For Gabriella Hoffman, it all goes back to her family’s flight to the United States from then-Soviet-occupied Lithuania.

Hoffman is the Director of IWF’s Center for Energy and Conservation (CED). “I had no choice but to be a right-leaning person,” Gabriella says, laughing. “Lithuania is a very prosperous country today, but it wasn’t under communism.”

The goal of CEC is to “reshape the conversation about American energy and conservation” and “educate the public about the benefits of modern energy, including thriving economies and healthy communities.” CEC advocates restoring American energy independence, a casualty of the anti-energy policies of the Biden administration.

“Everyone talks about energy or climate and we wanted to include conservation, which would mean also tackling the set of issues that I focus on—the Endangered Species Act, public land, hunting, and fishing as conservation tools,”

As Gabby explains, “Everyone talks about energy or climate and we wanted to include conservation, which would mean also tackling the set of issues that I focus on—the Endangered Species Act, public land, hunting, and fishing as conservation tools. Everyone thinks of hunting and fishing as dominated by men, but today, more and more women are going hunting with their families, they’re going fishing with their families, they’re buying firearms for home defense purposes, and even with those purchases, they’re going back to conservation funding through a law called the Pittman-Robertson Act. And women are making these critical decisions not only for energy but also to promote environmental stewardship.”

Gabriella, as might be expected, is an avid outdoorswoman. “I’ve been hunting all over the country,” she says. “I got my first deer, a doe, in the Black Hills region of Wyoming, near Devil’s Tower National Monument, in 2020. A cool experience, and I learned what comes after taking the shot. I learned to process the deer, where our meat comes from. I brought it home with me from Wyoming. I took the cooler to Denver International, and then I had it flown with me back to Washington.”

Gabriella grew up in Laguna Niguel, California, a pleasant bedroom community in Orange County, 15 or 20 minutes from the ocean. “That’s where I became outdoorsy,” she remembers. “I went fishing with my father, learned to appreciate natural surroundings, loved going to national parks, enjoying time at the beach. It was a great place to grow up and hone in on the areas I focus on now.” It was also a world away from where her parents spent their formative years.

Her father was from a Jewish background, and her mother was from a Catholic, land-owning family. Gabriella’s maternal grandfather refused to sell his farm to the communists. “The government didn’t like anyone who was an independent thinker,” Gabriella says, “and so my grandfather faced several stints of imprisonment. I believe the first stint he had was a German labor work arrangement, and then he was in the Russian Gulag when the Soviets came back to power. First, it was the Soviets, then the Nazis, then back to the Soviets in that part of Eastern Europe. And so, when the Soviets came back to power for longer, of course, they deemed him an enemy of the state, and they didn’t like his Catholic beliefs. They didn’t like that he was a landowner. So, they sentenced him to 18 months in a Gulag on the Russian-Finnish border in what is known as the Belomor Canal. It was a horrible place where the prison was built on the bones of victims.”

Gabriella describes her father Boris as the “instigator” of her parents’ decision to leave Lithuania. He recently talked about his experiences in an interview for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. “He gave an overview of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, how difficult it was to move up the economic ladder, and some of the barriers he faced. He endured a lot of institutional antisemitism. He wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer, but they had certain quotas of how many Jewish individuals could be lawyers, doctors, and these kinds of more specialized professions. So, since he didn’t qualify under their obtuse standards, he decided to do construction.

“He didn’t like socialism from an early age and when he realized he could request exit papers, he tried to facilitate the process, but was denied several times. You had to go to different depots and get signoffs from the Politburo. He originally thought going to Israel might be a good path for him, but when he married my mom, he decided that was not the course. Eventually, they found their way to the United States. They left the Soviet Union in 1985; they spent a little time in Vienna, Austria, for a few weeks, but they spent most of their time while they were fleeing in Italy. That was a common place that a lot of Soviet escapees would go to, especially Jewish emigrants and their families, who wanted to go to the United States.

“It was not an easy process, coming here and learning about the American lifestyle and adjusting here. They said it had its challenges, but all things considered, they’re very happy to be in the United States. They do miss certain things about their childhood and the country they grew up in, but they like it better here, of course: more freedom, more opportunities, and they taught my sister and me the value of good work, appreciating what you have, not taking American living standards for granted. They always drummed it into our minds to be appreciative of the sacrifices they made, and my grandparents made, the suffering and the brutalities behind the Iron Curtain.”

Gabriella was born five years after her parents came to the U.S. Her father is a small business owner and general contractor. Her mother worked as a technological consultant for different corporations (such as Experian) and is now semi-retired. Gabriella met her mother’s father—who had been in the gulag—when she was eight and made a trip to Lithuania.  

“My parents always emphasize that this country is not perfect,” Gabriella says, “but it’s still better than elsewhere around the world. And I think today they’re a little worried about the direction of the country. That doesn’t mean they love the country less, but they would like the country to kind of go back to where it was, to limited government, free markets, respect for society, respect for people, and they’re just like most people, even native-born Americans, in that they’re worried about the direction because they see it deviating from what they were told America is or the America they came to know. ”

Gabriella’s response to what she saw going on her liberal campus was to bring David Horowitz, the conservative writer, to present a different point of view. Even if she had to take out a personal loan to do so.

Gabriella is a 2012 graduate of the University of California at San Diego, where she majored in political science. While there, she wrote for a conservative campus newspaper called the California Review and was active in Young Americans for Freedom. “It was a little outside my field at the time, but one of the issues that animated me was support for Israel. Looking at today, seeing what’s transpiring on college campuses, makes me not regret having been a pro-Israel activist too, because I recognized early on, some of the tactics of my classmates, the rhetoric, and now you see that magnified and expanded to an even greater extent. A lot more vitriol, a lot more unpleasantness, of course, attached to that. So, I noticed that there was a problem. My campus was very apathetic, and I thought, ‘There are instances of antisemitism here, including an awful display from the Palestinian student groups accusing Israel of being an apartheid state.’”

Gabriella’s response to what she saw going on around her was to bring David Horowitz, the conservative writer, to campus to present a different point of view. Problem: the student activities budget didn’t offer enough money. Solution: Gabriella borrowed money, more than a thousand dollars, to bring Horowitz to UC San Diego herself. 

“Unbeknownst to me,” Gabriella says, “an exchange from Q and A went viral and helped catapult my political career, being the organizer of the event, and that was an interesting time because I was kind of left to my own devices.” (An anonymous donor paid off Gabriella’s debt.)

Partly because of her newfound fame, Gabriella won an internship to work at the Reagan Ranch through YAF. “It was a full-circle moment for me because it had a lot of symbolism,” Gabriella says. “My parents came to this country at the height of Reagan’s second term and here I was at his ranch, learning about his two presidential terms. My parents were grateful to him.” Gabriella being Gabriella, she set about squeezing everything she could from the experience—including transcribing tapes and helping plan events, not to mention absorbing the politics in the air. 

She worked for a conservative talk radio station and did some pro bono work. But Washington beckoned. She had been there on a YAF trip, and she knew she would love it. When the Media Research Center offered her an internship, she jumped at the chance. “I got to go to Capitol Hill,” she recalls, “interview a lot of people, write a lot of stories even from our office. I spoke to people, first-hand sources, so got a taste of how cutthroat journalism is.”  

Next, she was offered a position at the Leadership Institute. “I oversaw field representatives and mentored students in very hostile territories in the Ivy League and elite public schools as well in the Northeast. It was a great job, and I was able to help a lot of students who were in the same position I was in college, maybe they didn’t have the funding, maybe they didn’t have an outside support system. So, I got to be a resource for them.” She became adept at social media and did freelance writing for such outlets as Townhall, American Spectator, Daily Caller, Washington Times, and—of course— and Field and Stream.

How is the conservative conservationist to distinguish herself from the doctrinaire preservationists who often seek to erase the human footprint? “True conservation is receiving human input as a good thing,” she says. “Humans have recognized the errors of their ways. We hunted wild game almost to extinction. We recognized the error of that and didn’t want to replicate that. That’s why we’ve been behind reintroducing species through hunting and fishing. All those monies go back to restoring species, and in nearly a hundred years we’ve seen the resurgence of so many different kinds of animals—white-tailed deer, black bear, grizzly bear, and, oh gosh, turkey.

“Look more deeply into some of these renewables that are supposed to be environmentally friendly, and they have a far worse carbon footprint than let’s say oil, gas, coal, or even nuclear.”

“Everything that we commonly see and know today at the turn of the 20th century was in very dire situations, but it was because of hunters and anglers, and those monies, and that law, the Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Act, respectively, that we started to change direction. But similarly, like with energy development, conservation says that it’s supposed to be a wise use of natural resources. It doesn’t mean there should be no use of natural resources. Does that mean you develop every single acre of private or public land? No, of course not. You have to be judicious and mindful of where it’s safe, where it’s feasible, and where it’ll have the least environmental impact. But what we see often is that the environmental Left pushes to say that conventional energy is more harmful than what they’re proposing. But look more deeply into some of these renewables that are supposed to be environmentally friendly, and they have a far worse carbon footprint than let’s say oil, gas, coal, or even nuclear. They don’t account for the cost and the tradeoffs. They sometimes pose a threat to wildlife more than conventional energy projects do. So, we think tackling conservation as it should be understood makes a lot of sense for the Center.”

This thoughtful outdoorswoman, raised on the dangers of an over-powerful state, is well suited to ensure that IWF’s Center for Energy and Conservation has a great impact on the issues that she holds dear.