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While the National Rifle Association is not best known for its environmental conscientiousness, its self-proclaimed status as “the number-one hunter’s organization in America” does give it a vested interest in preserving wildlife and its habitats. Since 2008, however, this interest has been slowly undermined by the oil and gas industry’s increasingly aggressive contributions to the NRA and other conservative sportsmen’s organizations. According to Matt Lee-Ashley’s recent report for the Center for American Progress, the NRA is joining oil and gas corporations in “reshaping American energy, land, and wildlife policy.”

Last week, Clayton Williams Energy Inc., a large oil company in Texas, made a $1 million contribution to the NRA. This large sum raised the suspicions of New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, who expressed concerns about “both the magnitude and the corporate purpose” of the donation. Stringer’s interest in the matter stems from his role as investment advisor and trustee to the $150 billion New York City Pension Funds, which have more than $3 million invested in the energy company. Given how little a group like the NRA has to do with CWE’s business, it certainly seems that there could be ulterior motives behind the money.

Last Monday, Stringer noted, “The reported contributions are extremely large for such a small company and seem intended to further the political views of its chairman and CEO rather than the interests of the company itself.” And it would appear that the political views of oil and gas companies across the nation are being furthered by their donations to sportsmen’s groups like Safari Club International (SCI) and the NRA.

In 2012 alone, six oil and gas companies — including CWE — contributed between $1.3 and $5.6 million to the NRA. In fact, CWE is the top contributor to the NRA outside of the firearms industry, and ranks as one of the top seven biggest donors overall. CWE’s generosity to the NRA continued despite their significant losses this year (the company is down $24.8 million, or $2.04 per share, according to its annual report).

As the oil and gas industry generously support sportsmen’s groups, they appear to be turning away from their constituencies in favor of the energy industry’s causes — specifically, mining, drilling, and logging in areas previously preserved for wildlife.

In 2011, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced the Wilderness & Roadless Area Release Act, which proposed removing “approximately 43 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs)” from federal protection. These lands would potentially be used for “timber harvests, oil and gas development, [and] motorized recreation.” Hundreds of wildlife managers and scientists, as well as sportsmen’s groups, protested the bill, calling it “an affront to a long-standing public process and our outdoor heritage.”

But despite the NRA and SCI’s supposed dedication to the interests of these individuals, both groups lobbied for the bill.

The bill failed in 2011 and 2012, but in January Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) passed a similar bill out of committee (it will soon face a floor vote). Though the National Wildlife Federation called the new bill “nothing more than the sportsmen community being used as a cover to hide an attack on Wilderness, National Monuments, and National Wildlife Refuges,” Susan Recce — director of conservation, wildlife, and natural resources at the NRA — offered her support when she testified on behalf of the bill in front of Congress.

According to the website for the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), the NRA-ILA is expressly involved in issues related to “hunting and access to hunting lands,” as well as “wilderness and wildlife conservation.” One would think that their involvement would be on behalf of their constituents who are interested in keeping their access to hunting lands and in conserving wilderness and wildlife, but their latest moves and lobbying efforts seem to suggest otherwise.

Hunters and anglers have demonstrated their commitment to maintaining federal lands and protecting wild animals and their habitats. A 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll found that an overwhelming “92 percent of sportsmen – the majority of whom identify as politically conservative or moderate — believe that national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an ‘essential part’ of the economies of these states.” Moreover, around 60 percent of respondents “also opposed allowing private companies to develop public lands.”

In a separate poll conducted by the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance, 73 percent of hunters and anglers opposed the sale of “some public lands…as a way to help reduce the budget deficit.”

In spite of their members’ continued opposition to the selling of federal lands, the NRA and CSI have failed to accurately represent their members’ needs. An April report from the Corporate Accountability International and Gun Truth Project entitled, “Bang For Their Buck: How Seven-Figure Donations From Clayton Williams Energy Are Driving the NRA to Turn its Back on Sportsmen” makes it abundantly clear that the NRA and similar organizations have departed from their purported purposes, and are no longer supporting the causes they are meant to uphold.

With the continued influx of money from oil and gas companies, it may only be a matter of time before sportsmen and women across America will no longer have lands on which to practice their sport.

Karen Bleier via AFP

Former Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe

Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

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