Wise Use: An International Environmental Movement?

In the beginning of October, the Alliance for America, the leading anti-environmental "Wise Use" group, held its annual meeting. For the last eight years, the Wise Use movement has waged a gritty grassroots battle against U.S. environmental regulations and what it sees as government interference throughout the United States. As the loggers, miners, ranchers, and right-wing activists descended on San Diego, the movement was setting its sights on the next stage of its expansion. Wise Use is going global, and in a concerted effort to build an international network of support, it is reinventing and selling itself as the "new environmental" movement.Born out of the timber conflicts in the Pacific Northwest, the Wise Use movement officially came into being in August 1988 at a Multiple Use Strategy Conference, held in Reno, Nevada. The conference was sponsored by the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, whose executive vice president, Ron Arnold, is considered to be the guru behind Wise Use. This new movement polarized resource conflicts by scapegoating environmentalists for problems caused by excessive logging. "Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement," says Arnold.Since its inception, the movement has mobilized considerable support in certain areas of the West over such issues as timber, mining, and property rights. It also launched a fervent campaign on behalf of Republican congressional candidates in 1994. But despite this influence, the Wise Use message has yet to gain universal appeal in the U.S. It is, however, catching on abroad. "I think they really needed to organize internationally," says Dan Barry, from the Washington-based Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research CLEAR , who monitors anti-environmental activity. "They have no choice; they have sapped up their constituency in the U.S."The new-look Wise Use movement, or Sustainable Use movement, as it is now describing itself, is far slicker than before. Its leaders realize that, in a country where some 70 percent of the public profess to hold pro environmental views, to be seen as anti environmental makes for very bad PR. Like politicians trying to re-invent themselves for a skeptical voter who saw through their previous unpopular policies, the Alliance for America now offers its "new environmentalism.""New environmentalism" came into effect in June, partly after the Alliance was urged by House speaker Newt Gingrich to project a more positive image. It is, according to the Alliance's scriptwriters, "a vision based on hope not fear, solution not conflict, education not litigation, science not emotion, and environmentalism that employs human resources not destroys them."Under the banner of "sustainability," Wise Use activists are recruiting support from hunters, whalers, loggers, fishermen, and miners in Scandinavia, mainland Europe, Africa, Australia, Central and Latin America, and Japan. Their common goal is to soften restrictions in the use of resources, whether on land or sea, and whether they be trees, minerals, elephants, fish, or whales.Gone is the language of exploitation or killing. These "resource caretakers" or "stewards of the sea," as the Wise Users define themselves, are putting forward an enticing argument. "Together we can create a world of healthy human communities embraced by healthy ecosystems. That is the goal," wrote Alliance for America's Rita Carlson and Teresa Platt, in July.Historically, the Wise Use movement has worked with other like-minded groups close to home. Most notably, the movement has formed alliances with Canadian antienvironmental groups in British Columbia. Arnold has been a frequent visitor to Canada over the last 15 years, advising industry to set up pro-industry citizens' groups.By the mid 1980s, these "Share" groups had begun appearing, centered around the issue of clear-cutting Canada's old-growth temperate forests. This region, which includes the biggest area of virgin temperate forest in the world, with 1000-year-old trees reaching 250 feet tall, is rich in biodiversity. "The rhetoric and vocabulary of BC British Columbia share groups is identical to language used by Ron Arnold and the Wise Use Agenda," concluded a 1991 Canadian Library of Parliament report into the Share Movement. Just as the Wise Use movement has polarized environmental debate in the U.S., so, the report concluded, Share's "apparent objective has been to pit labor against environmentalists," while "their effect has been to divide communities and create animosity in the very places where honest communication and consensus should be encouraged."The nucleus of Canada's resource conflict centered around logging activity in Clayoquot Sound, 350,000 hectares of ancient forest, coastal estuaries, and alpine tundra on Vancouver Island. It is home to three of the last six old-growth watersheds on the island and one of the last remaining fragments of ancient temperate forest anywhere. Clayoquot was a traditional homeland and hunting ground belonging to indigenous groups. It was a picture postcard that the logging companies wanted to moonscape.While "Share" groups such as Share the Clayoquot, Share Our Resources, and Share Our Forests fight environmentalists on a local level, the most effective antigreen organization is the BC Forest Alliance, established by the Canadian forestry industry on the advice of PR company Burson-Marsteller. The Alliance, headed by the former International Woodworkers of America union boss Jack Munro, also recruited Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, as a spokesman. (The author has worked as a paid consultant for Greenpeace.) Moore's appointment was bad news for the environmental movement in general, but it was particularly galling for Greenpeace. "The fact that they chose Patrick Moore...was a really dangerous sign for us in Canada, says Greenpeace's forest campaigner," Tamara Stark, "as it created a confusing message for the public."BC Forest Alliance officials have been to Europe, Brazil, and Australia to put forward the case for clear-cutting. In 1995 and again in 1996, Moore toured Australia on behalf of the National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI). The continuing exploitation of old-growth forests in Australia has prompted many antigreens to take the trip Down Under. The Alliance s Bruce Vincent made such a trip in 1993. Dr. Moore believes that many environment groups are so extreme that they pose a greater threat to the global environment than mainstream society, wrote NAFI in a 1996 media release.The brunt of the green backlash has been felt on Tasmania, off Australia's southeast coast. In the early 1980s, Tasmania's temperate rain forest was pronounced a "World Heritage" region by UNESCO. It was here that Australia's first corporate front group, the Forest Protection Society (FPS), which has received a great deal of its funding from NAFI and from the Forest Industries Campaign Association, was formed in 1987. Employing Wise Use rhetoric, the FPS claimed to promote "balanced" conservation solutions and "the wise use of Tasmania's natural resources today and for future generations." They also claim that "one of the best ways to ensure that the rainforests are not destroyed is to harvest the wood and sell it."The FPS has been keen to build links with its U.S. counterparts; in May 1994, two FPS officials attended the annual meeting of People for the West!, a leading Wise Use group. "We are beginning to discover a worldwide network of natural-resource producers and rural communities who are fighting the same fight as we are," People for the West! had declared back in 1992. Presently, the two groups are working on an agreement to "promote the development and use of the world's natural resources to the benefit of mankind."Other Australian antienvironmental groups have followed suit. In February of this year, the New South Wales Public Land Users Alliance, an umbrella group that, traditionally, has concentrated on opposing wilderness designation, announced it was organizing a national Wise Use rally "in conjunction with our friends from the mining, forestry, and agriculture industries." Ron Arnold was one of the main invitees.Just as protimber groups are fighting to open up protected forest, so the Wise Use movement is also networking with prowhaling groups to overturn the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling. Today, the drive for renewed whaling has become the international sign of antigreen solidarity, and loggers from landlocked forests and dirt bikers from the deserts who have never even seen a whale are attempting to overturn the ban.It is a symbiotic relationship. The prowhalers are gaining international support, and the Wise Use movement gets an invaluable boost in its war on the global environmental movement.Prowhaling activists who were influential in the 1993 resumption of whaling by Norway--such as the Icelandic filmmaker and archcritic of Greenpeace Magnus Gudmundsson, Steinar Bastesen from the Norwegian Small Type Whaling Association, and Georg Blichfeldt from the High North Alliance--have all made contact with Wise Use groups. Bastesen and Gudmundsson have become regular visitors to various Wise Use conferences, and the Wise Users have offered at least four different declarations of support for the Norwegians, in direct contrast to U.S. government policy.Further evidence of the movement's globalization can be found in the establishment of the International Wildlife Management Consortium (IWMC) by activists from Scandinavia, Japan, Africa, and Venezuela, along with U.S. representatives from the Wise Use movement and the Washington-based right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute. Based in Switzerland, the IWMC is the first international Wise Use organization and seems specifically designed to weaken international regulations protecting species and to work against environmentalists and governments attempting to conserve threatened resources. The IWMC sees its mission somewhat differently. "This union of all wildlife hunters," reads its informational brochure, "represents the last hope for the future of wildlife species."Hunters, fishers, trappers, sealers, and whalers have all found a voice with IWMC, which is now active at both the IWC and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). "It took us a long time to realize that rights granted to animals are rights taken away from humans," says Eugene LaPointe, the head of the IWMC. In this regard, the IWMC s message is the same as that of Wise Use or Share groups; environmental "extremists" have left "mankind" out of the ecological debate."Issue Specialists" used by the IWMC include Steve Boynton, who is General Counsel to the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundations, the nonprofit affiliate to the congressional caucus representing hunting and fishing interests in Congress. Bills promoted by the caucus advocate captive breeding of wildlife species instead of habitat protection, a measure that the National Wildlife Federation has described as "a blueprint for extinction." Boynton, who argues that the "United States is fostering an illegal policy to obstruct whaling," earned himself a three-month position as a consultant for the Icelandic Embassy in Washington back in 1995.In recent months, the Wise Use movement has increased its internationalization effort. At the Alliance for America's "Fly-in for Freedom" meeting in June, the group held a first-ever panel discussion on the world movement, entitled "Going Global: Making a Difference in the International Arena." The following week, Alliance's Bruce Vincent attended the IWMC s annual meeting in Aberdeen, Scotland. Vincent appeared on an IWMC consultative panel, along with Steinar Bastesen, Steve Boynton, Magnus Gudmundsson, and Eugene LaPointe. Three days later, Iceland's Gudmundsson was back in the U.S., speaking at the Western States Coalition meeting in Wyoming.In September, Steinar Bastesen set up a Norwegian Wise Use group, called the District Alliance, to fight "urban unwiseness." Speaking with him was another former Greenpeace employee, Jnoern Oekern. "We want to fight environmental organizations and others that lead a policy that harms the outer districts, breaks down cultures, and in the last instance threatens both humans and the environment," said Oekern. Backing the District Alliance's call for "sensible use of nature" are whalers, farmers, and politicians from Norway's rural communities. "It is very clear that they are closely aligned to the Wise Use movement in the U.S.," says Katrin Brubekk from Greenpeace Norway.The Forest Protection Society, the IWMC, and now the Norwegian District Alliance are the first of many international antienvironmental groups that will network with the Wise Use movement. "What scares me most is the environmental activists overseas are going to make the same mistakes that environmentalists have made in the U.S.," says Dan Barry from CLEAR. "If environmentalists suppose that all you have to do is expose the true Wise Use agenda and their corporate ties and shine a light on them, and then they will go away, they won't. It didn't work in the U.S."It's a threat that environmentalists need to start taking seriously. America already imports and exports $1 billion of wildlife and wildlife products a year. By posing as the "new environmentalists," the Wise Use movement seems set to launch a fresh assault on established green organizations under the banner of "sustainable use." While conservationists are drawn into an endless debate over the definition of what constitutes "sustainable" or "endangered," wildlife continues to be destroyed. As the Alliance for America says, "The rest of the world beckons."


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