News from the Field, February 1997
It's a strategy that Suntzu and Machiavelli would have appreciated. Environmental groups forget to renew their corporate registrations on time, opening the door for the Wise Use movement, the loose band of ranching, timber, and property-rights groups, to sweep in and renew the compacts for them.
Greenscamming, the name environmentalists have given this brand of chicanery, first appeared in 1993 in Idaho. A rancher named Ted Hoffman, who'd been battling with the Committee for Idaho's High Desert over everything from endangered-species preservation to a plan to convert BLM land into a bombing range, had an accomplice lope into the state office building and swipe his opponent's name.
"Hoffman showed up at one public hearing and said, 'I'm an environmentalist, I'm president of CIHD, and I support the bombing range!'" says Laird Lucas, the lawyer for the original CIHD. "A lot of people were confused." Elsewhere, Wyoming browns incorporated the name Friends of the Bow--a group that lobbies against clear-cutting in the Medicine Bow National Forest--and promptly began running ads in praise of wholesale tree-chopping.
Green groups have begun to retaliate. Last August a federal appeals court in San Francisco awarded the CIHD its name back, along with attorneys' fees. Emboldened, the former Friends of the Bow is now threatening its impostors with a suit of its own.
Nevertheless, it seems the wily practice is here to stay. Take, for instance, People Eating Tasty Animals--yep, PETA--which recently set up camp on the Internet at http://www.peta.org. Unamused, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lodged a complaint with InterNIC, which arbitrates such disputes. For the moment, site creator Mike Doughney has backed down. But he says
he's feeling victimized. Among the reams of E-mail messages he's received from furry-animal lovers: "Be prepared for enemies."