Want to Know How Your Charitable Donations really Work?
By Stefanie Smallhouse, Arizona Farm Bureau Second Vice President
This is the time of year when the dining room table is buried in paper. We pore over receipts, notes scribbled on the checkbook, cancelled checks, deposit records, and of course our charitable donations. According to Giving USA, Americans contributed a total of $307.7 billion to charity in 2008. For those donations going to environmental organizations to save anything and everything, have you ever wondered what you get for your donated dollar?
I suggest the last time you hung up your shower towel at the Holiday Inn instead of dropping it on the floor (this is code for don’t waste precious water on providing me with another fresh towel since theoretically I was clean when I dried off anyway) resulted in a more genuine investment for the environment than the check you wrote to Big Green.
Your donation to one of the big corporate environmental groups ─ Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, or Natural Resource Defense Council to name a few ─ most likely went to pay for litigation or buying land, but what was the on-the-ground result for conserving anything? How did the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl benefit from your generous donation? How was your dollar used to stop erosion along Arizona’s river ways, or improve water quality along the Colorado River?
In 2008, $758 million was donated to The Nature Conservancy, $43 million to the Sierra Club, and $108 million to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC prides itself on “defeating, blocking, and freezing” through litigation any action that it deems harmful to the earth. But I was unable to find any on-the-ground work that they are doing to actively conserve natural resources. Apparently this organization is the self-appointed legal representation for Mother Nature and that’s it.
The self-appointed realtor happens to be The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Unfortunately, Mother Nature is hard to pin down, so not only does the sales commission go to TNC, but so does all the profit. For example TNC currently has land for sale along the San Pedro River in southeast Arizona acquired as 2,156 acres of contiguous farm land and now subdivided by TNC into 5 parcels with the option of splitting further into 10. This land could have remained unfragmented and seeded with native grasses, but instead has been left to a hostile takeover by invasive woody plants that use significantly more water than farm land.
Other large expanses of land have either been donated to the organization to take advantage of tax credits or sold to TNC for less than appraised value and then in turn flipped to the federal government for more than appraised value. This organization is in the business of nationalizing private land for a profit, while shrinking the tax base for our schools and community infrastructures.
Purchasing agricultural land, beautiful landscapes, and waterways facing no eminent threat of destruction should not exactly qualify for saving anything. To other environmental groups this is considered to be focusing on “sub-national targets.” These targets generate revenue directly for the non-profit and would be very valuable on a carbon offset market. This is the same carbon market that would be created following passage of a cap and trade taxation system fiercely lobbied for by these same groups.
This type of focus results in what is called “leakage” in environmental language. A specific action stopped in one area only shifts or leaks the same action into other areas, but is in no way diminished. It does not result in any on the ground conservation work. I know of a few old mine reclamation sites that could sure use some of Nature Conservancy’s $758 million annual revenue for re-seeding and erosion control. Of course those pieces of land are neither profitable for flipping nor for carbon credits.
It’s no wonder that the spectrum of environmental groups ranging from land baron organizations like TNC to small potato radical organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) are eating their own. CBD is trying to change policy on a national level to send us back to the 17th century, while TNC is subdividing farm land, and the Sierra Club in return for corporate cash is providing its stamp of approval on cleaning products sold as “green” chemicals to flush down your toilet. Where are your conservation dollars in all of this? Despite their differences, all of them are successfully using your donations for systematically dismantling roads, dams, logging, mining, ranching, farming, fishing, and manufacturing throughout the United States ─ forcing industry to move across international boundaries and oceans unregulated; All the while increasing the costs of agriculture production by those few left in this country.
Remember that shrinking tax base I mentioned before? Maybe your donation would be better spent going toward your local education tax credit to make up for the loss in property tax base to the school.
For those agricultural producers that continue to raise food and fiber despite the constant onslaught of Big Green’s environmental activism there are several valuable institutions and organizations that work to further the research and development of conservation practices applied on the land. Contributions to the natural resource and agriculture research arm of the University of Arizona for programs that develop low water use crops, irrigation management, rangeland management, and other conservation technologies offers clear and direct results for conservation minded citizens. Arizona Farm Bureau’s Educational Farming Company educates our next generation of citizens about how their food is grown using wise management of our water and soil resources. Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation District and find out how you can further resource conservation in your area. That gives your charitable donation real sustainability!
Editor’s Note: Stefanie Smallhouse is married to a fifth-generation farmer and rancher in Southern Arizona. She previously worked for a federal land management agency as a wildlife biologist, and is currently working to further conservation of Arizona’s natural resources through the locally led efforts of Arizona landowners.
Arizona Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving and improving the Agriculture industry through member involvement in education, political activities, programs and services.
For more information contact Julie Murphree at (480) 635-3607 or go to http://www.azfb.org.