Non-profit

National Wildlife Federation

Location:

RESTON, VA

Tax ID:

53-0204616

DUNS Number:

06-486-8176

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $91,065,465
Expenses: $83,063,340
Assets: $118,249,455

Formation:

1936

President & CEO:

Collin O’Mara

President's Compensation (2017):

$354,785

The National Wildlife Federation is one of the nation’s largest and highest-profile environmentalist organizations. In recent years, along with its associated NWF Action Fund advocacy organization, it has transitioned from being a conservation organization representing the interests of hunters and outdoor recreation enthusiasts into a left-leaning pressure group focused on global warming advocacy and promoting left-wing social causes. [1][2][3][4]

The NWF’s power goes beyond its organizational size thanks to its affiliate model, in which state-level independent nonprofit affiliates work with the NWF to influence policy in their state while the national federation is one of the most active lobbyists on federal environmental policy. [5][6][7] Currently, the NWF has an affiliate in every state but Utah in addition to affiliates in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. [8]

In addition to environmental policy advocacy at the state and local level, the NWF is also active in environmentalist litigation and operates a variety of programs in K-12 schools and college campuses promoting its left-leaning environmentalist agenda. [9] [10]

History

The National Wildlife Federation was founded in 1936 by hunters and fishermen, sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts, farmers, gardeners and others with an interest in wildlife who came together during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the General Wildlife Federation, which became the National Wildlife Federation in 1938. [11]

Jay Darling

Its first leader was Jay N. “Ding” Darling, who led the predecessor agency to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the Franklin Roosevelt administration. An avid hunter, Darling pushed the federal government to set aside more than three million acres of wildlife refuges and designed the first Federal Duck Stamp to fund game management programs. [12]

Darling resigned from the federal government to lead what would become the NWF, and under his leadership it became a voice for federal and state wildlife management policies that stabilized game animal populations. A Republican who had won two Pulitzer prizes as an editorial cartoonist at the conservative-leaning Des Moines Tribune, Darling engaged the private sector in the fight for wildlife conservation and obtained pledges from firearms and ammunition manufacturers to donate 10 percent of their gross receipts to wildlife conservation programs. [13][14]

In the years to follow under a succession of leaders, the NWF grew steadily while lobbying on behalf of hunting and fishing enthusiasts’ interests – what Outside Magazine called the “hook and bullet crowd”[15] – for federal environmental legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. [16]

Jay Hair

By 1981, when new executive director Jay D. Hair took over, NWF claimed to be the nation’s “largest citizen’s conservation group.” [17] The New York Times characterized the group at the time as “a big, somewhat right-leaning club of hunters, fishermen and other outdoors enthusiasts jealous of their space” and in which a majority of the members had voted for Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980 Presidential election. [18]

Hair’s 14-year tenure dramatically changed the NWF’s size and scope; his obituary in the Los Angeles Times credited him with “transforming the group into the nation’s largest grass-roots environmental organization and a powerful lobbying force” and said he “changed the organization from something of a conservative sportsmen’s club to a 6-million-member group of activists focused on environmental reform.” [19]

In one of Hair’s first major initiatives, the NWF launched its Corporate Conservation Council “to encourage private enterprise to cooperate with conservation groups on a range of issues.” [20] This made his tenure at the NWF controversial among more militant environmentalists, who viewed businesses as enemies instead of potential allies. [21][22] For instance, the NWF’s support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was criticized by left-wing academics for endorsing “status quo corporate ideology,”[23] and the presence of companies such as Waste Management, Inc. and Exxon on NWF boards was blamed for “a corporate model for environmentalism that thrives to this day.” [24] [25]

In 1999, the NWF’s magazine entitled a retrospective on Hair’s tenure during the 1980s as, “Conservation Takes a Backseat in the Me Decade,” and blamed the Reagan administration for environmental policy in which “many of the conservation initiatives of the 1970s were toned down, if not gutted.” [26]

At the time of Hair’s 1995 departure from the NWF, he was reportedly the highest-paid professional in the environmental advocacy industry, earning $298,000 in wages and benefits. [27] He was succeeded as CEO by Mark Van Putten, who quickly shut down the Corporate Conservation Council and generally returned the NWF to more of its traditional sportsmen’s conservation club role. [28]

Larry Schweiger and Movement Left

In 2004, Larry Schweiger became the NWF’s president and CEO with the stated intent of focusing the organization’s advocacy efforts on global warming. In 2019 he wrote, “In my job interview with the NWF board, I warned that the climate crisis was the greatest threat to life, and if they did not want to focus on the climate crisis, ‘Please don’t hire me.’”[29]

Under Schweiger, the NWF’s long-time conservation focus took a back seat to promoting policies to limit commercial activity in the interest of combating climate change. [30] This included advocacy supporting the Obama administration’s 2009 motor vehicle fuel efficiency rules requiring automakers to reach a target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline,[31] endorsing approval of the Paris Agreement on climate change,[32] recommending implementation of renewable fuel standards,[33] and supporting subsidies for bio-fuel programs. [34].

The NWF’s focus on climate change extended into fields far outside the organization’s stated mission “to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.” [35] For instance, in 2012, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the NWF published “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System Is Not Adequately Prepared.” The report claimed that “An estimated 200 million Americans will be exposed to serious psychological distress from climate related events and incidents” and predicted that global warming “will foster public trauma, depression, violence, alienation, substance abuse, suicide, psychotic episodes, post-traumatic stress disorders and many other mental health-related conditions.” [36]

In his last full year as the NWF’s president and CEO, Schweiger was paid a reported $365,908. [37]

Described by the New York Times as a “somewhat right-leaning” group [38] and by the Washington Post as “one of the most conservative of the environmental organizations” in the 1980s, the NWF moved leftward under Schweiger. [39] In 2011 the NWF’s board endorsed the Earth Charter,[40] an “an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society” that calls for “the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations,” “progressive labor standards,” debt relief for developing nations, disarmament of national militaries, and other left-wing positions without direct connections to environmental concerns. [41]

The NWF’s policies now promote a “steady state” economic model that rejects economic growth in favor of factors such as protecting wildlife habitat, and in 2011 its annual meeting approved a resolution calling for the federal government to end the use of Gross Domestic Product as an economic indicator, replacing GDP with some other measurement of “overall economic and ecological well-being.” [42]

Collin O’Mara

Schweiger’s successor as president and CEO, Collin O’Mara, has continued the NWF’s leftward lean. [43] The former lead environmental official in the administration of Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D-DE), O’Mara also led creation of the city of San Jose, California’s “Green Vision,” a 15-year plan for restructuring the city on environmentalist principles that would be replaced after seven years. [44]

O’Mara’s wife, Krishanti Vignarajah, was a Democratic primary candidate for governor of Maryland in 2018. [45] She is a former aide to Michelle Obama and served in the State Department during the Obama administration.

Opposition to Trump Administration

In 2018, O’Mara led the NWF to oppose the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. [46] It was the first time the NWF had ever opposed an administration’s nominee.

While the NWF had not originally opposed Trump’s nomination of then-U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) as Secretary of the Interior, O’Mara would later change course and attack him, writing that “Zinke’s dogged pursuit of unfettered fossil-fuel extraction makes [Reagan administration Interior Secretary] James Watt’s disastrous tenure look timid.” [47] (In the 1980s, the NWF had attacked Watt for his environmental policies.) [48]

In 2019, O’Mara claimed that the Trump administration’s environmental policy “forfeits American’s rights to clean air, water and access to public lands.” [49]

Mustafa Santiago Ali

In 2019, O’Mara hired former EPA “environmental justice” official and Hip Hop Caucus senior vice president Mustafa Santiago Ali for a newly-created, high-profile role as vice president for environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization. [50][51]

Ali promotes a race- and class-focused view of environmental policy, claiming that, “Environmental racism is the new Jim Crow in regards to food, housing, jobs, education” [52] and “many communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous populations are literally dying for a breath of fresh air.” [53]

He has also argued that the environmental movement is “too white” and that media should pay as much attention to “kids of color” as they do to young Swedish environmentalist activist Greta Thunberg. [54]

Ali was a co-moderator for a November 2019 “environmental justice forum” for Democratic Party presidential candidates. [55] He defined “environmental justice” as the concept that governments should craft environmental policies that prioritize the interests of minorities and low-income communities that he characterized as “sacrifice zones” for “the things that no one else wants.” [56] [57]

During the forum, he asked U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), “So, we know that currently our federal agencies have withdrawn themselves from addressing environmental injustices that are going on. Can you talk about what your administration will do to fix that problem?” [58]

Programs and Strategies

Litigation

In 1970, the NWF adopted litigation as a form of advocacy, hiring its first full-time litigation counsel. [59] In 1977, it won a $7.5 million settlement in a Nebraska case involving whooping crane habitats. By 1978, it had expanded its legal team to four regional offices working with state affiliates.

In the 1980s, the NWF continued to expand its use of the courts, including using them to push the federal government to take a harder and more expansive position on regulation of waste at Superfund sites. [60] By the 1990s, litigation had become such a standard tactic for the NWF that it characterized its work over the decade as, “Going to Court to Protect Wildlife.” [61]

In 1990, the NWF’s litigation tactics were rebuked by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that it had no right to sue federal agencies to force its preferred interpretations of environmental law, based on vague claims that its members lived “in the vicinity” of federal lands. [62] Rather, in Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion rolled back the trend of allowing organizations to sue to drive nationwide policy changes and returned federal courts to requiring a specific harmed plaintiff and agency action:

The case-by-case approach that this requires is understandably frustrating to an organization such as respondent, which has as its objective across-the-board protection of our Nation’s wildlife and the streams and forests that support it. But this is the traditional, and remains the normal, mode of operation of the courts. [63]

The Court’s ruling in Lujan v. NWF was widely seen as a setback to left-wing environmentalist litigation strategy. While subsequent court rulings loosened the strict requirement for plaintiffs to prove that they had actually been harmed by an agency’s policies, some legal observers suggest that Lujan led to the  growth of the “sue and settle” mechanism through which environmentalist groups’ lawsuits against regulators are quickly settled by sympathetic agency bureaucrats in ways that avoid review by courts. [64][65][66][67]

Education

The NWF is heavily involved in promoting its left-leaning environmentalist worldview and policies to children through media, K-12 educational materials and the higher educational system. In its 2018 federal tax return, it claimed to have spent $19.8 million and reached 11 million children through these programs in 2017. [68]

The NWF also reported distributing “climate literacy” curriculum materials to 10,000 teachers in 2017, naming an objective as countering the right-leaning Heartland Institute . [69]

It operates an EPA-funded after-school and summer “multicultural environmental education and leadership development program” named “Earth Tomorrow,” in which students are expected to participate in “climate change and environmental justice projects” and fight “environmental racism.” [70][71][72]

Ranger Rick

One of the NWF’s best-known educational tools is “Ranger Rick,” a cartoon character created in 1959 to teach children about the importance of wildlife conservation. [73] The NWF publishes a variety of magazines, books and other materials promoting its environmentalist agenda under the “Ranger Rick” brand, and sells everything from clothes to toys to digital apps featuring the character. [74] In 2017, the NWF reported $5,982,995 in subscription revenues, much of which was from “Ranger Rick”-branded periodicals. [75]

College Campuses

The NWF is heavily involved in promoting its environmentalist agenda on college campuses across the United States. Through its Campus Ecology and EcoLeaders paid fellowship programs, the NWF has recruited hundreds of students at colleges and universities to promote its agenda at the campus level or assist NWF staff in research that supports the NWF’s goals. [76] [77] [78]

Campus Ecology program co-founder Julian Keniry claims that the world must end “carbon pollution” by the year 2050 and said, “There will be no more important entity in the world than U.S. higher education in addressing this global mandate.” [79]

Promoting Al Gore Films

NWF creates and distributes classroom materials that use and promote former Vice President Al Gore’s propaganda documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power as source material. [80] The curriculum materials promise students will “Adapt or construct new mental models about climate change based on facts presented in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” [81]

The “facts” presented to students include “Globally, wind could supply our electricity consumption needs 40 times over” (a claim disputed by energy analysts[82]) and “The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement between most every country in the nation [sic] to phase down greenhouse gas pollution to net zero emissions as early in the second half of this century as possible.” [83]

Funding

The NWF’s funding comes from a combination of individual donors, foundation and corporate grants, government programs, revenues from its magazines and other publishing, and sales of merchandise.

The NWF also has a growing endowment fund, which totaled $14,567,489 in 2017. [84]

In 2017, the NWF reported $1.1 million in government grants. [85]

Funders include: [86] [87]

Controversies

Inappropriate Coordination with Obama Administration Interior Department

In 2009, a U.S. Department of the Interior investigation into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) discovered that the National Wildlife Federation was so deeply intertwined with the BLM that NWF staffers were being consulted on BLM budgeting and were writing and editing official BLM materials to promote the NWF’s policy priorities. [88]

The Inspector General’s report found that the inappropriate relationships between the NWF and Obama Administration officials at the BLM “gave the appearance of federal employees being less than objective and created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law,” and demonstrated “a general disregard for establishing and maintaining boundaries among the various entities.” [89]

While the IG determined that these actions likely violated federal law and referred the case to federal prosecutors, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice declined to prosecute. [90] [91]

“Not a Beautiful Piece of Land”

In 1975, wealthy NWF supporter Claude Moore donated a 357-acre farm in northern Virginia where he lived to the NWF with the intent that it be maintained and operated as a nature preserve. At the time, it was one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land in the region. [92] In 1986, the NWF sold the property to a developer for $8.5 million, even though Moore was still living there and the property was regularly used by community members for hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. [93]

When asked to justify selling land that had been donated as a nature preserve and was being used by the community for outdoor recreation, an NWF spokesperson called it “not a beautiful piece of land” and said, “We’re interested in getting the money out of it because the land…is not terrifically useful.” [94]

Moore sued, claiming that the NWF had violated its agreement with him. The suit was dismissed, but rather than building their planned homes and apartments the developers eventually sold the land at a $5.2 million profit to the county government to be used as an environmental learning and recreation center, “Claude Moore Park,” which it remains today. [95]

Child Organizations

  • Alabama Wildlife Federation
  • Arizona Wildlife Federation
  • Arkansas Wildlife Federation
  • Association of Northwest Steelheaders
  • Colorado Wildlife Federation
  • Connecticut Forest and Park Association
  • Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma
  • Conservation Council for Hawai’i
  • Conservation Federation of Missouri
  • Conservation Northwest
  • Delaware Nature Society
  • Earth Conservation Corps
  • Environment Council of Rhode Island
  • Environmental Advocates of New York
  • Environmental League of Massachusetts
  • Florida Wildlife Federation
  • Georgia Wildlife Federation
  • Idaho Wildlife Federation
  • Indiana Wildlife Federation
  • Iowa Wildlife Federation
  • Kansas Wildlife Federation
  • Kentucky Waterways Alliance
  • Louisiana Wildlife Federation
  • Michigan United Conservation Clubs
  • Minnesota Conservation Federation
  • Mississippi Wildlife Federation
  • Montana Wildlife Federation
  • Natural Resources Council of Maine
  • Nebraska Wildlife Federation
  • Nevada Wildlife Federation
  • New Hampshire Audubon
  • New Jersey Audubon Society
  • New Mexico Wildlife Federation
  • North Carolina Wildlife Federation
  • North Dakota Wildlife Federation
  • Ohio Conservation Federation
  • PennFuture
  • Planning and Conservation League (CA)
  • Prairie Rivers Network
  • Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña
  • South Carolina Wildlife Federation
  • South Dakota Wildlife Federation
  • Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
  • Tennessee Wildlife Federation
  • Texas Conservation Alliance
  • Vermont Natural Resources Council
  • Virgin Islands Conservation Society
  • Virginia Conservation Network
  • West Virginia Rivers Coalition
  • Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
  • Wyoming Wildlife Federation

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Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Chas Jewett
    Former Tribal Organizer
  2. Larry Schweiger
    Former President

Supported Movements

  1. Strike With Us
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: August - July
  • Tax Exemption Received: June 1, 1943

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Aug Form 990 $91,065,465 $83,063,340 $118,249,455 $51,377,761 Y $73,894,430 $5,612,205 $322,186 $2,387,078 PDF
    2016 Aug Form 990 $77,836,707 $76,640,179 $63,512,539 $62,291,009 Y $64,293,073 $5,532,892 $144,475 $2,020,455
    2015 Aug Form 990 $76,910,602 $71,331,145 $61,553,930 $64,277,902 Y $60,620,621 $5,508,512 $56,058 $1,674,032 PDF
    2014 Aug Form 990 $79,775,214 $78,116,434 $72,168,438 $74,496,669 Y $64,981,174 $5,707,144 $148,641 $3,097,414 PDF
    2013 Aug Form 990 $82,756,184 $79,742,211 $66,456,891 $74,900,262 Y $67,674,931 $6,543,141 $105,017 $2,713,950 PDF
    2012 Aug Form 990 $84,726,518 $88,529,073 $64,489,745 $79,144,503 Y $65,396,583 $8,254,632 $87,498 $2,935,011 PDF
    2011 Aug Form 990 $98,816,637 $96,260,084 $64,808,553 $79,539,168 Y $77,941,133 $9,617,738 $180,481 $2,133,204 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    National Wildlife Federation

    11100 WILDLIFE CENTER DR
    RESTON, VA 20190-5361