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How Green Became the Color of Money

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In the early summer of 1995, Jay Hair quietly resigned as head of the National Wildlife Federation. This Napoleonic figure had transformed a once scruffy, apolitical collection of local hunting and gun clubs into the cautious colossus of the environmental movement with more than four million members and an annual budget of nearly $100 million. By the time Hair left, the Federation enjoyed more political clout in Washington than the rest of the environmental groups combined.

Hair, a former biology profession who also served as a special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus during the Carter Administration, was the architect of this astounding transformation. Under the firm hand of Hair's leadership the Federation's membership doubled and it's budget tripled. His strategy was simple: market the Wildlife Federation as a non-confrontational corporate-friendly outfit. Hair created the Corporate Conservation Council and forged relationships with some of the world's most toxic corporations: ARCO, Ciba-Giegy, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Exxon, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Mobil Oil, Monsanto, Penzoil, USX, Waste Management and Weyerhaeuser. The corporations received the impriatur of the nation's largest environmental group, while the National Wildlife Federation raked in millions in corporation grants.

The conservation giant showed less deference to its members. In 1975, Dr. Claude Moore, a long-time member, donated a 367-acre tract of forest land in Loudon County, Virginia to the Federation to be managed as a wildlife sanctuary. The land provided rich habitat for an extraordinary number of birds. A Smithsonian guidebook called the area a natural gem.

Then in 1986 the National Wildlife Federation decided to sell the sanctuary to a developer for $8.5 million and use the money to help pay for the construction of the Federation's new seven-story office building on 16th Street in DC. Outraged, Dr. Moore and other members sued the Federation, alleging it had violated a contract to manage the land as a nature preserve. Moore lost. The land was sold and 1,300 houses constructed on the site.

While Hair was turning the National Wildlife Federation into a corporate-friendly operation, the Wilderness Society was being run by a millionaire from Montana named Jon Roush. Roush had formerly been the chairman of the Nature Conservancy, the most unapologetically pro-corporate of all environmental groups. 


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