Environmental Science & Technology Online News  [Printer-friendly version]
March 8, 2006


By Paul D. Thacker

Since President Bush took office, Republicans have successfully pushed
through major reforms that target regulations for power-plant
emissions and the management of federal forests. During his 2004
campaign for reelection, the president praised his Healthy Forests
initiative as "a good, common-sense policy." This year, the
Republican-led Congress is gearing up for yet another "common-sense"
reform to a major piece of environmental legislation -- the Endangered
Species Act (ESA).


Sidebar: Timeline

1997 -- The Associated Press reports that 23 of the 28 recommendations
made by lobbyist Steve Quarles for managing the national forests
appear in a bill written by Congressional staffer Mark Rey.

2001 (oct.) -- Mark Rey is appointed Under Secretary for Agriculture
in charge of the U.S. Forest Service.

2002 -- As president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, Tim
Wigley raises more than $327,000 from forst-product corporations. The
money funds Republicans running for state offices.

2003 (Apr.) -- Tim Wigley joins Pac/West Communications and creates
Project Protect to help the Bush administration pass its healthy
Forests legislation. Project Protect is run from the office of the
American Forest Resource Council.

2003 (May) -- At the Forest Resources Association meeting, industry
officials praise Project Protect as a means to pass Bush's Healthy
Forests legislation.

2003 (mid-summer) -- Project Protect takes out two full-page ads in
The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in the state. Each ad costs more
than $10,000.

2004 Steve Quarles lobbies for passage of the Healthy Forests
legislation on behalf of the American Forest and Paper Association.

2004 (summer) -- Two full-page ads for Project Protect run in The
Oregonian (total cost over $20,000), and ads run on radio stations
KEZI ($70,000) and KDRV ($25,370). Project Protect operates for two
years and raises $2.9 million. After the 2004 presidential election,
it is shut down.

2004 (Nov.) -- Congressman Richard Pombo (R-Ca.) recommends Tim Wigley
for an award sponsored by the Forest Resources Association for his
work to pass the Healthy Forests legislation.

2004 (Dec.) Steve Quarles incorporates the Save Our Species Alliance
(SOSA), which will work to change the Endangered Species Act. Tim
Wigley is listed as the campaign director.

2005 (Jan.) Republicans, lobbyists and members of the property-rights
movement meet in Washington, D.C. to discuss legislation to change the
Endangered Species Act. As campaign director for SOSA, Tim Wigley
presents results from polling data and focus groups. Also at the
meeting are members from conservative think tanks, including Myron
Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and David Ridenour of
the National Center for Public Policy Research. Afterwards, Richard
Pombo addresses the participants and answers questions.

2005 (Jun.) SOSA sends out multiple press releases. The point of
contact is Tom Randall, a former employee of the National Center for
Public Policy Research.

2005 (Aug.) Pac/West Communications helps sponsor a fundraiser for
Richard Pombo in Wilsonville, Or. Paul Phillips, the president of
Pac/West, donates $1000 to Pombo's political action committee,
RichPAC. Directors of Protect Protect donate an additional $3000.


Critics of these reforms charge that they are little more than
giveaways to the affected industries and note that the changes enacted
with the Healthy Forests legislation limit citizens' ability to appeal
logging sales on federal lands and emphasize cutting trees to prevent
fires. However, the reformers point to support by "grassroots" groups
as a sign that these changes are popular with citizens and not just

ES&T has examined in detail one short-lived "grassroots" environmental
organization that was based in Oregon -- a state with vast forests and
species-rich ecosystems. The leading figures in this group played a
key role in passing President Bush's Healthy Forests legislation and
are now promoting changes to ESA. From dozens of interviews and
reviews of thousands of pages of documents, ES&T has found clear
evidence that this "grassroots" organization has clear ties to timber
corporations -- an industry likely to benefit financially from
legislative reforms.

Change -- with help from your friends

The movement to alter ESA is being led in Congress by Rep. Richard
Pombo (R-CA), a rancher from California and the powerful chair of the
House of Representatives' Committee on Natural Resources. The effort
to change ESA cleared its first hurdle in September 2005 when the
House approved Pombo's bill (H.R. 3824). Major provisions in the bill
would remove requirements to designate critical habitat to protect
endangered and threatened species and would also add a new requirement
for the government to compensate landowners when the law impedes them
from developing their land.

To write the bill, Pombo called on the help of Steve Quarles, a
lobbyist who works for the timber industry. "I spent a great deal of
time with Pombo's staff," Quarles told ES&T, and during that time he
helped write the bill.

But Pombo, Quarles, and other reformers face an important obstacle.
For well over a decade, public opinion has run strongly against
changes viewed as weakening environmental laws. An October 2005
Harris Poll found that 74% of Americans believe that "protecting the
environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be
too high, and continuing environmental improvements must be made
regardless of cost."

To counter possible negative opinion and shape a message that is
palatable to political moderates, Pombo and other ESA reformers have
drawn on a new form of grassroots environmentalism that sides with
corporate causes. One example is the Save Our Species Alliance
(SOSA), which has become a prominent voice in convincing voters that
change to ESA is needed.

On its website, SOSA carries this message: "The Endangered Species Act
is a good law with good intentions. The Save Our Species Alliance will
work across the country to promote common sense, balanced, and
scientifically supported changes to the ESA." Pictured next to the
statement is an endangered reptile.

SOSA's campaign director is Tim Wigley [MS Word], who is also the
executive director of Pac/West Communications, a public-relations
(PR) firm with offices in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. In an
interview with ES&T, Wigley stated that SOSA is a grassroots group of
farmers, labor groups, and others "who all care about modernizing the
Endangered Species Act."

In January 2005, Wigley traveled to Washington, D.C., to address a
group of property-rights activists who also wanted to reform ESA. The
gathering took place in a committee meeting room at the House of
Representatives. Democrats contacted by ES&T said that they were not
invited, but the participants included staffers working for a number
of republicans including Pombo and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of
the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Wigley's presentation discussed how to best sell changes in ESA to the
American public and included results from focus groups and polls, said
Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights
Assoc., a private-property-rights group, and a participant at in the
meeting. Of Wigley's talents at delivering a message, Cushman said,
"He's very skilled, more skilled than I am. He has the grassroots at
heart." Cushman added that he had even employed Wigley to help with
various political causes.

Hidden roots, hidden money

Federal records show that SOSA's lobbyist is Steve Quarles, who told
ES&T that he filed the paperwork to incorporate the organization.
Practically a Washington, D.C., institution, Quarles has long worked
to shape environmental laws to favor corporations. During the debate
over the president's Healthy Forests legislation, Quarles lobbied
for its passage on behalf of the American Forest and Paper Assoc.,
the largest trade group for the forest products industry. Previously,
he represented the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), a group
that lobbies for management of public lands to favor industry.

Wigley, too, has a long history with the timber industry. Before
joining Pac/West, he worked for the Oregon Forest Industries Council
(OFIC), a trade organization that represents forest-products
companies. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) records show that his work
for OFIC included raising large sums of cash. For the 2002 elections,
Wigley raised $327,100 from timber companies, such as Weyerhaueser
and Boise Cascade. This money was then handed out to Republicans
running for state offices in Oregon. Before joining OFIC, Wigley
worked as a press officer for Georgia Pacific, one of the world's
largest forest- products corporations. His biography also states that
he is a graduate of the American Campaign Academy, a group created by
advisers to former Rep. Newt Gingrich to train Republican political

Wigley and Pac/West are no strangers to environmental reform
movements. Several years ago, Wigley led Project Protect, which helped
pass the Healthy Forests legislation by lobbying Congress and running
advertisements and opinion pieces to influence the public in timber-
rich states.

One example of this work was an opinion piece that ran in July 2003
in the Reno Gazette, a Nevada newspaper. Pac/West's community outreach
associate, Liz Arnold, wrote, "[M]anaging our forests and rangelands
instead of spending... time responding to litigation and special
interest politics is now an environmental necessity." She encouraged
residents to support "scientific management" of our forests, adding,
"Passage of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act is critical." The
piece describes her as a "Project Protect grassroots coordinator."

When asked, Wigley shied away from disclosing who financially backs
SOSA and who funded Project Protect, saying Project Protect "was a
grassroots organization." He added, "I am not a lobbyist. I think this
line of questioning is misleading."

Project Protect was registered as a nonprofit in April 2003 by Wigley
at Pac/West Communications. According to federal records, Wigley
became the group's lobbyist and coordinated his work with the Bush
Administration until the project disbanded in 2004, after the 2004
presidential race. In 2003, the address for Project Protect was a
MailBoxes Etc. store in Portland, Ore., but the following year, the
address changed to the offices of American Forest Resource Council

AFRC's president, Tom Partin, said the council's members weren't
really involved in Project Protect, which he said was just a PR
campaign coordinated by Wigley to pass the Healthy Forests

Project Protect's now-defunct website (www.landsense.us) billed the
organization as a "grassroots coalition of western communities,
natural resource groups, labor organizations, and conservationists"
whose mission was "to protect our over-populated, dense forests from
catastrophic wildfire and disease."

Critics say that the tactics detailed in this email sent by Wigley are
now commonly employed to persuade the public to support laws that
favor large corporations. View the email [168KB PDF]Until now, Project
Protect has hidden its ties to industry and sources of funding. The
first public mention of Project Protect was in the industry magazine
International Wood Fiber Report [184KB PDF] in May 2003. In an
article that month, Jim Peterson of the industry-funded Evergreen
Foundation was quoted calling Project Protect a "hardball approach" to
get the president's bill signed. "It's not a warm, fuzzy PR campaign,"
he said. "It's a fight to the finish. We intend to work behind the
scenes with industry associations with much of the PR off the radar
screen by design."

In an email obtained by ES&T that Wigley wrote in February 2005, he
revealed his own views on Project Protect. "When I directed the
healthy forests battle two years ago, I had to change the way the
forest products industry talked," he wrote. "We didn't change our
goals -- just the way we communicated."

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania
estimated that Project Protect bought $10,000 in advertising in 2004.
However, ES&T has learned that the organization actually spent $2.9
million on media and lobbying during its 2-year existence before
evaporating after the 2004 elections, according to copies of Project
Protect's 2003 and 2004 tax statements. The documents do not list the

IRS Forms

Secretly funded and staffed by industry, Project Protect was a $2.9
million media campaign to persuade the public to support President
Bush's Healthy Forests legislation.

2003 IRS form [2.4MB PDF]

2004 IRS form [1MB PDF]

From newspapers and radio stations in Oregon, ES&T learned how some of
this money was spent. In 2004, two full-page ads for Project Protect
ran in The Oregonian; a salesperson with the newspaper said they cost
more than $10,000 each. And a salesperson at Oregon radio station KEZI
said that ads for Project Protect totaled more than $70,000 between
August and November of 2004. "They made a real statement," said the
salesperson. Tax forms for SOSA are not yet available.

In November 2004, Pombo recognized Wigley's work with Project Protect
by sending a letter [117KB PDF] to the Forest Resources Assoc.
recommending Wigley for an award. "Tim's efforts in leading the
grassroots campaign 'Project Protect' without question helped position
the Healthy Forests Restoration Act for successful passage in the U.S.
Congress," Pombo wrote. Wigley received the award and a cash prize
from the association a few months later.

Think tank or lobby shop?

The January 2005 meeting in Washington, D.C., at which Tim Wigley
spoke to activists in the property-rights movement about changing the
Endangered Species Act was attended by representatives from several
libertarian think tanks, including Myron Ebell of the Competitive
Enterprise Institute (CEI) and David Ridenour of the National Center
for Public Policy Research (NCPPR). Ebell, Ridenour, and other
"scholars" from these think tanks have been central to the advance of
conservative policy and efforts at deregulation, say many observers.

For example, Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land
Rights Assoc., told ES&T that he had employed both Wigley and Ebell to
help with various political causes in the property-rights movement.
And when Wigley's Save Our Species Alliance sent out press releases in
the summer of 2005, journalists were asked to contact Tom Randall with
the consulting firm Winningreen. Before he started Winningreen,
Randall and his wife Gretchen were employed by NCPPR, where they wrote
environmental policy papers that supported corporate positions on
topics such as forest policy and global warming.

Ebell, in particular, has emerged as a major force in shaping public
opinion. At CEI, Ebell refashioned himself from a property rights
adovocate to become a leading global-warming skeptic. He is now often
quoted by media outlets such as the Washington Post as a counter to
researchers whose studies point out the need to reduce greenhouse-gas

Larry Noble of the Center on Responsive Politics said he wasn't too
surprised to hear that a network of lobbyists, industry officials, and
scholars from libertarian think tanks jump from one issue to the next
in an effort to change environmental laws. "It's known that this is
going on, just not all the exact details," he said. "It makes me think
of the early 70s in rock, where all these music groups formed and then
quickly died. But when you really looked at it, it was just the same
musicians moving from band to band."

NCPPR's current senior fellow on environmental policy is Bonner R.
Cohen. A check of Internal Revenue Service documents showed that Cohen
is also the director of TASSC, a science lobbying group which was
started in 1993 by the communications firm APCO Associates to promote
"sound science" on behalf of tobacco companies. As reported by ES&T in
May 2005, TASSC is now run from the home of Steven Milloy, a
FoxNews.com columnist, climate-change skeptic, self-described basher
of "junk science", and an adjunct "scholar" at CEI. -- PDT In August
2005, Pac/West returned the favor by hosting a fund-raiser [1.2MB
PDF] for Pombo in Wilsonville, Ore., where the firm is headquartered.
Around this time, the Pac/West CEO Paul Phillips, a former Oregon
state senator, donated $1000 to Pombo's campaign. Members listed on
IRS documents as directors for Project Protect donated an additional

ES&T contacted Pombo's office on numerous occasions seeking comment
about his ties to SOSA and to various officials who created the group.
After a brief exchange, Pombo's office stopped returning calls and
would no longer respond to inquiries.

Creating a synthetic movement

Larry Noble at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan
group that tracks money in politics, said this type of
corporate-funded countermovement only came to fruition in the 1990s
after businesses suffered decades of poor public perception and lost
numerous political battles to environmental groups.

In the sixties, people heard the corporate message, "Better living
through chemistry" but then discovered that this same industry was
making napalm. The widespread disillusionment of the era led to a
cynical attitude toward large companies. "People just began to
discount them," Noble said. Industry responded, he added, by putting
more resources into PR and lobbying groups that know how to get an
industry message out to the media and to the public in an appealing

"There is this issue of balance in the media," he said. "So, a
journalist will go out and interview someone from an environmental
group and then someone from an industry [funded] environmental group."

And another payoff exists, Noble said, when it comes to advertising
and shaping public perception. "When one of these groups takes out an
ad, most people will not look to see who's behind it" or whether the
sponsoring group is funded by industry or by a public-interest group,
he said.

Noble said that it is shocking that Project Protect spent $2.9 million
in advertising to pass Bush's Healthy Forests legislation. "It gives
you some sense of what the real grassroots [organizations] are up

"Some people call it Astroturf," said Ken Gross, a lawyer who
specializes in ethics and campaign-finance cases. Unlike traditional
grassroots groups that may consist of local activists meeting in
someone's living room, these new operations are backed by corporate
money and run like professional political campaigns. "It's not mom-
and-pop; it's highly sophisticated, with well-compensated people.
[But] there's nothing unholy about it."

With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Drexel University
associate professor of sociology Robert Brulle is analyzing the
nearly 8000 U.S. environmental organizations that operated between
1900 and 2000. He found that while some groups prospered with large
memberships, broad community support, and elected leaders, some of the
newer groups consisted of an appointed board and had unknown financial
sources. The new groups labeled themselves as grassroots, but they
also had strong financial ties to corporations and leaders drawn from
industry groups or PR firms.

The word grassroots "implies broad representation, but when you ask
questions, you'll find that some groups get [mad]," said Brulle,
especially when you ask them where they get their money. "I have yet
to find one of these industry groups that was authentic. They are
mostly top-down, short-term groups."

Douglas G. Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, an
educational group for lobbyists, said that current scandals in the
U.S. involving disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, may lead
to greater transparency in politics and lobbying.

"Most companies I talk with shy away from these tactics," he says,
referring to PR firms creating industry-funded environmental advocacy
groups. "They realize in the long run that it hurts their reputation."

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society