‘ASTROTURFING’ THE BRISTOL BAY-PEBBLE NARRATIVE
An alliance of sportsfishing enthusiasts that has been opposing the Pebble Project for over a decade is run by a man who lives, he says, in Nicaragua.
Scott Hed comes from the Midwest, went to college at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, loves to fish, and has been to Alaska at least a couple of times, he says in various online media. Right now, he’s angling for tropical species in his current home.
Hed is the unlikely director of Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska.
A lot of people in the fight over the Pebble Project think that’s a real thing.
But the “Sportsman” in the organization is singular, not plural. It’s just Hed. He went fishing in Alaska once upon a time and was recruited to be the front guy for a fake alliance that makes unsuspecting anglers around the country think it’s a real organization — one that would file a 990 form with the IRS.
Since 2006, Hed has been paid to fight the Pebble mine at trade shows that attract fishermen and hunters. He admits it’s just him:
“SAA has always been a one-man operation, so I’ve worn a lot of hats … all with the end goal of informing and engaging anglers and hunters from around the country (and even abroad) as well as the fishing and hunting product industries in efforts to ensure that productive fish and game habitats in Alaska are not jeopardized to types of development projects that have proven harmful in other places,” he told the writer for Deneki Outdoors.
This is the age of “astroturfing,” where grassroots activity is everywhere. The astroturfing messages, in fairness, come from both sides when it comes to trying to persuade the public.
If you look behind the curtain (if you can) with these fake grassroots groups, you find a much bigger organization funding, managing, and fundraising around an issue.
That’s the case with Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska.
Hed’s one-man mission is a subset of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which calls itself “Alaska’s Trusted Conservation Leader.”
Donations to the Sportsman’s Alliance go to the Alaska Conservation Fund. But Hed is nowhere to be found on the Foundation’s web site or listed as staff. He’s a paid operative out there on his own, not even listed among the foundation’s grantees. He must be very persuasive.
Hed’s fictitious group has presented itself in such a way that even Alaskans in the mining industry think it’s a real thing. Hed wrote in 2014:
It’s an incredible honor to be recognized as this year’s Angler of the Year by Fly Rod & Reel magazine. I was taken completely by surprise when notified by Greg Thomas, the editor of the publication. To be listed alongside past winners such as Ted Turner, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Rosenbauer, and Craig Hayes (just to mention a few) is something that is humbling to say the least. There’s really no way I belong in their company, at least I don’t think so. I’m quite possibly the least-skilled angler to ever win “Angler of the Year!” Think I’m kidding? Ask some of the guides who’ve fished with me over the years. I get results, but it’s usually not all that pretty getting them. I guess it’s a good thing that angling isn’t the sole qualifier to be considered for this distinction.
The campaign to protect Bristol Bay has been the most meaningful endeavor I’ve been involved with in my 46 years on this planet, and that will likely still hold true someday when I’m dead and gone. This campaign has been an incredible experience, and I feel that the recognition I received with this award is far beyond what I’m individually due. To be clear, I do not dispute the fact that I’ve worked longer than anyone in the Lower 48 in spreading the word among the community of anglers about why the Pebble Mine is a horrible idea for Bristol Bay. In fact, I still recall the day that I was asked if I’d like to take this duty on. In the back of my mind, I thought “They want me to go around the country and talk with anglers (and hunters) about Bristol Bay…a place that sportsmen and women either dream of going someday or where they can’t wait to return if they’ve had the good fortune to visit in the past. What’s the catch? Am I still going to get paid?”
Watch Scott Hed talk about Pebble in this video shot when he was representing his fake group at an outdoor show in Orlando, Fla.:
Alaska Conservation Foundation, an industrial-strength environmental group, gets top grades from charity raters Charity Navigator and Guide Star, and also is rated high by the Better Business Bureau. But the organization is serving as a backend organization for astroturfing, with very little transparency, it appears.
No mention of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska is revealed in recent IRS Form 990 filings by the foundation, although Hed still portrays it in 2019 as being an active organization.
Look for Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska and other astroturf efforts to reconstitute in coming weeks in an attempt to steer public opinion against the Pebble Project as the draft environmental impact statement goes through the public review process.
Public hearings on the new project design will begin this month:
March 25: Naknek – 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Bristol Bay School.
March 26: Kokhanok – 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Community Hall.
March 27: Newhalen – 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Newhalen School.
March 28: Igiugig – 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Igiugig School.
March 29: New Stuyahok – 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Community Building.
April 8: Nondalton – 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Tribal Center.
April 9: Dillingham – 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Dillingham Elementary School.
April 11: Homer – 3:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Homer High School.
April 16: Anchorage – 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Dena’ina Center.
There should be plenty of drama at all of the hearings, since this project is Number 1 on the kill list for environmental groups.