meanwhile, commercial interests have criticized the Act for arbitrarily obstructing beneficial economic activity. 
In August 2019, the federal government announced changes to the enforcement of the ESA as part of the Trump administration’s deregulatory efforts.  The new rules would grant federal agencies the authority to review challenges to ESA regulations on a case-by-case basis and factor in cost-benefit analyses in determining whether to permit human activity in endangered species zones. 
The Audubon Society condemned the changes to the ESA, particularly the proposed considerations of economic costs and benefits when deciding whether to include a species on the endangered list. The Society also claims that the new rules give federal authorities more discretionary power which could be used to discount the impacts of climate change. 
In September, the Audubon Society endorsed a lawsuit brought by 16 states against the federal government for its alterations to the ESA.