Although critics are claiming an agreement by Wal-Mart to preserve an acre of wilderness for every acre its stores and parking lots occupy is nothing but a cynical scheme to burnish the retail giant’s battered image, there’s no denying that it will do a lot of good for the environment.
Here’s the deal: Congress set up the private, non-profit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 1984 to leverage federal conservation funds with private dollars to preserve suitable tracts of land. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been preserved through the initiative so far, and Wal-Mart executives recently agreed to join the effort with an acre-for-acre pledge. That means, according to an Associated Press report, that at least 138,000 acres in the United States will be preserved as “priority” wildlife habitat under the plan during the next 10 years.
Two of the tracts targeted for preservation are on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Others are in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oregon and Maine. The Grand Canyon tracts are ranches within the National Park that the foundation plans to purchase and preserve.
This is wilderness preservation at its best. Because private funds are being used, demands on the public treasury are reduced, and because a private foundation is overseeing the preservation, political fights are minimized or eliminated.
So, of course, the Sierra Club hates it. “Wal-Mart thinks it can paint over its record with a nice shade of green,” hissed the club’s Eric Olson, “but that won’t hide its true colors.”
Yes, we know, those “true colors” of corporate efficiency and innovation that provide consumers with quality merchandise at reasonable prices will haunt it forever. But still, even those who faithfully look for the union label when they shop would have to admit preserving hundreds of thousands of acres of American wildlands is not a bad thing.
In fact, we would venture that not only is it a good thing, but a model that other major corporations should emulate. And frankly, we don’t care whether they’re motivated by a Sierra-Club-pure heart or corporate image-building. As long as the result is protected wildlands that our children and grandchildren can enjoy as America continues to urbanize.