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Pew took a public misstep

President's Corner
May 25, 2001

by Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.

Pew Charitable Trusts took a public misstep in their letter to the editor published in the May 11 issue of Agri-News by attacking columnist John Elvin's theme that conservation easements are connected to The Wildlands Project. Pew's image may be significantly tarnished by their self-created negative publicity. Already, one rancher has telephoned me, asking, "What is a group that is known for giving scholarships to young people doing in the environmental movement?"

To understand the intensity of Pew Charitable Trust's retaliatory letter, readers of Agri-News need to first have the background information that in 1998 (the latest year for which I have data) Pew gave environmental grants of $38.6 million. They are the most influential funder of the environmental movement, according to Ron Arnold in his book Undue Influence. They create new groups and demand personnel changes in recipients, and they are "expert at creating coalitions of cross-interest groups with money to small corps of trusted agents," according to Arnold.

When Pew's spokesman opens his letter with the assertion that the columnist "mistakenly states that The Pew Charitable Trusts provides financial support to TWP (The Wildlands Project)," they are probably pretty confident that they have avoided a direct funding link to the organization going by that name.

But Pew need not directly fund The Wildlands Project at its Tucson, Arizona headquarters or the extremely expensive, affiliated WildEarth magazine published out of Richmond, Vermont, to advance The Wildlands Project effectively.

With space limitations, just one example will suffice to explain how the funding chain typical of Pew Charitable Trusts apparently works. In his discussion of funding for The Wildlands Project, Arnold points out that in 1993 and 1994 they donated $300,000 to the Western Ancient Forests Campaign, which is part of a synthetic group called The Ancient Forest Alliance. The Ancient Forest Alliance is made up of Americans for Ancient Forests, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and its Defense Fund, Western Ancient Forest Campaign, and The Wilderness Society. In 1993, Pew Charitable Trusts gave $100,000 to The Wilderness Society for a study to justify preserving ancient coastal rainforests in Pacific Northwest.
The other big environmental funders, W. Alton Jones Foundation, Surdna, Ford, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, etc., coordinated similar large donations to groups in the coalition that was advancing the Northwest Wildlands agenda. By directing money to grassroots organizations, their funds are efficiently utilized, and they capitalize on the energy and enthusiasm of these smaller organizations, while they remain in the background.

Here in the Northeast, the persuasion resulting from the money currently pouring in to the Northern Forest Alliance is testimony to the influence and power of Pew Charitable Trusts. Conservation easements are the focus.

In May, a member of the New York State Legislature shared with me a 20-page glossy publication filled with professional landscape photographs called "Investing in New York's Northern Forest-An Agenda for Land Conservation in the Adirondack Park and Tug Hill Region" authored by the newly named coalition, "New York Caucus of the Northern Forest Alliance." The Nature Conservancy is featured in the publication. The theme of the slick publication is that the State has an "obligation" to provide more money for conservation easements.

The members of the new coalition are the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Audubon New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates, New York League of Conservation Voters, New York Rivers United, and Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks. These are a "who's who" of the environmental power brokers influencing the Legislature on issues affecting upstate New York. None of the groups that would damage Pew Charitable Trusts' reputation if they were to appear with Pew in a publication going to the legislature are in the new official coalition. At the end of the publication appears the acknowledgement "The New York Caucus of the Northern Forest Alliance is grateful to the Pew Charitable Trusts for funding to produce this publication."

As intimately as I know the distribution and accumulation of State-owned land in northern New York, it is harshly clear that the environmentalists are closing in to obtain the bulk of the remaining private acreage, which is diminishing to less than 50 percent of the Adirondacks, through conservation easements and fee simple purchases. The Wildlands Project is never mentioned. But the photographs are all of land that would be "better" with protection, even though the State already owns 3 million acres in the Adirondacks.

So, just to begin to explain how carefully Pew Charitable Trusts avoids contaminating its name with direct connection to The Wildlands Project becomes a veritable opus. Arnold's book Undue Influence, mentioned above, is an exhaustive publication of scholarly research about the granting agencies and how they control the direction of the environmental movement. The environmental movement is now radicalized, with a public structure of pragmatically defined turfs.

The Wildlands Project is not so shy about crediting the "players" with whom they work in land conservation. In their summer 1998 WildEarth magazine, they list these players in a large, highlighted panel:

Land Trust Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land
The Conservation Fund
Open Space Institute
Main Coast Heritage Trust
Peninsula Open Space Trust

With the exception of the first-listed organization, which is the alliance of all of the land trusts, this list is a roster of the biggest and near-biggest land trusts in the United States. They are largely engaged in acquiring land and conservation easements and flipping them to government.

The WildEarth article notes that voluntary conservation easements are the program they advocate at present. It announces, "Please don't attempt this, however, without making a 180-degree change in modus operandi: Public confrontation is out; confidential negotiation is in."

The Pew Charitable Trusts letter has many other misleading statements, which would also take too much space to be fully refuted in a letter of this nature.

Why do they deny the leadership involvement of David Foreman in The Wildlands Project, the man who is widely known as the originator of "monkeywrenching,"?

Why do they harp on the allegation that conservation easement are "voluntary," when the landowner is pressured by taxes, to say nothing about pressure often from the land trusts themselves, to sell the conservation easements?

Why doesn't Pew Charitable Trusts mention that the simple repeal of the estate tax would eliminate one of the two most important sources of pressure forcing land into the hands of the land trusts?

Why doesn't Pew mention that the land trusts receive a real estate tax benefit for doing exactly the same thing with the land that the landowner would like to continue doing? The real estate tax, from which the land trusts are generally exempt, is the other top source of pressure to sell conservation easements to the land trusts.

Why doesn't Pew mention that the landowner who sells a conservation easement is often required to create habitat for predators, which may eat the lambs and calves on their neighbors' land?

How can Pew deny the profits that land trusts make at taxpayers' expense?

What is particularly interesting, to return to the first theme of this response, is that the Pew Charitable Trust letter also returns to that same theme. Note one of the closing statements in the Pew letter: "That's why venerable, mainstream conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Conservation Fund, and The Nature Conservancy rely heavily on easements in their work." (underlining added)

Yes, the Pew Charitable Trusts would like you to think that all their affiliations and the programs that they advocate are "venerable" and "mainstream." But judging by the projects they fund here in the Northeast, and judging by Ron Arnold's research, the radical Wildlands Project provides a consistent overarching theme for millions of dollars that they dangle to the environmental movement yearly.


Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America
Stony Creek

Reprinted from Agri-News. Agri-News, an Ag paper out of Billings, Montana, is packed with news and offers a free six-month subscription. Call (406) 259-5406.

This is part of a trio of articles on Wildlands and conservation easements.
See also:
"Innuendo and misstatement..."
"Wildlands and Conservation Easements-The Connection Between 'Em"

Back to:
Conservation Easements Environmental Groups Wildlands PRFA Home Page

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