Big Oil's Investment in the NRA Could Reshape U.S. Energy, Land and Wildlife Policy
Two bedrock principles have guided the work and advocacy of American sportsmen for more than a century. First, under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, wildlife in the U.S. is considered a public good to be conserved for everyone and accessible to everyone, not a commodity that can be bought and owned by the highest bidder. Second, since President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the first wildlife refuges and national forests, sportsmen have fought to protect wildlife habitat from development and fragmentation to ensure healthy game supplies.
These two principles, however, are coming under growing fire from an aggressive and coordinated campaign funded by the oil and gas industry.
As part of a major effort since 2008 to bolster its lobbying and political power, the oil and gas industry has steadily expanded its contributions and influence over several major conservative sportsmen’s organizations, including Safari Club International (SCI) the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). The first two organizations have assumed an increasingly active and vocal role in advancing energy industry priorities, even when those positions are in apparent conflict with the interests of hunters and anglers who are their rank-and-file members. The third group, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, is also heavily funded by oil and gas interests and plays a key role in providing energy companies, SCI, the NRA, gun manufacturers and other corporate sponsors with direct access to members of Congress.
The growing influence of the oil and gas industry on these powerful groups is reshaping the politics, policies and priorities of American land and wildlife conservation.
In a new report, Center for American Progress identifies three high-profile debates in which the growing influence of the oil and gas industry in SCI, CSF, the NRA and other conservative sportsmen groups could play a decisive role in achieving outcomes that are beneficial to energy companies at the expense of habitat protection, science-based management, and hunter and angler access to wildlife and public lands.
These areas to watch are:
- Endangered and threatened wildlife in oil- and gas-producing regions: The case of the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken
- The backcountry: How the oil and gas industry and its allies are working to undo protections of roadless areas and wilderness study areas
- Public access and ownership: The movement to privatize public lands and wildlife
The oil and gas industry’s growing investment in conservative sportsmen groups is already yielding ever-greater influence over legislation and policy decisions that benefit the industry’s financial interests at the expense of hunters and anglers. Understanding and tracking this powerful lobbying alliance is of increasing importance to those who believe that American sportsmen can and should continue to be the standard-bearers for our nation’s conservation tradition defend the principles that have guided North American land and wildlife stewardship for more than a century.
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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