When the Continental Divide Trail Association's (CDTA) executive director, Bruce Ward, went looking for more board members recently, he reached out to Shawn Taylor, manager of government and external affairs for Kennecott Energy -- www.kennecottenergy.com.
While the $5,000 donation was certainly appreciated, Ward told SNEWSÂ® that he and the board were very cognizant of the fact that adding an executive from a mining company might not be looked at favorably by some in the recreation community.
"We seek funds from a wide variety of sources based on their areas of interest. Many natural resource companies are interested in assisting organizations like the CDTA," Ward told us. "But we knew that with this appointment, we might be running the risk of losing support from existing members/supporters as well as misrepresentation of our relationship by individuals/organizations that are not supportive of our strategies."
As expected, Ward and the CDTA did receive a letter from a member of REI, asking REI to terminate its company support for the trail project as a result of the Kennecott appointment. REI remains steadfast in its support of CDTA.
In a letter to REI in response, Ward wrote the following:
"It is easy to misunderstand certain partnerships, but this Trail is for all Americans and we will continue to protect the interests of the American people for the purposes intended by Congress along the Trail: To conserve the nationally significant scenic, historic, natural and cultural qualities of the area and for recreation and the enjoyment of these very special places.
Our board of directors discussed this issue at length and there was unanimous consensus on the following principles that were applied in our decision to accept funding from the natural resource industries:
1. The CDTA will not change any of its policies or make any concessions to corporate supporters as a condition of the sponsorship or funding. Kennecott is not trying to influence the direction of the CDTA, they are adopting our stance on environmental stewardship regarding the trail. This is also good for the environment.
2. Working with the other legitimate users of our public lands is not only desirable; it is imperative if we are to achieve our vision of a border-to-border primitive and challenging Trail. Our ability to sit at the table with these industries is an essential part of the strategy to work with all the stakeholders involved.
3. Especially now, when views of the best uses of our public lands are becoming more and more polarized, we must work to understand each other across traditional boundaries."
We contacted Taylor and he admitted to us that having a mining executive on the board of directors of a trail preservation group charged with establishing and protecting a trail might be perceived as a little odd -- on both sides of the fence.
"It is unusual, but it is one of the reasons I wanted to participate because it is so out of the ordinary and speaks to how we at Kennecott are looking at things," said Taylor. "On a personal level, and being from Wyoming, I feel very passionately about the trail and the outdoors and preserving access for all."
Taylor pointed out to us that that Kennecott is a very proactive company when it comes to sustainable energy, environmentally responsible business practices, and encouraging its employees to get involved with communities and resource preservation.
"I am fully aware that one of the strengths I bring to the table because of my position in a mining company is a perceived ability to be able to get other mining companies, or petroleum companies, or politicians to sit down at the table and listen and hopefully more willingly lend their support to the creation of this great trail where they might not otherwise," Taylor added.
CDTA board member Royal Robbins told SNEWSÂ® that for his part, he does not subscribe to the perception that all large corporations, including extractive ones, are by their very nature evil.
"Kennecott is a powerful force, and if they want to help us to build this magical trail, I see no reason not to give them the opportunity," said Robbins. "Absent a very compelling reason or persuasive argument not to welcome their support, I find no evidence that adding Shawn to the board is the wrong thing to do -- it is a win win for everyone.
SNEWSÂ® View: Bravo CDTA. For the record, we contacted dozens of company execs and others in the recreation industry to gauge a response, and despite quite a number of "Oh my gawd, what were they thinking?" knee-jerk responses -- responses we expected -- nearly every person after thinking about the issues for a moment and letting the reactive side bubble down, came to the same conclusion we did -- if it is good for the trail, then why not! One company executive, a person who has served on land trusts and advocacy causes shared the following with us, and it echoes the SNEWSÂ® sentiments 100 percent: "If a business or individual buys in to the vision of a non-profit, in this case, the CDTA, their ability to influence their constituents to achieve this vision can be a very powerful thing. In my experience, businesses are a collection of people, and the vast majority of these people care about the quality of life and environmental condition of the area they call home. Having business and environmental leaders sitting at the table together fosters understanding and facilitates constructive action. Stereotyping each other without building relationships leads to lawsuits and expensive inaction. If Kennecott and its representatives support the vision of the Continental Divide Trail and are willing to bring their volunteer and financial resources to achieve this vision, then I believe they should be given that chance. If their motives differ from this, then both sides should reconsider. The Continental Divide Trail is a resource that could make the Rockies more accessible to people in a constructive, environmentally friendly way. Usage builds advocacy and advocacy is critical to long-term appreciation and protection of our wild and scenic places. Having a diverse coalition of interests will help facilitate making this vision a reality." Amen!