Sunday, January 29, 2012

Getting the Word Out (NWF and Scotts): A Contrarian View

This is a response to Carole Sevilla Brown's interview with David Mizejewski of National Wildlife Federation. Read Carole's post, David Mizejewski Defends National Wildlife Federation Partnership with Scotts Miracle Gro and listen to her interview.

And before you read on please first read Town Mouse's response on our blog (just prior to this post)  Getting the Word Out (to which my post is a response).

The issue, for those like me who are coming to the table just lately, is that National Wildlife Federation has partnered with Scotts, the company that brings you Miracle-Gro, Osmocote, Ortho, Roundup, Scotts Lawn Service, and Scotts Wild Bird Food.

Confession: Of that list I have in fact used Roundup and an Ortho nasty brush killer, which I used one time dabbing carefully on trunks of a huge swathe of poison oak near our home, not long after I moved in. Roundup I use very seldom and also only on poison oak. I've tried to get off the Roundup, but I periodically cave in, preferring careful and limited use of it once or twice a year in areas near paths around our home to the three weeks of itchy rash I almost always get no matter how careful I am. Roundup is also one that people have mixed views about, and people on the wildlife side I respect think it's not that bad and has its place. Thus I vacillate. I am a vacillator, in fact as you will see in this post.

I also use osmocote, as do many native plant nurseries such as Yerba Buena nursery.

We all in the choir know about lawns and the impact they have on the environment in so many ways, and if you don't you can easily find out by a simple google search. Lose the lawn, folks.

OK, here's my off the cuff response. I posted this as a comment on the Beautiful Wildlife Gardens post, but I'd like to bring it into our space here. ...


I expect David is totally sincere. I expect he is tired of just preaching to the choir and wants to make a difference in the lives of all the people in the Scott's camp, which is a lot of people. I expect he wants to shift their views and open their eyes and get their kids outside and benefit nature. I expect he feels that he's opening up Scotts to some input from the enlightened side. I expect people at NWF seriously argued themselves into the ground over this.  And there is all that money, which they can use to broadcast their message more widely.

I expect Scotts may have had different discussions in their boardrooms, just like Chevron in theirs, regarding their environmental greenwash projects.

I expect NWF has in fact lost its base, and maybe they calculated the cost/benefit ratio of doing that. We'll take down our signs, and others will put them up. On their lawns.

As they say, there is no bad publicity - the discussions we in the choir are having, the loud chorus of protest - it's all good in terms of the larger cause. And that also probably played into the NWF calculations.

So I don't know. I'm not in favor of dumping chemicals on mother nature of course. But I do see the thick layers of insulation between different opinion and thought groups in today's media. Some people have a Fox News reality, some are Huffington Posters, and it's hard to bridge the gap and create cross communication - that insularity is promoted by the internet (we find what we search for) and it is a very bad thing.

I hope NWF does punch through to get kids off their sofas, off their lawns, and into the wilds.

As we fire arrows at their ships, sailing off towards these enemy shores I think I actually do wish them well in their changed mission, though I am almost afraid to say so in this unanimously oppositional space.

Politics is about compromise, that's what I learned in American political science 101. NWF is a political group.

We also need a choir, and I'm happy to be part of it. Life is a lot simpler in the choir. But I'd also like someone to reach certain folk in my orbit that are beyond my reach. Maybe then they'll be able to hear my song.

So - I'm just not as sure as the rest of you on this.

8 comments:

catharine Howard said...

Town mouse country mouse - very techi but interesting. First time to your blog, interesting indeed.

Elephant's Eye said...

To reach out of the choir, yes. But does the end justify the means. I am shocked as more skeletons roll out of the closet. Dead birds, oh there was pesticide in the birdseed. And we fudged the results for EPA.

The next chapter will be interesting. A wildlife habitat sign on a poisoned lawn? Mixed messages??

In South Africa we battle invasive alien Australian wattles. The stumps will coppice, so Working for Water and Working for Fire, paint them blue (with Roundup or something effective).

Susan in the Pink hat said...

I've decided to stay out of it. There isn't much that hasn't already been said. In the end, the best form of protest is not to pay any attention to NWF or to Scotts through purchasing their product. I've also learned that being strident about these sorts of stances only alienates the people that we are trying to win over. I think it would serve the environment better as a whole if I got my neighbors to switch over to safer lawn care methods and by showing them that gardens can be beautiful and easy to care for through example rather than holding up signs and shouting at them for destroying wildlife habitat.

Country Mouse said...

Hi Catherine - We have a variety of topics, you caught us on a ranty day! Mostly I like to propagate about wilderness garden restoration topics, propagation and so on. Thanks for looking us up!
Susan I usually stand by too, but I thought as I seemed to HAVE an opinion of sorts, I should put it out there to add some variety to the dialog. EE, I feel conflicted!

Town Mouse said...

Well, I think we're starting with different premises here. I had thought NWF was an advocacy group, not a political group. Advocacy means to have an agenda, and to push hard on that agenda.

Partnering with an organization that sells pesticide-laced birdseed is just not a good idea in my mind. And I'm not interested in organizations that appear to spend more money on advertising/marketing than on other things. As far as I'm concerned, NWF has lost their way. Fortunately, other organizations, including CNPS, are very much worthy of my support and I support those.

Elephant's Eye said...

CNPS? Will you blog about that for me Town Mouse?

Country Mouse said...

My point was to balance the view that NWF are only doing this for money. I think they are *very probably* (how can I know for sure, after all?) partnering with Scotts for the opportunity to reach a lot of people normally beyond their message, which in itself is a worthy goal.

Yes, they are an advocacy group as is CNPS, and both groups also have a political presence. I would be very upset if CNPS partnered with Monsanto. We are a purist group. I am a purist, though a failed one, to be sure: I have used Scotts products to destroy a lovely native plant, Rhus diversiloba, because it is inconveniently close to my home, which is itself using up and contaminating valuable wildlife habitat.

I'm newly on the board of our local CNPS chapter, co-chair of publicity and outreach. So I'm thinking quite a bit about this topic. Would I organize someone from our chapter to talk at a nursery where Monsanto products are sold? Yes.

However, actually partnering with a Monsanto company? Well, of course, I do see the point. Ends and means. I'll bet there is a lot of cognitive dissonance going on within NWF.

As far as I can find, there was an incident of contaminated birdseed in '08, and a massive recall. As regards routine presence of pesticide in birdseed, I looked for some sources. The American Bird Conservancy did a study and found this:

'“I am pleased to announce that laboratory analysis showed that all the tested bird seed was either free from pesticides or fell below levels that would threaten bird health. So, in continuing to buy their favorite seed, America’s bird watchers should feel assured that their feathered friends are getting a healthy food product,” McKernan said.'
(http://www.abcbirds.org/newsandreports/releases/110414.html)

N.B.: Lest I be misheard, I'm not saying that even low levels of pesticides are a good thing.

Are ABC trustworthy? They seem to have a lot of excellent content on their site on the topic of pesticides and birds. But they do partner with Wild Birds Unlimited, purveyor of wild birdseed and related products.

Well, it's a messy world we live in, no doubt about that.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Thank you, TM & CM, for alerting me to this issue. I love how you two can share a blog and also slightly differing opinions. I stopped donating to many orgs, including NWF, because I felt they spent all my donation $ on mass paper mailings to solicit more $. Does any of the donated $ actually go towards any stated cause? I even had one org "conveniently" charge my credit card without my authorization from the previous year's donation info. The news about chemical bird seed is disheartening. I do wonder where the other $4 million in fines goes.