Ford donation irks ranchers

$5 million contribution to Audubon group costs Ford sales among Western U.S. land interests

Ford Motor Co. ads show cowboys proudly using the company's pickups. But a growing number of cowboys out West are angry enough with Ford to start driving Chevrolets.

Ranchers, loggers, miners and agricultural business interests are protesting Ford's environmental attitudes, specifically, a $5 million contribution to the National Audubon Society.

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Ford dispatched two executives to Arizona to meet with three agricultural associations. One of the groups represents 4,000 elected or appointed agricultural and natural resource officials in 16 states and Guam.

Ford is embroiled in a passionate and divisive debate in the West over land use and natural resources. Led by Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., an avowed environmentalist, the automaker has cast itself as an environmentally friendly company. For example, Bill Ford led the automotive industry in acknowledging the existence of global warming.

Now, Ford Division dealers say the company's attitude is contributing to lost sales among ranchers, miners, loggers and farmers in the western United States.

"Ford has donated money to environmental groups. One of them is the National Audubon Society. These environmental groups are spending a lot of money putting timber, livestock grazing and everything else out of business in the West,'' said Doc Lane, director of natural resources for the 2,000-member Arizona Cattle Ranchers Association and a meeting participant. "Our concern is why would Ford be paying to put their customers out of business?''

Last week, the protesting groups asked Ford to underwrite a multi-million-dollar national educational campaign promoting American agricultural and forestry products.

Last week's meeting followed a similar session this month in Montana with protesting members of the logging industry.

Lost sales

"These are not just complaints. This is costing sales,'' said Udon McSpadden, owner of McSpadden Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Glove, Ariz., and a meeting participant. "There were three people in the cattle ranching industry in the meeting that drove Fords their whole life and who now own General Motors products for the first time.''

Bird-watching money

A $5 million Ford Motor Co. Fund contribution to the National Audubon Society triggered the protest. The money was earmarked for "bird monitoring and environmental education programs,'' said Brook Galbraith, Ford fund spokeswoman.

The Ford fund is the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Co.

No members of the Ford family are officers or on the board of the Ford fund, Galbraith said.

"The Ford Fund has assured Ford Division that they will be more cognizant of customer and dealer concerns when making future contribution decisions," said John Jelinek, Ford Division spokesman.

The protesters fault Ford for contributing to an organization whose goals are at odds with their own.

"We just want Ford to work with American agriculture,'' said Olin Sims, a Wyoming rancher and chairman of the Western Coalition of Conservation Districts. Created by Congress in the early 1940s, conservation districts exist in every state and are units of local government charged with protecting natural resources. The Western Coalition represents 752 districts with more than 4,000 elected or appointed officials in 16 states and Guam.

Promoting agriculture

"We have asked Ford to commit to investing back into American agriculture through promoting American agriculture and forestry products,'' said Sims, a meeting participant. "We would like to hear back from them in 45 days.''

The Ford fund did not attend last week's meeting, Galbraith said. J.C. Collins, Ford Division executive dealer relations manager, and John Oldfield, Ford's Phoenix-area regional manager, represented Ford at the two-hour meeting, dealer McSpadden said.

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