A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ANTI-CONSERVATION MOVEMENT

"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 bureaucrats.

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:

MISDIRECTED PATRIOTISM

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 tobacco.
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 individuals.
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.

NATIONAL LEADERS

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.
The Alliance 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.