Tilting at Windmills, My Run-In with the Fort Worth Zoo
The battle is over. I concede defeat.
For nearly 18 months, I waged a campaign against the Fort Worth Zoo’s aging fleet of exhaust-spewing utility vehicles. I was recovering from pneumonia and Covid-19 in June 2020 when I was all but overcome by a coughing fit, unable to take in air, as three Zoo UTVs, then a fourth, passed me on a ciity street at the bottom of the Zoo hill.
The Zoo confirmed that its old Cushman-like carts were not equipped with emission controls. When I asked why it didn’t use cleaner, electric-powered UTVs, I was told that as a non-profit with limited funds it had no choice but to run the old ones “into the ground.”
Ignored was my suggestion that the exhaust fumes might affect the health of not only neighborhood adults and children with asthma or other lung conditions, but Zoo visitors as well.
(To see just how well run this non-profit is, I reviewed the Zoo’s latest publicly available 990 form that charities must file with the IRS. In pre-pandemic 2018, all fund-raising events including Beastro and the Zoo Ball raised a whopping $1.3 million. But after expenses, net revenue was a mere $76,122. a 5.8 percent return. This is not a misprint. It wasn’t a case of a single event going off kilter or hit by a tornado. Each netted a pitifully small amount. Meanwhile, Zoo executive director Michael Fouraker that year received total compensation of $490,564, which included $175,000 for “bonus and other incentives.” And it wasn't a fluke fiscal period. According to its 990 from the year before, fund-raising events including the Zoo Ball raised $2.2 million -- but lost $1.2 million.
GuideStar, a non-profit itself that made the 990s public, awards charities a bronze, silver or gold "Seal of Transparency" depending on their level of candor. The Fort Worth Zoo is conspicuous among area charities for having no seal at all. That's because, GuideStar told me, the Zoo has not supplied information beyond the IRS's bare-bones 990 form.)
In 2020, the Zoo insisted to me that it had an "agreement" with the City of Fort Worth to use UTVs without emission controls on public roads. It took more than a year, but I finally got an answer. Last month, the city attorney’s office made clear that no such agreement existed. But the City lacked legal authority to restrict such vehicles.
I also have learned there are federal environmental guideless for UTV emissions. But, there is no requirement for such mini vehicles to be registered in Texas, meaning that the Zoo can enjoy a loophole by which it can continue to use its UTVs no matter how much they pollute.
So, it seems, the only thing the Fort Worth Zoological Association is violating is its own mission statement to “strengthen the bond between humans and the environment.”