Somerset, Pa. – A conservation alliance that dates to the
Franklin D. Roosevelt administration has come to an ugly end.
The National Wildlife Federation has dumped the Pennsylvania
Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs as its state affiliate, ironically
enough less than six months after the state federation considered –
but ultimately rejected – a resolution to break away from the
The two groups had been partners of sorts since the Wildlife
Federation’s founding in 1936.
The dissolution of their link was shockingly sudden, even though
trouble had been brewing between the groups for some years.
Officials from the two organizations were to meet at the
Pennsylvania Federation’s fall convention in Somerset the first
weekend of September. Melody Zullinger, executive director of the
Pennsylvania Federation, said she was expecting problems.
Earlier, Zullinger said, the Wildlife Federation had said it
wanted the state group to champion at least one of its three main
priorities: global warming, fish and wildlife habitat loss, and the
growing disconnect between people and nature.
“As soon as I saw that, I knew there was going to be trouble,”
The Pennsylvania Federation has been divided on global warming
in particular, with members just recently agreeing to remain
neutral on the subject. That’s why Zullinger said she was expecting
the meeting to result in sanctions of some sort – perhaps being put
on a year’s probation – for failing to be active enough.
Instead, representatives from the national group showed up with
a letter announcing that their board had unanimously decided to end
any affiliation between the groups.
The problem is that the two groups no longer agree on how to
spend their energies, said Larry Schweiger, the Butler County
native who serves as president and CEO of the Wildlife Federation.
Specifically, the Pennsylvania Federation isn’t on board with his
group’s goals, he said.
“The current PFSC leadership is more focused on gun rights,
seasons and bag limits, methods of take, and working over the
commissions. And that’s just not the leadership we need in
Pennsylvania to move forward,” Schweiger said.
Zullinger said the Pennsylvania Federation is indeed concerned
about habitat loss and getting people involved in the outdoors, but
it is not willing to champion them above all else.
“Those are issues we support, but they are not our primary
focus,” Zullinger said. “Our mission is more geared toward
sportsmen, whereas theirs is geared to non-consumptive users.”
That’s a fallacy, said Schweiger, who identified himself as a
hunter and angler. Polls show that most sportsmen are concerned
about the very issues the Wildlife Federation is taking on.
The fact that the Pennsylvania Federation – which he said was
originally founded to address the “conservation and environmental
issues of its day” – is not willing to get involved is sad.
“I would suggest the federation has moved away from its core,
historic mission,” Schweiger said.
Ironically, that is the same charge Pennsylvania Federation
members level against the Wildlife Federation.
Bernie Spozio, of Clarion, newly elected president of the
Pennsylvania Federation, tried to get his group to terminate its
affiliation with the Wildlife Federation back in the spring.
He said he advanced the idea then because, while the Wildlife
Federation was in large part founded by sportsmen, it has become a
lobbying group beholden to its largest donors, even if those groups
do not necessarily like hunters, anglers and trappers.
That motion failed, but perhaps foreshadowed a breakup that
Spozio described as not necessarily “a bad thing.”
“They seem to have drifted in another direction,” Spozio said.
“In my mind, it is to the point where sportsmen are looked down on
as a group they need to work with, but don’t really approve
In practical terms, the breakup between the two groups will only
cost the Pennsylvania Federation a little bit of funding for things
like staff training, Zullinger said.
In philosophical terms, the cost might be far greater, said Ron
Freed, of Carlisle, a former president of the Pennsylvania Wildlife
“I think it’s bad news for the Pennsylvania Federation because
as long as they had that affiliation, they could cite it as proof
of having a conservation focus as well as a hook-and-bullet focus.
They aren’t going to be able to say that any more.”