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Use caution with special interest groups

August 31, 2008
Thomas Carney

When it comes to special interest groups we all need to be on guard. This is even more important when the group purports to promote "conservation."

If a group is trying to convince us to join its fight over a social or political issue or the war or things like that, we pretty much can judge for ourselves if its claims address our notions. Likewise, it's pretty easy to check the record to see if the spokespersons are telling the truth or not.

When the group claims to be doing things that are good for nature, however, the issues aren't always as clear. Undoubtedly, most of us would support just about any effort to help nature. But the thing is any such cause a conservation group might espouse must have something to do with science if only at its basic level.

Few of us are scientists. Fewer still have the ability to learn the science behind various natural resources issues. And fewer still have the patience needed to understand the science when it's explained to us.

And I'm talking about all groups from the national ones that focus on helping out single species to those that seem to be all-encompassing, from state level ones that push to have the personal philosophical approaches of their members enacted as law to those that try to capitalize on the public's common mistrust of the DNR.

In short, when it comes to fund-raising for their causes, special interest conservation groups rely on three general traits exhibited by the public: a desire to do what's best for nature, a lack of a nuts and bolts understanding about the specific issues and an overall lack of time, energy, focus and resources to learn the science behind each issue.

Put those together and you arrive at a fourth trait: The natural world doesn't usually trigger our logical, scientific sides but rather, our emotions. We are likely therefore to throw our financial support behind the group that best taps into those emotions.

And make no mistake: the ultimate reason any such group spends time on us is to get our money.

Since we lean towards those who appeal to our emotions, we suspend logic and engage in trust.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing compels representatives of these groups to play fair with that trust. Certainly no laws or ethics. So we end up putting our faith in people who will twist, ignore or otherwise impale the truth if doing so serves their overall cause.

One such group is the Humane Society of the United States, which, despite its name, does not run any animal welfare clinics in the country.

The HSUS claims to have about 10 million members. Last time I could find figures it had an annual budget of over $100 million. One of its chief goals is to banish hunting from the United States.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, has been quoted as saying, "We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States. ... We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state.

"Our goal is to get sport hunting in the same category as cock fighting and dog fighting."

But it's not just hunters who are endangered by the HSUS's actions. Pacelle has also outlined another goal: "We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals."

Pacelle is at the controls of a mighty fund-raising machine, a lobbying group that is aiming for change through "the ballot box." One is tempted to call his tactics "insidious," but he's using the American political system the way anyone else might use it. Just that he's not obliged to tell us the truth or to make things clear. That's all

As a case in point, consider The Wildlife Land Trust, an offshoot of the HSUS. Earlier this summer, the WLT aired a commercial on at least one local radio station. With nice nature sounds in the background, the narrator spoke in a soothing voice about the wonder and joy that will await people who sign over their land to the Trust (and in turn, of course, the HSUS).

I couldn't copy the exact words, but one part of the commercial went basically like this: "Maybe you hunted or trapped there all your life and want to make sure the land remains available for your children or grandchildren."

But if the WLT had truth on its mind, don't you think it also would mention its principle #4: "Recreational and commercial hunting and trapping are not permitted on properties protected by the Wildlife Land Trust"?

Give us your land and we'll kick your children off it.

Is it too much to ask an entity that is trying to get us to add to its power base by helping it increase its land holdings to at least dispense with the smoke and mirrors when it makes its sales pitch?

And that's why, despite this group's name, the last faculty we want to employ here is "trust."



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