Trout Unlimited

A big fish in the pond of liberal money

At a Glance

Founded as an association of fly fisherman, Trout Unlimited has morphed into a group that not only has received over $20 million in the past 5 years from environmentalist sources, but its officers and trustees of its national governing association have a decidedly liberal and Democratic tilt.


Trout Unlimited (TU) was founded in the 1950s as an association of fly fishermen committed to preserving America’s trout streams and replenishing the trout population for fishing. In recent years, however, TU’s seems to have hooked a great source of income: the radical environmentalist movement, launching tangential campaigns against energy production and opposing the Keystone XL natural gas pipeline. The conversion has followed multi-million dollar grants from key environmentalist foundations, including Ted Turner’s foundation, the Heinz Foundation (chaired by Teresa Heinz, wife of the 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry), the Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore Foundation, and the Pew Trusts.

As a result, the organization’s leadership is now stocked with professional liberals and Democrats. TU’s President, Christopher Wood, was a 2008 Obama Transition Team member and had been considered to head an office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Board members include former U.S. Representative Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) and a former Deputy Chief of Staff to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

While TU began as a conservation organization for trout anglers, the group has grown more radical in its environmentalism as time has passed. Despite its rough-and-tumble field-and-stream self-presentation, TU’s membership leans wealthy and urban while its (non-government) funders come from the highest reaches of organized environmentalism. Recent years have seen TU move toward the environmentalist policy view, with opposition to energy production and resource development becoming larger portions of its portfolio.

Trout Unlimited has portrayed itself as an association that leans Republican, but the officers and trustees of TU’s national governing association have an environmentalist, liberal, and Democratic bent.

  • TU National President Christopher Wood has donated to Democratic Senatorial candidates and was a member of President Obama’s 2008 Department of Agriculture Transition Team. The Associated Press reported that Wood, a high-ranking policy staffer in the U.S. Forest Service during President Bill Clinton’s time in office, was initially favored to be President Obama’s nominee to head the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Wood was reportedly denied the post because he was a registered lobbyist from 2002 through 2007. (Obama had pledged not to nominate lobbyists to government posts.)
  • TU’s Vice President for Western Conservation, Robert Masonis, previously worked for the environmentalist group American Rivers; TU’s head lobbyist, Steve Moyer, previously worked for the environmentalist National Wildlife Federation.
  • Trustee Walter Minnick served from 2009-2011 as a U.S. Representative from Idaho as a Democrat.
  • Trustee Kai Anderson is a lobbyist for Cassidy and Associates, representing several solar energy firms, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the environmentalist Resources Legacy Fund. Before joining Cassidy, Anderson was Deputy Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.
  • Trustee Michael Dombeck was Director of the United States Forest Service during the Clinton administration; Wood was his communications aide.
  • Other trustees, including Nancy McKinnon, Valerie Colas-Ohrstrom, and Paul Doscher, have worked for or served on the boards of environmental groups including the Nature Conservancy, the Black Rock Forest Consortium, and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.


Trout Unlimited’s financial supporters have helped drive a more aggressive environmentalist stance that includes opposition to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale deposits and support for carbon taxation through a “cap-and-trade” program. The organization receives millions of dollars per year from environmentalist foundations, many based near San Francisco. In the past 5 years, TU and its affiliates have received sizable funds from the following environmentalist foundations:

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: $12,015,000
  • The Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore Foundation: $3,694,323
  • The David and Lucile Packard Foundation: $3,514,526
  • The Wyss Foundation: $2,163,600
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts: $750,000

TU has also received grants from the congressionally chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organization, and TU reported receiving roughly $10 million — about one-third of the national organization’s budget — in governmental funds on its 2011 tax return. The federal spending database at indicates that federal grants to TU have gone toward various environmental remediation projects.

Black Eye

While Trout Unlimited began as a conservationist organization and presents itself as such, changes in leadership and foundation funding have seen it move towards the anti-business environmentalist position. TU makes efforts to stall and block development of America’s mineral resources, running a well-funded campaign against mining in Alaska and pushing over-burdensome regulation of natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania. TU also endorsed the highly controversial “cap-and-trade” proposal before Congress.

Blocking Alaska’s Pebble Mine

Trout Unlimited has a large, well-funded (the Moore Foundation gave the program $900,000 in 2011 alone) effort to close off resource development in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Analysts estimate that the Pebble mine site near Bristol Bay contains 10 billion metric tons of metals ore, including copper, silver, and gold. Additionally, the Pebble site contains a significant supply of molybdenum, a constituent metal in steel.

Backed by millions of dollars of environmentalist foundation funding over several years, TU has fought to block all resource extraction at the Pebble site. TU has initiated a major media campaign to lobby the Environmental Protection Agency to preemptively kill the project outside of the normal environmental planning process.

Putting Marcellus Shale Jobs at Risk

Trout Unlimited is also putting roadblocks in the path of the promising development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York that may contain upwards of 140 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor estimates that over 200,000 people work in jobs related to natural gas development in the Marcellus region.

TU has proposed stalling this job-creating resource development with regulatory roadblocks. Additionally, TU testified before Congress that significant portions of the Marcellus formation must remain off-limits to development.

Pushing Cap-and-Trade Environmentalist Bill

In 2010, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2454, the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The bill would have raised gas and other fuel prices and instituted an effective energy tax in the name of fighting climate change.

TU lobbied on behalf of the bill, according to Senate lobbying disclosure filings, and TU president Wood endorsed the proposal in Capitol Hill testimony. He told a Senate hearing: “Federal climate change legislation that takes five percent of the total allowance value from a cap and trade program and dedicates it for climate change adaptation work is vital.” The effort failed.