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Dylan Maddox

Discussion of AFO’s association with proposed Society for Ornithology

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Dear Members of the Association of Field Ornithologists:


As most of you are aware, profound changes have occurred in the practice of science over the last several decades that have had major consequences for professional societies in general, and ornithological societies in particular. Last spring the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) Council decided to explore avenues to re-vitalize ornithology and its professional organization and to more fully explore a vision for achieving the full potential of ornithology in the Americas. This is not the first attempt by ornithological societies to address the challenges and issues we face. The presidents of several ornithological societies met at the NAOC in Veracruz in 2006 to discuss a merging of OSNA societies. Society presidents and representatives also met in 2010 at the joint COS/AOU/SCO meeting in San Diego. The latter meeting proposed a Federation model in which societies formed agreements related to creating efficiencies in areas such as publications, meetings, and membership. Lack of forward momentum from these previous efforts led to a new AOU-initiated committee, formed of concerned ornithologists who were each members of several North American ornithological societies to reconsider options in these changing times.


The vision of the committee to form SFO was to advance the scientific understanding of birds, enrich ornithology as a profession, and promote a rigorous scientific basis for avian conservation through research, publications, education, and outreach. The committee, called the Committee for the Development of the Society for Ornithology (“SFO Committee”), spent the last year investigating the strategies used by other, successful professional societies to overcome problems such as declining membership and journal subscriptions and enhance the growth of their societies.


In February the SFO Committee met with representatives from AOU, the Wilson Ornithological Society, the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, the Neotropical Ornithological Society, Cooper Ornithological Society, and AFO in Dallas to discuss the draft plan and explore the goals and priorities for the proposed new society, so that each potentially interested society would gain an understanding of the plan. Based on input provided at the Dallas meeting, the plan was revised and is now available. The SFO “vision” document outlines options that can be taken by a single or multiple societies. It is a ‘living document’, meant to be a launching pad for further development and modification by societies interested in participating in the creation of the SFO.

Key components of the plan currently include formation of a non-profit society governed by a Board of Directors composed of professional ornithologists and members of the philanthropic and business community; management by a professional staff; a suite of journals, monographs, and books with short turn-around times; new ideas for frequent and useful communication with members; a renewed dedication to science in support of critical conservation efforts; and international efforts in outreach and education that span all ages and career stages among members.


After two days of discussion, the group that met in Dallas elected to move forward by dissolving the original SFO Committee to make way for a new committee with equal representation from all interested ornithological societies. The next step is for each of the societies, including AFO, to decide whether we are interested in continuing to participate in the process as it moves forward. At this point each society can continue to have input with no obligation to join. The plan will be revised by representatives of participating societies from April to July. A public forum for discussion will be held at the NAOC V in Vancouver, BC in August 2012.


The AFO Council will discuss the draft plan and then vote on whether to continue to participate. The Council welcomes and would very much appreciate input on this issue from AFO members prior to this conference call, and in the upcoming months. This issue is clearly pivotal to the future of ornithology and the ornithological societies we have supported over the years, and it needs to be considered very carefully.


To download the current vision document, click on ‘A vision for the Society for Ornithology’ on the OE home page, under featured articles.




Kathryn Purcell, AFO Vice President/President-elect

L. Scott Johnson, AFO President

Edited by Kathryn Purcell

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