National Wildlife Federation
By Jason D. Van Elst
Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University
The National Wildlife Federation is the nationâ€™s largest member-supported conservation group with a purpose of raising awareness and involving people of all ages in the fight to conserve and protect the environment (National Wildlife Federation 2003). The mission statement of the organization is "to educate, inspire and assist individuals and organizations of diverse cultures to conserve wildlife and other natural resources and to protect the Earth's environment in order to achieve a peaceful, equitable and sustainable future" (Luke 2001). The federation is a 501(c)(3) charitable, educational organization that tries to unite individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments in wildlife and natural resource conservation (National Wildlife Federation 2003).
The federation supports conservation in many areas such as research funding, educational outreach programs, conservation efforts, governmental lobbying, and habitat restoration (Ibid.). The organization is perennially ranked in the top 100 charities in the nation by publications like Worth and Smart Money magazines for largest percent of revenue spent directly on its conservation mission. In 2000, Smart Money reported that ninety cents of every dollar donated to the organization was spent directly on educating, inspiring and assisting people to conserve and restore wildlife and wild places (Ibid.).
The National Wildlife Federation, originally called the General Wildlife Federation, was founded in 1936 by editorial cartoonist for the Des Moines Register, J.N. Darling (Gonzalas 2000). The roots of the federationâ€™s creation lie in the first North American Wildlife Conference convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt used the conference to increase public interest in the management and development of Americaâ€™s natural resources (National Wildlife Federation 2003). At the time, Darling, an avid outdoorsman and hunter, was concerned for declines in duck populations. This led him to government work under President Roosevelt on issues concerning wildlife, hunting regulations, and conservation. He soon resigned from the newspaper and founded the General Wildlife Federation (Luke 2001)
Since its founding, the organization has continually grown and expanded. Early members consisted mainly of sportsmen who found the federation a great tool for helping to protect the habitat and population of game animals throughout the country (Ibid.). In the 1960s and 70s, the countries population of avid hunters declined as the number of individuals and environmental activists grew. More people became interested in the protection and conservation of wildlife and habitat and found that the National Wildlife Federation offered a chance for these individuals to organize (Ibid.).
Through the years, the federation expanded to thirteen regional offices throughout North America to help tie together conservation efforts from all over the continent as well as to focus on regional conservation efforts and problems (Gonzalas 2000). Today, the National Wildlife Federation is made up of more than 4 million members ranging from scientists to sportsmen and women, activists to bird watchers. It focuses on conservation by supporting research, public outreach and education, lobbying, and direct action (Luke 2001).
The list of accomplishments achieved by or with help from the National Wildlife Federation is almost unending. According to the organizationâ€™s own Web site releases, projects undertaken or accomplished recently by the National Wildlife Federation include:
- The Restoration of Gray Wolf habitat in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. This project involved the appeal and eventual overturn of a court-ordered wolf eviction, as well as numerous community outreach and education programs.
- Rallying efforts to lead the charge in passing laws to would protect and restore the ecosystem of the Florida Everglades.
- Successful court settlement between National Wildlife Federation and other united groups, and the Federal Natural Resource and Conservation Service over their attempt to change the legal definition of â€œwetlandsâ€� so the state of South Dakota could drain and develop over 2 million acres of wetlands.
- Coordinating efforts of more than 800 state, local and national groups that urged Congress and the White House to use a share of revenues from off-shore oil and gas leasing to support conservation efforts and to pass the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
- Working with numerous other organizations as well as government, citizens, and timber industry to repopulate the grizzly bear back into its natural habitat in Idaho and Montana. The plan developed by this effort awaits government approval.
- Working with other conservation organizations around the world to pressure governments to ratify the Kyoto Global Agreement to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
- Lobbying the World Trade Organization to adopt global trade rules that promote environmental safeguards.
- Working to protect the ecosystem of the Copper River Delta of Alaska in partnership with Native Alaskans.
(National Wildlife Federation 2003)
The National Wildlife Federation has also done much work in the area of community outreach and educational programs throughout its existence. Information from the organization lists many recent programs including:
- Increased circulation of its own magazine and National Wildlife, International Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Your Big Backyard, and Wild Animal Baby. These serve as both outreach and educational tools for the community.
- National Wildlife Productions is a recent expansion into film and television for the National Wildlife Federation. Programming includes educational wildlife and conservation-related documentaries as well as programming that improves communications from the organization to the community.
- EnviroAction monthly newsletter keeps interested citizens current on happenings in the organization and in the area of wildlife and habitat conservation.
- The federation has created the National Conservation Achievement Award to honor people or groups with significant achievements in the area of conservation.
- The Backyard Wildlife Habitat program is a program that helps educate landowners on how to properly develop land for use by both wildlife and people.
- Natural Inc. programs work in partnership with other youth and or community programs to engage people of all ages in hands-on outdoor learning.
- Family Summits is a week-long program offered to families that include learning experiences designed to build environmental awareness through hands-on outdoor activities at natural national sites.
(National Wildlife Federation 2003)
Not everything that the National Wildlife Federation has accomplished has taken place recently. Their influence stretches over the entire life of the organization. Major highlights include the 1985 passing of the Conservation Reserve Program which set aside more then 35 million acres of farm land for habitat reclamation (Van Putten 2001).
In its early stages, the federation worked with the American Wildlife Institute to have Congress withdraw a 10% firearms and ammunition tax and, instead, require gun makers to contribute 10% of their annual sales to conservation programs (Luke 2001). Of its most important and influential accomplishments, the National Wildlife Federation helped to author and lobby the passage of the Endangered Species Act.
However, the importance and relevance of what the National Wildlife Federation does has been questioned, particularly prior to the mid-1990s. In an article written by Timothy W. Luke (2001) titled â€œThe Pleasure of Use: Federalizing Wilds, Nationalizing Life at the National Wildlife Federation,â€� the mission of the organization was questioned. Luke had the view that for most of the existence of the National Wildlife Federation, it was mainly concerned with conserving wildlife to the benefit of man rather than the benefit of wildlife. Luke explained how a more recent administration in the organization is using its power as an integral part of the American state's regulation of its citizens, management of its lands, and administration of its wildlife. He commented on how the new administration in the National Wildlife Federation now plainly seeks to define and defend wildlife with an approach that adjusts the activities of animals to suit the American nation, meanwhile, protecting unsustainable sources of growth that might become upset. This is accomplished by helping American sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike, to preserve and enrich human life through the sharing of knowledge about wildlife, population ecology, and refuge range management.
Another point in question raised by George A. Gonzalas (2000) in the article â€œEcho-Wars: Political Campaigns and Social Movementsâ€� argues a point common in many public common interest organizations, that with the increase of similar organizations over the past thirty years, many organizations like the federation may now be more â€œactingâ€� and less â€œaction.â€� The fight to gain membership numbers in these respective organizations is very competitive and, as they are run largely by membership dues, Gonzalas contends that more of an organizationâ€™s time is spent in trying to increase members and less is spent on action. He says, to the same measure, more members become lured into an organization not based on what the organization does but by the perks offered by the organization to its members.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The National Wildlife Federation is a 501(c)(3) charitable, educational organization. The main revenue source for the organization is private giving and annual membership dues. Although not the only organization in America that works on issues relating to environmental common interests, it is one of the first and has laid the groundwork for similar organizations such as the National Wildlife Institute, National Wild Turkey Federation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Trout Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited.
The National Wildlife Federation often cooperates with other nonprofit organizations to form partnerships for the lobbying of many state and federal environmental and resource conservation laws. The best example is the cooperative effort organized by the federation, of more then 800 local, state, and national organizations, to urge Congress to pass the Land and Water Conservation Fund, using a share of the revenue from offshore gas and oil drilling to fund long-term conservation programs (National Wildlife Federation 2003). The federation also teamed up with the U.S. Geological Survey in the â€œFrog Watchâ€� program, using these amphibians as an indicator species to detect the health of environmental conditions (Boyle 2002). The National Wildlife Federation and other organizations played a major role in the passage of the Endangered Species Act (Luke 2001).
In addition to its lobbying and convening roles, the National Wildlife Federation serves, in a limited capacity, as a grant maker for local organizations to pursue programs in conservation. Its â€œKeep the Wild Aliveâ€� program awards small grants to local organizations to improve habitat in their community for imperiled species as well as for the study of endangered species (â€œSpecies Recovery Fundâ€� 2001).
Perhaps the biggest contribution by the National Wildlife Federation is with the 1985 Farm Bill. Through this bill the National Wildlife Federation helped to author what is arguably todayâ€™s largest and one of its most successful national conservation efforts, the Conservation Reserve Program (Van Putten 2001). Thanks to the incentives provided by CRP, about 35 million acres of what was once marginal farmland with highly eroding soils are now set aside for conservation and covered by wildlife-friendly crops of grasses and trees (Ibid.).
The National Wildlife Federation serves as a tool for the fight for conservation of wildlife and natural resources for activists, sportsman, and outdoor lovers in America. The organization unites like-minded individuals to work for the protection of the environment and to educate young and old alike on the importance of conservation.
Key Related Ideas
- Activism â€“ Actively supporting or actively not supporting an issue, actively taking a side.
- Conservation â€“ Protection, management, and maintenance of our environment, habitat, natural resources, and wildlife for the benefit of all.
- Endangered Species Act â€“ Federal law that protects endangered and threatened wildlife and the habitat in which they live.
- Habitat â€“ The environment in which a species lives.
- Lobbying â€“ Building political support on an issue through active communication with local, state, and federal officials.
- North American Wildlife Conference â€“ First convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was a conference to help stimulate public interest in the environment.
Important People Related to the Topic
- Thomas Beck â€“ Worked with President Roosevelt in wildlife management and helped with the creation of early environmental groups and committees.
- J.N. â€œDingâ€� Darling â€“ Founder of the National Wildlife Federation.
- Aldo Leopold â€“ Writer and nature philosopher, Leopold was one of the original architects of the National Wildlife Federation.
- Mark Van Putten â€“ Current president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt â€“ U.S. president that, through convening the North American Wildlife Conference, helped put into motion the creation of the National Wildlife Federation.
Important Related Nonprofit Organizations
Many of the organizations similar to the National Wildlife Federation interact often and cooperate with one another on conservation efforts and lobbying. The more familiar ones include:
- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is a private, non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, established by Congress in 1984 and dedicated to the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plants, and the habitat on which they depend (NFWF 2003).
- The National Wilderness Institute keeps people informed about common sense ideas covering a variety of environmental issues including endangered species, land use rights and environmental regulations. These issues affect citizens, their communities, and the nation's economy every day in countless ways (National Wilderness Institute 2003).
- The National Wild Turkey Federation is a 450,000-member grassroots, nonprofit organization with members in fifty states, Canada and eleven other foreign countries. It supports scientific wildlife management of public, private and corporate lands as well as wild turkey hunting as a traditional North American sport (NWTF 2003).
- Trout Unlimited has a mission is to conserve, protect and restore North Americaâ€™s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds (Trout Unlimited 2003).
- The Wilderness Education Institute serves to empower young people and their families to create positive change in their lives and for the Earth's environment. It espouses this should be done by simplifying lifestyles, exploring nature, experiencing personal growth, and building communities (Wilderness Education Institute 2003).
- World Wildlife Fund Founded in 1961, World Wildlife Fund works to conserve nature and ecological processes. It has done this through a combination of action on the ground; national and international advocacy work to establish appropriate policies; and international campaigns to highlight and demonstrate solutions to crucial environmental problems (World Wildlife Fund).
Related Web Sites
- Earthwatch Institute Web site, at http://www.earthwatch.org, provides information on the research, education, and conservation efforts the organization uses to help â€œpromote sustainable conservation of our natural resources and cultural heritage by creating partnerships among scientists, the general public, educators, and businessesâ€� (Earthwatch Institute 2003).
- The National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Region page, at http://www.nwf.org/greatlakesoffice, contains information and program descriptions specific to the Great Lakes region. The site provides a list of local affiliates.
- The National Wildlife Federation Web site, at http://www.nwf.org, contains information on the organizationâ€™s history, public policy advocacy efforts, wildlife conservation programs, school programs (including educational materials for youth), shopping, and more.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Web site, at http://www.fws.gov/, contains information about conservation issues (topics include endangered species and wetlands) as well as a history of the governmentâ€™s department and operating information (such as, grant and contract information).
- Wildlife Conservation Magazine, at http://www.wildlifeconservation.org, is published by the Wildlife Conservation Society and provides information and resources on conservation of wildlife across the world; the site includes stunning photographs of wildlife.
Boyle, Sarah. â€œNew Partnership Monitors Declining U.S. Amphibians,â€� National Wildlife 40 (2002): 4, 61
Earthwatch Institute. Mission of Earthwatch Institute. [cited 10 April 2003]. Available from http://www.earthwatch.org/aboutew/mission.html.
Gonzalas, George A. â€œEco-Wars: Political Campaigns and Social Movements/Voicesand Echoes for the Environment,â€� The American Political Science Review 94 (2000): 4, 950-952.
Luke, Timothy W. â€œThe Pleasures of Use: Federalizing Wilds, Nationalizing Life at the National Wildlife Federation,â€� Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 12 (2001): 1, 3-38.
National Fish and Wildlife Federation. Who We Are. [updated 2003; cited 3 February2003]. Available from http://www.nfwf.org/about.cfm.
National Wild Turkey Federation. About Us. [updated 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.nwtf.org/about_us/.
National Wilderness Institute. About NWI. [updated 18 December 2002; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.nwi.org/.
National Wildlife Federation. About NWF. [updated January 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.nwf.org/about/.
n.a. â€œSpecies Recovery Fund Awards Grants,â€� National Wildlife Magazine. 39 (2001): 5, 63.
Trout Unlimited. Trout Unlimited Today: Mission. [updated January 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.tu.org/about_tu/tu_mission.html.
Van Putten, Mark. â€œConservation Partnerships on Working Landscapes,â€� National Wildlife 39 (2001): 6, 5-6.
Wilderness Education Institute. Mission and Philosophy. [updated January 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.weiprograms.org/.
World Wildlife Fund. A History of WWF. [updated 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/who_we_are/history/index.cfm.
World Wildlife Fund. How is WWF Organized: WWF Family. [updated 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/who_we_are/offices/index.cfm.
World Wildlife Fund. The Six Global Issues. [updated 2003; cited 3 February 2003]. Available from http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/index.cfm.
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