Clean up without being cleaned out

One way or another, we will all pay for the Deepwater Horizon oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

But heartbreaking images of suffering wildlife assure that others will step up to pay more than their share through donations of time and money.

The sticky question: To whom do we donate?

Anyone involved with wildlife causes is receiving solicitations to fund oil disaster relief. It’s easy to click on a link or send a text message to make a donation. It’s much more difficult to determine where the money will do the most good.

Some groups are repulsive opportunists, capitalizing on a disaster as a fundraiser.

Other groups are rolling up their sleeves.

The most effective nonprofits may be those focused on coastal habitat.

For example, the effort by groups such as Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research to clean oiled birds is well-funded by British Petroleum, as it should be.

The work is specialized and noble even though the cost-benefit ratio is questionable. Oil is still spewing into the gulf and the odds are high that cleaned birds may contact oil again after their release.

More intriguing are groups that BP might not be funding because they are working on projects not so ripe with feel-good publicity.

The National Wildlife Federation, which has pledged to spend 100 percent of its oil-spill related donations on the cause, is focusing considerable effort in two areas:

•Assisting news media in getting out in the effected areas with scientists to accurately report the disaster, what’s at stake and what needs to be done.

•Organizing volunteers to monitor coastline areas.

“We can’t just unleash a bunch of volunteers to clean up the coastline,” said Susan Kaderka, NWF southcentral region director. “It’s a hazardous situation. There are health risks, and people who don’t know what they’re doing can do more harm than good to the marsh.

“Right now, we’ve developed a surveillance program. We’re recruiting people familiar with the coast – hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers – to monitor certain areas and report oil contamination or affected wildlife to offices set up for that reason.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it might be 375 miles from Biloxi, Miss., to Beaumont, Texas, but in that span Louisiana has about 7,000 miles of coastal edge. That’s what makes it so rich and valuable to fish and wildlife.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, with top ranking on CharityNavigator.org., is a national nonprofit organization that can be counted on to hold BP and government agencies accountable in the aftermath of this incident.

Ducks Unlimited, also a top-rated nonprofit on CharityNavigator.org, is an especially worthy group dedicated to this case because of its expertise in wetland restoration. The region threatened by the oil disaster winters more than 13 million migratory birds in some years, DU officials said in their resolution and long-term commitment.

DU and NWF have been in a coalition working to improve Louisiana coastal habitat even before Hurricane Katrina.

They’ve been in front of the headlines, not behind them.

On the other end of the spectrum are groups such as The Humane Society of the United States, which knows a cash cow when it sees one, oiled or unoiled.

The HSUS website was among the first to feature glossy photos of imperiled Gulf wildlife and a “DONATE NOW” button to click.

Not to be confused with Humane Society groups that shelter stray animals, HSUS is mainly into publicity and “education” in the field of animal welfare and making hunters and farmers look like pigs.

Groups such as HSUS are banking that you don’t have time to check Guidestar.org and review their tax returns. So here’s a little insight.

HSUS is a huge propaganda machine that camouflages its many millions of income through numerous affiliates.

One entity under the HSUS umbrella is the Wildlife Land Trust. According to its 2008 Form 990, available to the public this year, the affiliate’s fundraising expenses totaled $1.45 million.

In return, the group reported $7.3 million in contributions and grants.

At first glance, it seems noble that the money was spent on securing and monitoring about 100 “sanctuaries” or conservation easements totaling about “1.5 million acres.”

A closer look shows that only $210,276 was spent operating, “monitoring” and “consulting” these areas, many of which may be little more than private properties posted with no-hunting signs.

However, $5.6 million was spent “educating the public,” which often is another term for more fundraising and propaganda.

That’s a lot of checks from little ol’ lady animal lovers.

Lesson learned.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or richl@spokesman.com

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