Founded in 1922 by some 54 avid sportsmen who were concerned about the deteriorating conditions of America’s top fishing streams, the Izaak Walton League of America (IWL) is an organization of hunters, anglers, outdoor recreationists, and conservationists whose mission is “to conserve, maintain, protect, and restore the soil, forest, water, and other natural resources of the United States and other lands.” Further, the League seeks “to promote means and opportunities for the education of the public with respect to such resources and their enjoyment and wholesome utilization.” Named after the 17th-century English conservationist who wrote the literary classic The Compleat Angler, IWL is a mostly grassroots operation consisting of more than 250 local chapters and approximately 50,000 members nationwide.
During its first several decades, IWL, like most environmental groups of that era, focused its attention primarily on conservation, not politics. But in the 1960s, after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring spawned a “second generation” environmental movement — highly confrontational and politicized — many already-established conservation groups began to embrace left-wing agendas. IWL, for its part, identifies the first Earth Day, in 1970, as the key event that initially propelled it into the mainstream of this new movement. To this day, the League regards Earth Day as an important annual occurrence.
Claiming that “no other conservation group in the [U.S.] has had such a profound effect on the nation’s conservation policies,” IWL today administers the following program areas:
The Agriculture Program asserts that “America’s agricultural lands [are] a major source of nonpoint source pollution and can reduce fish and wildlife habitat if not managed right.” In response to this problem, IWL seeks to “conserv[e] farmland and mitigat[e] the impacts of agricultural production on fish, wildlife, and habitat.”
The Energy Program works to “improve air quality by seeking tougher pollution standards for the oldest, dirtiest [coal-burning] power plants”; promote renewable energy by “reducing America’s dependence on coal and oil by advocating for increased energy conservation and the development of clean energy sources” such as wind, sun, and water; and curtail climate change, which the League attributes to the greenhouse-gas emissions generated by human industrial activity. To avoid “drastic and long-term climate changes that will surpass all other environmental crises past and present,” IWL calls for the U.S. to reduce its “combustion of fossil fuels by 60 percent,” embrace “the emission reductions set forth in the Kyoto Protocol,” and pass cap-and-trade legislation.
The Regional Conservation Program focuses on “restoring watersheds, reducing air pollution, protecting wildlife habitat and open spaces, and instilling conservation ethics in outdoor recreationists.” It devotes special attention to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeastern Minnesota, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Missouri River, and the Upper Mississipi River.
The Sustainability Program urges the U.S. to “balanc[e] economic prosperity and population growth with resource conservation,” so that people can “live a quality life without sacrificing the natural resources that future generations will depend on.”
“[E]ach generation has the right to use only a small portion of [the earth’s] limited resources and has the responsibility to share those resources with coming generations.”
Existing nuclear power plants “should be allowed to operate,” but “only if all other least-cost alternatives have been utilized fully.” Moreover, IWL has adopted a “no new nuclear plant construction policy” because of safety concerns involving the disposal and storage of radioactive waste.
The League opposes oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and urges “a moratorium on issuing permits for drilling new, high-volume hydraulic fracturing directional wells.”
IWL “generally is opposed to siting any refinery, oil port, bunkering station or petroleum transfer facility in any estuary, wetland, or other shoreline or offshore area not already affected significantly by petroleum pollution.”
IWL has supported the passage and implementation of the federal Endangered Species Act, and contends that “decisions to list a species [as endangered] should be made solely on biological—rather than economic—grounds.”
“Rivers that are especially important to fisheries should be declared fish sanctuaries, with construction of dams forbidden.”
Other IWL positions are more focused on ideological concerns having little or nothing to do with the environment. For example:
“All segments of the population must have opportunities to achieve lives of quality and dignity.”
Economic or environmental reforms must carefully avoid placing “a disproportionate burden on lower-income individuals and families.”
IWL “encourage[s] polices, attitudes, social standards, and programs that will—through voluntary actions consistent with human rights and individual conscience—bring about the stabilization of human population” while promoting “social equity,” “basic and reproductive health care,” and “equality between men and women.”
IWL receives funding from the Arca Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Howard Heinz Endowment, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Summit Charitable Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The League has also received a number of large government grants from the Environmental Protection Agency.