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Wild PAC: A voice protecting the wilderness

May 9, 2002

Vicki Simarano, executive director of Wild PAC, works in her office Wednesday. Simarano founded the political-action committee in Washington, D.C., in June 2001 to protect the environment . A month later, she moved to Durango to live in the kind of place the organization seeks to protect.

By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the Herald

Durango may be a long way from Washington, D.C., but it is now home to a political-action committee, or PAC. Wild PAC is an environmental organization that supports elected officials at the local, state and federal levels who advocate protection of public lands, especially wilderness.

"We want to create a political voice for wilderness," said Vicki Simarano, founder and executive director of Wild PAC.

Simarano said she formed the group because of the disparity between the amount of money extraction industries donate to political campaigns, and the amount of money environmental groups contribute.

WILD PAC

Wild PAC is a Durango-based political-action committee that supports elected officials at the local, state and federal levels who advocate protection of public lands, especially wilderness. For more information, visit www.wildpac.org.

She said that in 2000, oil, mining and timber interests invested more than $41 million in political campaigns, while environmental PACs only contributed about $3 million to $4 million.

"Weíll never be able to match them dollar for dollar, so thatís why we have the people power," she said.

Simarano founded Wild PAC in Washington, D.C., in June 2001 after eight years working there on various House and Senate campaigns, including one for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. She was also deputy political director of the Sierra Club for six years.

"I love working in politics and campaigns and wanted to do it to protect the environment," Simarano said.

A month after Wild PACís inception, Simarano moved to Durango in order to live in the kind of place the organization seeks to protect. She spends a good deal of time traveling the country, trying to raise awareness and money for the political-action committee.

"Our support has come from over a thousand individuals in less than a year, and weíve raised over $150,000," she said. "Itís been busy."

This will be the first election year in which Wild PAC will participate. Its contributions to endorsed candidates can take the form of direct contributions, providing campaign staff, volunteers and publicity, and "getting the vote out," Simarano said.

She said Wild PAC members donate money, time and frequent flier miles, which help cut down on travel costs for the organization.

Wild PAC is a nonpartisan organization, but so far, its endorsements in Colorado have been for Democrats in the U.S. Congress Ė Reps. Diane DeGette and Mark Udall.

Simarano said they were selected because they are champions of wilderness.

"I am honored to have the support of Wild PAC," Udall said in a news release, when he announced his endorsement in March. "Grassroots organizations such as Wild PAC are the backbone of a successful democracy, and they need to be applauded for continuing to fight for public lands and wilderness."

A top priority for Wild PAC is working to help protect the Rocky Mountains from gas and oil exploitation now that the Arctic Refuge will not be opened for drilling, Simarano said.

The organization is focusing on 10 tight congressional races across the nation and a few at the state and local level, Simarano said.


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