San Diego Business Journal

If you are one of the many people who casually calls yourself an environmentalist, maybe it's worth a second to figure out what kind of environmentalist you really are.

There are two kinds of environmental groups: One is a taker, the other a giver. One a talker, the other a doer; one kind wears earth shoes, the other hiking boots.

And nowhere is that contrast greater than the difference between the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, a lobbying and lawsuit group in Huntington Beach, and Ducks Unlimited, a national organization that raises money to preserve wildlife habitat.

If you surf their Web site and read the newspaper, you'd probably believe the Bolsa Chica Land Trust is a dynamic, responsible, grass-roots group that is raising money to buy wetlands in Orange County.

That is what they say. It's a nice story. Too bad the facts , online at the California attorney general's Web site that tracks nonprofit groups and how they spend their money , don't support the hype.

Here is the real story: Despite its stated purpose, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust has never spent a penny to buy a single piece of land , at Bolsa Chica or anywhere else. They do spend money for lawsuits, lawyers and fund-raising, to pay for even more lawsuits, lawyers and slick brochures.

Indeed, what started out as a group to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the land in Huntington Beach soon morphed into a thinly disguised, shrill, no-growth lawsuit mill, churning out legal and political challenges all over Orange County to stop growth however they could, even if they have to renege on deals that would have preserved wetlands.

If truth-in-advertising laws applied to so-called environmental groups, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and others like it all over California would be in a lot of trouble. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust became this way after discovering no one at the federal, state, local, nonprofit, or private level would give them any money to start buying land. So instead of going away, they kept the rhetoric, but changed their focus to stop any kind of development on a piece of land in Huntington Beach adjacent to the Bolsa Chica wetlands, hoping this billion-dollar property will somehow wither into the public sector.

If you read the newspapers, no matter where you are in California, this is the state of what many call environmentalism today. Much more unheralded, but more important to habitat restoration, are groups such as Ducks Unlimited.

When Ducks Unlimited raises money, it comes willingly from the pockets of their members, not coerced from the taxpayers in exchange for political favors.

And Ducks Unlimited does it well, with each chapter raising hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to buy and preserve tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and other habitat.

It's a difference with huge importance to the environment: One group, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, is a creation of the media and depends on the willingness of local reporters to uncritically report exaggerated environmental claims without checking to see if they are true. Example: Every major daily paper in Southern California has reported , some dozens of times , the coast of California has lost 95 percent of its wetlands to development. This, of course, simply ignores the hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands that have been created since the Coastal Act was approved in the 1970s.

Many of these wetlands are visible from freeways, and reporters, editors and others pass them every day, oblivious.

The other, much-unheralded group is a creation of its members, and their belief in the work they actually do to improve the environment.

One kind of group is doing the work. The other is getting the credit, and as such, is allowed to set an agenda for the environment that exists largely in downtown, big-city courtrooms, newsrooms and in the wilderness fantasies of alienated suburban liberals , the last political group that hasn't learned about the failure of their Eastern European central planning economic models.

A society that values bogus environmentalism at the expense of real people doing real work to save the environment will have a lot more fake environmentalism, and a lot less of the real work it takes to create habitat and inspire wonder about our natural world and our place in it.

Boswell is a San Diego resident.