SEATTLE – For decades, Ford trucks have been carrying the load in rural America. But now the automaker's recent commitment to "Earth-friendly" organizations is planting some seeds of discontent.
The once-thriving logging communities of Western Montana's Flathead Valley are struggling to survive, largely because of stringent environmental regulations enacted during the Clinton years.
That's why the Ford drivers in the valley are upset over the company's $5 million grant in February to the National Audubon Society.
"I do not understand why Ford has decided to give money to groups that attack their customer base," says Bruce Vincent, a fourth-generation logger in the Flathead Valley. "We're the folks who buy a lot of their pickups."
In a written statement, Sandra Ulsh, vice president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, said, "Ford's support of Audubon is limited to specifically funding environmental education and bird monitoring projects."
But money is money, the protesters insist, and they say thousands of rural jobs have been eliminated by Audubon's support for declaring vast stretches of public land off-limits to logging and road-building.
"People who drive Fords don't like the fact that the company they buy from gives money to environmental organizations that they perceive to be the enemy," said Jim Petersen, editor of Evergreen Magazine.
"Why would [Ford] see fit to contribute to a group that is dependent on a conflict that costs us?" Vincent asked.
That question has prompted angry calls for economic sanctions.
"If you really want a Ford, buy a used one," urges John Stokes, owner of KGEZ-AM in Kalispell, Mont. "That way, no money goes to Dearborn, Michigan."
Stokes said his radio station has received calls and e-mails from hundreds of listeners upset over Ford's environmental contributions.
The station's Web site, KGEZ.com, has posted the names of local businesses supporting environmental groups.
Some environmentalists call this "corporate blacklist" unfair, but Stokes says turnabout is fair play; he argues that environmental groups have used the same tactics for years.
For now, calls for actual boycotts are limited and loosely organized. But if this grassroots backlash gains momentum, more companies may find it's not easy being green.