A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ANTI-CONSERVATION
"MOVEMENT:...2 a : tendency, trend b : a series
of organized activities working toward an objective..." Webster's
Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary.
By its nature a "movement" is not something that is easily
pinpointed in either time or place. People are born and die on specific
dates. Wars generally begin with a particular outbreak of hostilities and
end with a truce or treaty; battles are fought at identifiable places and
times. The dates of disasters, natural and man made, are commemorated on
anniversaries. A movement, however, is much more indefinite. It may begin
more or less simultaneously in different places. Or it may find expression
in specific places under certain unique circumstances, then reappear later
elsewhere when the same circumstances recur. It may start out so localized
or geographically isolated that it takes years before it has attracted
enough attention, support and organization to even qualify as a movement.
The Anti-Conservation Movement is no different. Application of the term
"wise use" to a philosophy for natural resource utilization in
this country goes back to the early twentieth century. Gifford Pinchot,
an American trained in the European school of forest management. Pinchot
advocated government control of national forests to stop and reverse the
effect of routine, destructive turn-of-the-century practices favored by
big logging companies, and to prevent the destruction resulting from uncontrolled
fires. As head of the Agriculture Department's forestry division under
President McKinley and later as the nation's Chief Forester under President
Theodore Roosevelt, Pinchot advocated the "wise use" of resources:
they should be carefully utilized to meet people's needs.
Today Pinchot's terminology has been adopted, some would say perverted,
by a new "Wise Use" Movement. Ironically, when you closely examine
the goals and agenda of this movement becomes apparent that any wisdom
in their Wise Use is purely coincidental. To the Wise Users, the emphasis
is on use, not on wisdom. Any notion of sustainable use of resources or
careful use to meet both current and future needs of people is at best
a distant second priority to unfettered exploitation and quick profit.
There is little or no regard for the consequences of present consumption
on other people or the natural environment, or of how laws protect and
often enhance property values and the health and safety of workers.
RIDING THE WAVE OF THE REAGAN REVOLUTION
The first manifestation of what is now popularly known as the Wise
Use Movement occurred in 1979 in Nevada, the Sagebrush State. That year
the Nevada Legislature enacted a law purporting to transfer ownership of
and responsibility for all Federal Bureau of Land Management property within
Nevada (some forty-eight million acres) to the state. Dubbed the Sagebrush
Rebellion by the media and romanticized into an image of cowboys and ranchers
pitted against monolithic government, this notion of states "reclaiming"
federal land spread to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Alaska and Oregon.
The movement had struck a resonant chord in the "wide open spaces"
mystique of the American West.
At its most basic level the Sagebrush Rebellion was a conservative
backlash against the growth of federal power represented by, among other
things, such landmark environmental legislation of the late 1960s and '70s
as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act, the
Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. These legislative programs
created new roles and concerns for managers of federal land - protection
of endangered species, water quality, air quality, etc. This required closer
scrutiny of activities on federal lands, including the activities of miners,
loggers and ranchers who operated there. Significantly, these businesses
usually enjoyed substantial operating subsidies by virtue of longstanding
below-market rates for grazing, mineral and timber rights on federal land.
This closer scrutiny inevitably led to federally imposed restrictions when
mining, grazing and foresting practices damaged the water and air and threatened
endangered species. Recognizing that a return to the good old days of less
regulation would be good for business, the movement took support and comfort
from the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, one of whose campaign planks was
reduction of the size and power of government. Certain Reagan cabinet appointees,
most notably James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch as
head of the Environmental Protection Agency, were selected in part for
their willingness to further the de-regulatory agenda of Reagan and the
right wing of the Republican Party.
THE BIG MONEY PLAYERS
The Anti-Conservation Movement further benefitted from the attention
it received from industries with something to gain. In particular, big
agriculture (the American Farm Bureau Federation, The Cattlemen's Association),
the extractive industries (mining, including coal, oil and gas) and timber
producers (who thrive on easy access to federal forest lands) saw a reduction
of federal regulatory power working to their advantage. This message of
the economic benefit of deregulation appealed as well to small businesses.
After all, if workplace safety regulations could be reduced or eliminated,
the money saved could be plowed back into the business.
During this period anti-regulatory forces sought to define and project
an agenda that would be publicly acceptable. Throughout the 1980s the anti-regulatory/anti-environmental
sentiment was expressed largely as support for the Reagan Revolution and
its promise to deliver the country from the clutches of over-zealous, regulation-happy
COOLER HEADS PREVAIL
But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution. At the same
time that anti-regulatory sentiment coalesced, support for environmental
advocacy grew at a near-record pace. The Reagan revolutionaries discovered
that they hadn't won the hearts and minds of all Americans, and it became
apparent that the Reagan administrations were unable to reach the unregulated
promised land. And, to the further dismay of the anti-regulationists, George
Bush proved not to be as conservatively pure as Reagan (a flaw which in
part prevented Bush from serving a second term). This combination of factors
prompted those behind the as yet unnamed "movement" to take steps
to unite and strengthen their non-governmental allies.
This loss of faith in government to "de-create" itself culminated
in a pair of conferences held in Nevada in 1988: the National Wilderness
Conference in Las Vegas in June (sponsored by the Wilderness Impact Research
Foundation - a Grant Gerber entity, the Mountain States Legal Foundation
and the Pacific Legal Foundation), and the Multiple-Use Strategy Conference
in Reno in August (sponsored by the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise
- a Ron Arnold/Alan Gottlieb group, Chuck Cushman's National Inholders,
and the Moonie-affiliated American Freedom Coalition). These conferences
attracted many of the same participants, including the National Rifle Association,
the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation
and Pacific Legal Foundation (both conservative, anti-environmental organizations
dedicated to reversing environmental protections through carefully selected
legal challenges), mining and timber industry associations, a few large
corporations and small off-road motorized recreation groups.
Following the Reno conference one of its sponsors published a self-promoting
book trumpeting the birth of The Wise Use Movement, and announcing "The
Top Twenty-Five Goals of the Wise Use Agenda." The lack of wisdom
and transparent pro-industry slant in that agenda is amply demonstrated
by the inclusion of such goals as:
- Immediate development of the petroleum resources of the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
- Logging three million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
- Conversion of "all decaying and oxygen-using forest growth on
[sic] the National Forests into young stands of oxygen-producing carbon
dioxide-absorbing trees to help ameliorate global warming" - i.e.
clear cut old growth forests and replace them with managed tree farms.
- A foreign policy that "takes steps to insure raw material supplies
for global commodity industries on a permanent basis "
- Exempting from the Endangered Species Act "non-adaptive species
such as the California condor, and endemic species lacking the biological
vigor to spread in range "
- The right of prodevelopment groups "to sue on behalf of industries
threatened or harmed by environmentalists"
- Opening up seventy million acres of federal wilderness to commercial
development and motorized recreational use.
- Opening all public lands "including wilderness and national parks"
to mining and energy development.
- Expanding national park concessions under the management of private
firms "with expertise in people-moving such as Walt Disney."
The Anti-Conservation Movement is neither sufficiently unified in purpose
nor fundamentally organized to be "led" by any one person from
a single location. As appealing as the image might be, there is no Wise
Use Central operating out of a Fuhrer Bunker in the mountains of Nevada;
there is no evil mastermind bent on poisoning the earth and planning to
achieve this end by simply letting humankind's basest tendencies run unchecked.
The reality of Anti-Conservationism is that, as a movement, it feeds
off simple human needs and emotions, some of which are universal, others
uniquely American. Chief among the universal needs is basic survival which,
under our economic system, equates with producing a product or supplying
a service. One Anti-Conservation tactic is to portray government restrictions
on land as attacks on a citizen's need and right to earn a living. This
tactic has worked particularly well in the Pacific Northwest, where paper
industry workers have been induced to side with their corporate employers
against the "threat" posed to the timber industry by Endangered
Species Act protections afforded the spotted owl. This tactic, often referred
to as "job blackmail," has been embraced by the tobacco industry
to turn out bodies in opposition to proposals for greater regulation of
Among the peculiarly American elements of Anti-Conservationism is the
deep seated belief that this country was founded on and dedicated to the
principle that: I can own private property and no one can tell me what
I can or cannot do with it. This "right to do as I please" philosophy
finds comfort in a sadly outdated attitude that our country is so big -
so full of wide open spaces - that even if the consequences of today's
industrial and land use activities are profoundly negative, there will
always be room and resources aplenty for tomorrow.5
Some might argue that this is not such a uniquely American phenomenon when
one considers the current problems in Russia (oil spills, nuclear catastrophes,
and pollution of the Caspian and Aral Seas and Lake Baikal), Brazil (rainforest
loss to the advantage of lumbering, mining and agricultural interests)
and Canada (advocacy of rapacious timber harvesting practices by huge transnational
corporations) but that is a subject for another paper.
This combination of emotional issues makes Anti-Conservationism appealing
to anyone whose land use plans - from the dream retirement home, to a state-of-the-art
hog finishing operation, to clear cut logging - have been affected by some
sort of regulation or law. People respond on both a fundamental survival
level - regulations and protections represent a threat to economic survival,
and on a higher patriotic/national heritage plane - in America, governmental
intrusion into citizens' individual affairs should be minimal. As noted
earlier, some Anti-Conservation activists feel they are patriots upholding
cherished ideals of American democracy. Yet many others' concerns actually
extend no farther than their own self interest. These latter would not
be involved if they weren't actually or potentially in violation of some
law or regulation which impacts the profitability of their operations.
They are part of a "movement" primarily because they share an
unwillingness or inability to grasp the wisdom of land use regulations
intended to protect the larger community from the acts of irresponsible
Distrust of government is certainly older than our republic. Only recently
has it become truly fashionable for Americans to demonize anything and
everything done in the name of governing. And perhaps inevitably these
sentiments would merge. That they have done so in the form of an anti-environmental
backlash instead of some other movement seems to result from the potential
for environmental regulations to impact certain powerful industrial interests.
The fact that the immediate beneficiaries of many environmental laws and
regulations are plants, animals and indefinite "ecosystems" rather
than specific, identifiable individuals or groups of people makes such
restrictions vulnerable to the appealing argument that they value insects,
rodents or plants above people. Undoubtedly, corporations are feeding these
resentments and insecurities and reinforcing a fear that wages are falling,
margins are tight and jobs are in danger due to environmental laws and,
in particular, environmentalists.
No; no one person calls the shots for Anti-Conservationism. In fact,
it might be said that those who claim to lead the movement have merely
used one of the oldest tricks in the politicians' book -they found a parade
and got in front of it. Yet there are a handful of individuals who would
proudly lay claim to being the movement's ideological parents. One, Ron
Arnold, even considers himself to have first bastardized the term Wise
Use to cloak the irresponsible, anti-environmental goals of the movement.
The man who likes to think he named the Wise Use Movement is Ron
Arnold. His ideological partner in anti-environmentalism and nominal
employer is Alan Gottlieb, a professional fund raiser for right-wing
causes and candidates, and a convicted felon/tax evader.6
Gottlieb founded, and Arnold works for, an organization with the mom-and-apple-pie
name Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE).
Although he was never involved at any higher level than a local chapter,
dissatisfaction with the Sierra Club in the late '60s led Arnold to essentially
renounce his membership in that organization and devote has professional
efforts to the benefit of the timber industry. During the '70s and early
'80s his reputation as an apologist for polluting industries grew. In 1984
Arnold went to work for Gottlieb with the goal of building a movement that
would be devoted to checking the evil of runaway environmentalism and tilting
the balance back toward industry. Since then he has pursued this goal in
both the United States and Canada. Arnold's contributions to anti-environmentalism,
in addition to supposedly applying the Wise Use name, have been in the
fields of implementing the strategy of mobilizing pseudo-grass roots support
for industry and equating environmentalism with communism: "environmentalists
are like watermelons - green on the outside and red on the inside."
Another significant player in Anti-Conservationism is Chuck Cushman.
More of a rabble rouser than an ideologue, Cushman has earned the nick
name "Rent-a-Riot" for his ability to incite audiences to the
verge of violent civil disobedience. He then carefully disassociates himself
from responsibility for any threats or violence which actually result.
A former insurance salesman, Cushman's anti-environmental roots are traced
to his experiences with limitations placed on property he owned in Yosemite
National Park - a form of property ownership known as an in-holding. This
personal economic interest led to the founding of the National Inholders
Association as well as various other organizations which exist primarily
as letterheads in Cushman's FAX machines.
Cushman supports himself by organizing and fund raising for a variety
of anti-environmental causes. He bounces from issue to issue, crisis to
crisis, fanning the fires of discontent over governmental intrusion into
the lives and activities of individual citizens. His primary talent seems
to be tuning into discontent and pushing the emotional buttons necessary
to transform that discontent into disorder.
Bill Grannell, moving force behind the Western States Land
Coalition and its project, People for the West! (PFW), works
at the same grass roots level as Chuck Cushman. But Grannell's contribution
to Anti-Conservationism is not incitement of the angry and unstable. Rather,
Grannell is more of a true organizer dedicated to the creation of local
cells in the larger anti-environmental counter revolution. However, upon
closer inspection, PFW turns out to be heavily subsidized and strongly
supported by major mining companies including Homestake, Pegasus Gold and
NERCO (a regional coal, energy and mining conglomerate).7
Interestingly, Grannell takes pains to distance PFW from Wise Use, which
he considers too politically extreme. In his mind Wise Use is too far to
the right to appeal to the extractive industry workers to whom he preaches
the fear of job loss due to government overregulation. Grannell sees no
contradiction in organizing local groups with money provided by mining
companies whose primary interest is to fight reform of the 1872 mining
law, a grossly outdated law which essentially allows those industries to
profit at the expense of the national treasury.
Clark Collins succeeded in making motorized recreationists (dirt
bikers, ATV enthusiasts, 4 wheelers, snowmobilers, etc.) an element of
the Anti-Conservation coalition. His organization, the anti-environmental
Blue Ribbon Coalition, was initially funded by Honda Motor Company
in large part to protect its American motorcycle and ATV markets. Collins'
efforts were largely responsible for passage of the Trails Act - a rider
to the 1991 federal highway-transportation bill which facilitated the creation
of off-road trails for motorized vehicles in wilderness areas. Until the
current Congress began its all-out attack on environmental protections
the Trails Act was the only successful Anti-Conservation initiative at
the federal level.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation was founded by right wing
financier Joseph Coors to fight bureaucrats and no-growth advocates.
Originally run by anti-environmentalist extraordinaire and subsequent Secretary
of the Interior James Watt8,
the organization is currently headed by William Perry Pendleton,
a former Watt lieutenant. Pendleton uses the Foundation to conduct test
case litigation against federal programs, including a suit challenging
the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Litigation
is underway to recover damages allegedly suffered by ranchers at the hands
of those wolves. If successful, a tiny handful of ranchers will be allowed
to dip their hands into the national treasury to recover a minuscule loss
resulting from attempts to preserve an endangered species. And this compensation
will be in addition to the advantage many of those ranchers gain from below
market rate grazing rights to federal land.
Grant Gerber leads the Wilderness Impact Research Foundation
(WIRF), established in 1986 with support from the American Farm Bureau
Federation to oppose new federal wilderness designations. WIRF was
one of the sponsors of the 1988 National Wilderness Conference in Las Vegas.
Gerber seizes on the mainstream environmental issue of protecting the many
from the predatory and irresponsible practices of the few. He then equates
environmentalism with socialism and, as such, a threat to the American
way of life. Though no friend of Ron Arnold, Gerber shares Arnold's phobia
that environmentalism is bent on destroying business and industry.
for America is an umbrella group designed to facilitate national
networking between local Anti-Conservation groups around the country. It
was founded in late 1991 with funding from the Moonie-affiliated American
Freedom Coalition, American Farm Bureau Federation, Cattlemen's
Association, American Mining Congress, Chemical Manufacturers
Association, Petroleum Institute, and other industry supporters.
In the fall of 1995 the Alliance published a directory of its core activists
by geographical region and state.
The Alliance for America's homepage logo. Grassroots without soil.