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for people who care about the West

The name might be green, but not the group


When it comes to environmental, wildlife or habitat issues, it's smart to be wary of names and titles. I was reminded of that recently when a group called the Nebraska Habitat Conservation Coalition gathered to consider strategies for halting habitat protection for wildlife along the Platte River.

That's right. The Habitat Conservation Coalition opposes habitat conservation. The group - which consists mostly of natural-resources districts, public-power districts and irrigators - is organizing opposition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposed designation of critical habitat along the Platte River for the threatened piping plover.

I have no problem with the group's stated goal of obtaining more time for public comment. Public discussion is the American way. But if you're against habitat conservation, don't hide behind a phony name that implies otherwise.

Here's another example: I figured the National Wetlands Coalition must be a group that supports the preservation of our vanishing wetlands. Wrong. I discovered that it heartily supports developing those wetlands. It's composed of oil, construction and other land-use interests - including Exxon, Shell, Kerr-McGee and the American Petroleum Institute - and it's powerful. It has helped to remove legal protections for as much as half of the country's wetlands.

America the Beautiful surely must be a group that advocates preserving our wildlife or other natural treasures. Oops! This is the name of a corporate group that promotes packaging and has no use for recycling.

The Global Climate Coalition wants to stop all efforts to slow the burning of fossil fuels and it continues to deny the overwhelming evidence of global warming. Thankfully, this group is falling apart as we speak - Ford, DuPont, Daimler Chrysler, Texaco, GM and many other corporations have abandoned it because it's too extreme.

A real beauty is Citizens for the Environment: Its timber and chemical corporation members are involved in education efforts that combat both recycling and energy conservation.

There is also a group called the Abundant Wildlife Society, its members Wyoming-based cattlemen and cattle industry backers. Silly me - I always thought the cow was a domesticated animal.

Many "Friends of the River" groups have sprung up in the West, most of them genuinely concerned about the deteriorating condition of America's beautiful rivers. But one Friends of the River group in Massachusetts was partially funded by an off-road vehicle dealer and it persuaded citizens to vote against scenic status for a river. Now there's a river with some false friends.

In my home state of Nebraska, we boast a unique group called C-POW, short for Committee of Pollution by Waterfowl. In this case, it's not the name but the cause that confuses.

On the surface, the group doesn't like duck and goose manure. Hey, who could possibly be in favor of duck and goose manure? Beneath the surface, however, the group is against much more than that. It opposes using Platte River water for anything other than irrigation.

It has tendered the theory that more habitat for waterfowl will lead to more waterfowl, which will unfortunately lead to more waterfowl manure, which will lead to more sickness and disease among people like you and me. C-POW is a by-product of Nebraskans First, a group whose name has nothing to do with college football, but implies that Nebraskans should come before Kansans, Iowans, South Dakotans and everyone else who lives outside the state's borders. The group cries foul anytime anyone feels Platte River water should be used for something other than watering crops.

"Irrigators First" would be much more honest and up front as a name, but maybe the folks of Nebraskans First felt that wouldn't attract much support.

It could be that I should give some of these organizations the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the Nebraska Habitat Conservation Coalition merely shortened its name for simplicity's sake. It's really the Nebraska (Let's Do Away With) Habitat Conservation (for Piping Plovers, Who Aren't All That Threatened Anyway) Coalition (of People Who Oppose All Environmental Regulations, Especially If They Might Take Away Some of Our Water). That's more like it.

Pete Letheby is a newspaper editor and columnist in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Pete Letheby

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].