It would appear that the energy and extraction industries are getting tired of the burgeoning influence sportsmen and women are wielding these days in the conservation arena, and they’re spending some money on a clandestine effort to besmirch a handful of nonprofit organizations that help give anglers and hunters a voice in today’s pivotal conservation debate.
And it’s pretty sleazy, honestly.
Since last spring, a slew of letters to the editor to dozens of small to mid-sized daily newspapers around the country has appeared from a single author -- one Will Coggin -- describing some of the most influential sportsmen’s conservation groups as left-wing fronts that take money from anti-industry foundations and use that money to stifle everything from natural gas fracking to hard-rock mining.
Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Isaak Walton League, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and other groups have been targeted and labeled as “green decoys” that merely exist to keep industries from achieving their goals. The most recent letter, printed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, trashed Trout Unlimited because it accepted money from “environmentalist foundations, including some from San Francisco,” as if merely mentioning California’s fourth-largest city somehow implies that TU is guilty of carrying out some twisted, liberal “hidden agenda.”
Specifically, the letters, appearing in papers as big as the Tampa Tribune and the Knoxville News-Sentinel and as small as the Cortez, Colorado, Journal, congratulate local volunteers for the work they do on the ground in their communities on behalf of these groups, but then warn the apparently naive volunteers that they are supporting the radical left, because these organizations take money from outfits like the Packard Foundation, the Wyss Foundation or the Hewlett Foundation in order to achieve their agendas, which Coggin describes colorfully as “liberal,” “radical” and “left-wing.”
Coggin’s letters mention only the support these groups receive from their supposedly radical contributors, but never make note of the money given to these groups by industry sources such as Tiffany and Co., Conn-Edison, the J.R. Simplot Co., Freeport-McMoRan, or the countless contributions from supporters in the hunting and fishing industries. Orvis, for instance, is a huge contributor to Trout Unlimited for obvious reasons, and Bass Pro Shops just named TRCP as its conservation partner of the year.
Additionally, when mentioning Trout Unlimited in some of his letters, Coggin notes that a former Democratic congressman serves on that organization’s board of directors. The congressman Coggin references is Walt Minnick from Idaho, who, when he ran for reelection in 2010 (and lost), was endorsed by both the Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
The ongoing smear campaign apparently got its Genesis last spring in Colorado Springs at a Western Energy Alliance meeting, where Richard Berman, the CEO of Berman and Company Consulting, told industry executives that they can “either lose pretty or win ugly.” Reportedly, the nature of the conversation made some in the industry uncomfortable -- so much so that Berman’s talk was recorded and released to the media. One industry executive told the New York Times that Berman’s tactics “left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Berman’s record speaks for itself -- he’s a paid-for consultant that has made a career out of trashing the reputations of groups, people and organizations ranging from the Humane Society to labor unions to Robert Redford.
“I get up every morning and I try to figure out how to screw with the labor unions -- that’s my offense. I am just trying to figure out how I am going to reduce their brand,” Berman told executives at the meeting in Colorado, as quoted in the Times.
It would seem, despite the “bad taste” Berman’s talk spurred, some in the industry have chosen to finance Berman’s campaign, and Berman and Company has employed Coggin to blanket the media with letters to the editor denouncing targeted sportsmen’s conservation groups as left-wing fronts promoting clandestine