Wise Use & Radical Greens

To mainstream environmental activists, Ron Arnold merits a special disdain. A former Sierra Club conservation committee member, Arnold now runs, with associate Alan Gottlieb, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, WA, an advocacy center at the forefront of the war of words over environmental policies. Together they wrote a 1993 expose of the environmental movement, the book Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism Is Wrecking America, which remains controversial for spotlighting corporation funding of many large politically and socially influential mainstream environmental groups. Arnold and Gottlieb also figure prominently in providing the vision for the "Wise Use" movement, which advocates the most profitable use of natural resources, both private and public; environmentalists say the Wise Use movement is a force behind the current backlash against environmentalism, prompting books such as Sierra Club's recent The War Against the Greens: The Wise Use Movement, the New Right, and Anti-Environmental Violence. But now environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Environmental Defense Fund have something new to worry about. Arnold and Gottlieb's center, and thus perhaps the entire Wise Use movement, is making common cause with what is known as the "New Conservation" movement, which is made up of radical greens who see the environmental mainstream as insincere about its aims and interested only in raising money and political power. They even agreed to do something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago: a joint book project -- a collection of essays on forestry -- with the Eugene, Oregon-based nonprofit Native Forest Council, which is best known for bringing the zero-cut option in national forests back into play, not something most Wise Users will endorse. Both sides see the environmental mainstream as their mutual enemy, which has made for the strange bedfellows arrangement. "All I can say without violating confidence is that we are expanding our contacts with radical, what I'd say are authentic environmentalists," Arnold says. "When you have an honorable adversary, you can build respect and common ground." The feeling seems mutual. Victor Rozek, editor of Forest Voice, the council's tabloid, says, "We both felt that the discussion needed to be elevated." Perhaps the first time the Wise Users and green dissidents realized they were effectively on the same side against the environmental mainstream came in October 1994 when leftist writer and syndicated columnist Alexander Cockburn and CounterPunch co-editor Ken Silverstein reviewed a booklet published by Arnold and Gottlieb, Getting Rich: The Environmental Movement's Income, Salary, Contributions, and Investment Patterns. "The idiom of rugged rural populism chosen by the Wise Users," they wrote, "is amply justified by the material they review." More recently, radical green and advocacy journalist Jeffrey St. Clair certainly echoes rugged rural populism in the February Wild Forest Review when he takes on the Wilderness Society, which at "275,000 members strong, is little more than a $16 million-a-year nonprofit cash machine." The Native Forest Council is in fact more than warming to the idiom that Cockburn defends and St. Clair echoes. Cockburn was invited to speak at a University of Oregon Law School environmental law forum in March but had to bow out, making way for Arnold to stand in his place. "Cockburn couldn't show," Arnold says. "I think the Native Forest Council said, "Have Arnold there." As it turns out, the council did just that. To be precise, having Arnold appear was the idea of Tim Hermach, the council's executive director. "The Wise Use movement and environmentalists should be aligned if 'big government' is the problem," says Hermach. Arnold returned the favor to the New Conservationists by inviting St. Clair to be on a panel with him last July at the annual Wise Use movement conference in Reno. According to Arnold, the invitation was meant be an "historic first, an effort not so much to build bridges, but an effort in how we can reinforce each other." St. Clair, however, was unable to participate. When asked at the conference for his opinion of Arnold's reaching out to radical greens, Chuck Cushman, the Battle Ground-based fax-network activist who runs the American Land Rights Association, gives a qualified endorsement: "If you can find crossovers where you can work these things out, it'll be a lot less painful for local people." Cushman, adds, however, "I don't have a lot of faith that the environmental groups are honorable about these sort of things. It's my opinion the jury's out -- way out." Arnold says the response to his networking with radical greens was "Surprise. Shock. Some resistance." Arnold expects as much but says the New Conservationists must be thought of as allies. "I ask people to take from the three: the foundation-controlled, the deep ecologists, the eco-socialists," Arnold says. "We look for the middle ground, and that's the eco-socialists." "Eco-socialist" may be a blanket term, but Arnold says he was attracted to the New Conservationists because they have a sense of economic justice, particularly for displaced natural-resource-industry workers, especially in their shared local communities. Or, as St. Clair implies when he says that environmental policies have to take local concerns into account, "It comes down to connecting people to place. You do that in the communities." Indeed, it's not far-fetched to say that New Conservationists may even feel the same sort of anger as Wise Users because of the unemployment that results from some environmental activism. For example, according to Getting Rich, the Surdna Foundation Inc., which is a member of the Environmental Grantmakers Association (a group of 160 key foundations and corporations that plans and coordinates the giving of grant money to environmental groups), is a foundation built with money from gold, oil, timber, and real estate businesses. The Surdna Foundation has given grants to groups -- including the Sierra Club, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, the Wilderness Society, the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, the Audubon Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council -- that filed Timber Harvest Plan appeals, which led to "stopping timber harvests and log supplies to mills in the Sierra Nevada market area. Thirty-six sawmills in Northern California have shut down because of log shortages since 1990, rendering 8,000 unemployed." (Getting Rich also reports, "As a result, timber prices on Surdna Foundation's private lands have increased dramatically. . . . During 1992-93 the Surdna Foundation realized $2.7 million income from its Northern California timberlands.") Rural populists have been long given to the notion that far-off bureaucrats have no business telling them how to be stewards of the land. Locally oriented greens alienated by groups trying to dominate all environmental politics -- and perhaps more important, making enemies of their neighbors -- may find many areas of common interest. Rozek, the editor of the National Forest Council's Forest Voice, is certainly open to the notion. "Early on in the environmental movement we needed power and size," he says. "Having accomplished that, we saw the results of centralization."Rozek doesn't seem to be alone: Since 1990 the Sierra Club, one of the environmental mainstream's most significant powers, has lost more than 50,000 members, with some sources claiming the number could actually be closer to 100,000. Even if the center-council project falls apart, Arnold says he will continue to reach out to greens who are alienated by the corporate-foundation-government nexus and who want to work on local solutions. "We've got to find ways to resolve problems," Arnold says, "and this notion of localism is the best one so far."

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