Wilderness group sees growth surge | VailDaily.com

Wilderness group sees growth surge

ASPEN ” Nobody said being a leader in environmental activism would be easy ” or cheap.

Wilderness Workshop, the oldest locally-based environmental organization, doubled its staff and increased its revenues 86 percent this year compared to 2005. The growth coincides with the organization’s expanding role as a watchdog for issues affecting wilderness and other national forest lands.

Wilderness Workshop does everything from trying to prevent gas companies from drilling on leases they hold on forest lands to earning wilderness protections for more land Colorado.

Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker said the most exciting aspect of growing is it allows Wilderness Workshop to take initiative on some major issues rather than sit back and counter-punch when threats to public lands emerge.

Wilderness Workshop and allied conservation groups will lead a charge this year to add 650,000 acres of wilderness in the White River National Forest and nearby public lands. Allies in Congress will introduce legislation; conservation groups will rally support among the public.

“We’re about to turn our organizers loose,” Shoemaker said.

Causes like additional wilderness lands are what members can really rally behind because the results are tangible, he said.

Shoemaker said it is important to have an organization that represents the environment when the gas, logging and motorized recreation industries are so powerful.

“People are recognizing the importance of our organization ” getting a dog in the fight,” he said.

Wilderness Workshop was formed at the kitchen tables of Joy Caudill, Connie Harvey and the late Dottie Fox in 1967 to get more lands around Aspen included in the original Wilderness Act. It remained a small organization for most of its first 40 years. It didn’t get its official nonprofit status until 1976 and even then limped along with volunteer or part-time labor.

Shoemaker became the first full-time paid staff member in 2000. For about four years, he was a jack-of-all trades: analyzing industry proposal for projects in the forest, writing position papers, fielding media calls and schmoozing the membership.

Touting the organization and stirring passions among potential members often fell victim to the workload, he said.

Dave Reed was hired as development director in late 2003.

“I came on and basically the first thing I did was toot our own horn,” Reed said.

Shoemaker and Reed were so successful in building visibility for the organization and attracting new blood that deficit spending wasn’t necessary. Revenues soared from $193,000 in 2005 to about $333,000 in unrestricted funds last year, Reed said.

Most of the added revenue came from new members and larger contributions from, Reed said. Membership swelled from about 170 to 650.

Wilderness Workshop is inching closer to a model for nonprofits that suggests 70 percent of revenues should come from members and 30 percent from grants. It was reversed in the 1990s. Now more than 60 percent of revenues come membership contributions.

The bigger membership has brought more clout with public land management agencies, greater visibility and more initiatives. Shoemaker said the budget is still a “pittance” compared to what the organization would like to do.

Two full-time staff members have been added. A conservation analyst was hired last year and a foundation provided $40,000 earmarked for a community organizer this year. Two part-time staff members have also been added ” an administrative aid and membership coordinator.

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