by Whit Gibbons

August 12, 2007

When Peter Stangel hands someone a brochure about what great things Wal-Mart is doing for the environment, an ecologist might be wary. But knowing that one of Dr. Stangel's titles is Director of Science and Evaluation at the national headquarters of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), I was prepared for something worthwhile. I was not disappointed.

NFWF is a conservation organization with a mission of "sustaining, restoring, and enhancing the Nation's fish, wildlife, plants and habitats through leadership conservation investments." This not-for-profit organization established by Congress in 1984 and based in Washington, D.C., arranges matches of private contributions with federal funds. The Foundation's goals include habitat protection achieved through the private contributions from some of the world's major business enterprises.

In 2005 NFWF set up a partnership program with Wal-Mart that was called "Acres for America." The program has been described as "a novel way for the corporate world and the conservation community to work cooperatively to conserve vital wildlife habitat for future generations." When Wal-Mart initiated their part of the program, they committed $35 million over the next decade to conserve permanently a minimum of one acre of prime wildlife habitat for each acre that the company developed for its commercial facilities.

A conservation project involving Wal-Mart may cause cynical eyebrows to be raised among some environmentalists, because the company is one of the world's largest promoters of consumption of natural resources. In fact, in an opinion piece titled "Acres for America: Wal-Mart's Cynical New Greenwashing Campaign," ( Stacy Mitchell stated that we should "strongly object to Wal-Mart's propaganda and to NFWF's shameless assertion that Wal-Mart is 'raising the bar in conservation.' "

But consider this. Although many groups object to Wal-Mart as an eliminator of local businesses, Wal-Mart is a product of legal, free enterprise capitalism that will continue to grow under most of today's political systems. So, if Wal-Mart is going to go about its business anyway, why not take advantage of their success and give them an opportunity to give something back to society on the environmental front? One of those "make lemonade" situations.

The Wal-Mart Acres for America program has helped to protect more than a third of a million acres, many of which have connected with other protected areas, providing a broader coverage of the landscape with continuous wildlife habitat. The diversity of habitats preserved across the country is impressive. Sherfield Cave in Arkansas has one of the largest winter hibernation sites for an endangered species, the Indiana bat. The partnership, which in this case involved The Nature Conservancy as well as NFWF, preserved more than a thousand acres of wildlife habitat in the vicinity of the cave. Another NFWF/Wal-Mart partnership has acquired more than 6,000 acres of privately owned lands in Louisiana that will be donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge by 40 percent. More than 400,000 migratory waterfowl and shorebirds are present at the refuge during peak migration periods.

NFWF is also involved in environmental partnerships with other major corporations, including oil companies. For example, BP supports research on polar bears, ConocoPhillips has supported a migratory bird program for 15 years, ExxonMobil has invested more than $12 million in support of tiger conservation projects, and Shell Oil Company has invested $32 million in marine habitat restoration and conservation. Power companies such as the Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation and the Southern Company have contributed to conservation of native species and habitats. NFWF partnerships with Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser, Bass Pro Shops, ESPN, and the Orvis Company support fish and wildlife habitat protection and restoration, and help raise public environmental awareness.

NFWF states that they "will consider recommendations for projects that would generate the greatest impact to important fish, wildlife or plant resources" with these and other corporate, private, and government partners (go to Meanwhile, if you have a Wal-Mart being built in your community, find out how many acres they are going to develop and propose that they set aside some prime wildlife habitat as compensation. Give Wal-Mart an opportunity to show their greener side.

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