Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Fallacy of the National Audubon Society

Earlier this week I received an "urgent" message from the National Audubon Society asking for an "emergency" donation to them to help Audubon fight the oil spill that is about to degrade the Gulf Coast. I found this appeal for money rather surprising given that the National Audubon Society has NO legal authority or responsibility to deal with oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere else. I was also surprised that they knew how to get in touch with me electronically because I have not belonged to them since January 1982.

I used to be a strong and ardent supporter of the Audubon Society. I attended meetings and served as an officer in a couple of their chapters. I used to participate in their Christmas Bird Counts and would regularly send them money for whatever cause appealed to me. I even was a part of the September 1981 meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Audubon Society that was held in Jamestown North Dakota. It was at that meeting that my oldest daughter Jennifer handed a check (earned from recycling aluminum) to then-President Russ Peterson urging him to "stop the icky man" (her four year old name for then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt).

My disgust for Audubon began just after this Board meeting.

At the wrap up dinner on Saturday night Russell Peterson stood before the assembled Board and members and with tears in his eyes told us all how the National Audubon Society would never alter its commitment to killing the Garrison Diversion Project, a massive wasteful environmentally damaging water project in North Dakota. We all left the meeting fired up knowing that Audubon would never back down.

Three months later, in January 1982, the same President Russell Peterson fired my friend Richard Madson who was the Regional Vice-President of Audubon and stationed in Jamestown. Rich Madson had almost killed Garrison Diversion by himself yet now Peterson removed him. And he was removed because of a squabble with rich Board Member Wally Dayton and it dealt with mourning dove hunting.

Not to be out done, a year later this same National Audubon Society SAVED Garrison Diversion from being de-authorized by the United States Congress. Yes, that's right. They KEPT IT ALIVE when their stated goal a year earlier was to kill it.

Then came the famous "River Conference" in Kearney Nebraska in 1989 when then-President Peter A.A. Berle stood in front of the group and told the audience about all the wonderful things that Audubon was doing to protect the Platte River. To hear Berle speak you'd think Audubon was the savior of the earth. The only problem was that EVERY example of what Audubon had allegedly done was things that either the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission had actually DONE and Berle never once mentioned the people who did the work. Instead he took credit for what everyone else had done.

In 1990 I was in a training course on Capitol Hill and during lunch one day we were treated to a visit from Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) a long-time strident protector of the earth. During the question and answer period after lunch with the Congressman I asked him a simple question: "When lobbying you on an environmental issue, who are the two most effective organizations and who the the two least effective organizations and why them?"

The Congressman immediately said that the two most effective were the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Why were they the most effective "because they are hard-ball litigators who deal in fact." The Congressman went on to say that "When EDF walks in my office and says the sky is orange, I can expect to look out the window and see an orange sky."

He then went on to tell who were the two least effective. Without batting an eye he said "the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society." And why? "Because they deal in emotion not in fact."

In the twenty intervening years since that lunch with Congressman John Dingell I've witnessed uncountable times when all Audubon could do was spew emotion despite the facts. Many times its been with endangered species issues and quite often with wetland issues. Regardless of the issue, emotion has won out over fact.

Since moving to Sarasota I've been asked several times to get active in the local Audubon Chapter. I simply refuse to because I want nothing to do with the organization on the local level because I know how the National level thinks and operates.

This week's plea for money from them for an issue on which they have no authority (or even business being involved) is just the latest in an endless stream of emotion getting in the way of fact.

If you get this appeal in the mail don't fall for it. I certainly won't. In fact if you want to donate money to a worthy environmental cause give all you can give to The Nature Conservancy. They do what they say they will do and they don't let emotion get in the way of fact.

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