Albion Monitor /News

"Wise Use" Conference in D.C.

by Danielle Knight

They carried posters that read, "A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- When Ron Arnold suggested to mining and logging corporations that they organize a grassroots movement to counter environmentalism, the proposal sounded laughable.

But a lot of money, time, and energy have since gone into doing just that.

A determined coalition of groups, called the Wise Use movement, works with oil, mineral, and timber industries and their political allies in the House and Senate to defeat environmentalists who want to restrict private exploitation of public lands.

Some 300 Wise Use activists met here earlier this month to lobby Congress and hold the seventh annual "Fly-In for Freedom" conference. Workshop and seminar topics revolved around media and grassroots organizing strategies against U.S. environmental policy, as well as against international environmental policy such as those supported by the United Nations.

"We'd Rather Be Mining or Logging," Wise Use activists chanted in front of the White House on June 9. They carried posters that read, "A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste," and "Stop the War on Property Rights."

Numerous right-wing Republicans addressed members of Wise Use, a movement that was launched in 1988 at a conference in Reno, Nevada.

Combined strong organizational abilities with grassroots activism, while advancing the agenda of big business
The movement is sponsored by the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE), based in Washington state. CDFE president Alan Gottlieb was a major fund-raiser for former president Ronald Reagan and other right-wing candidates and causes, including the Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the nation's second largest pro-gun group after the powerful National Rifle Association.

In 1989, Gottlieb and his vice-president, Ron Arnold, published the Wise Use Agenda, which 25 goals. They include opening all public lands, such as wilderness areas and national parks, to mineral and energy production; rewriting the Endangered Species Act to remove most species; and making almost anyone protesting corporate activities on public land liable for civil damages.

The goals also include making it a felony for any national forester to let a natural fire burn usable timber; prescribing immediate logging of all old-growth forests; and building national park concessions under the direction of "private firms...such as Disney."

This year's "Fly-In for Freedom" focused its lobbying efforts on the Republican-supported Omnibus Property Rights Act. The argument, many aspects of which appeared in the 1994 Republican Contract with America, is that any protection of nature that affects the dollar value of real estate is a "taking" under the U.S. Constitution that must be financially compensated for by the government.

Daniel Barry, Director of the Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research, argues that this bill weakens wetland protections, the Endangered Species Act, pollution control measures, and other environmental safeguards.

"The bill also weakens workplace safety standards, anti-discrimination laws, and consumer protections any time profits are sacrificed in the name of public health and safety," he says.

Elizabeth West, Assistant Director of American Land Rights maintains that "Wise Users are pro-development." According to West, who attended the Fly-In, "We want to keep federal lands open for multiple use, and we want to protect the rights of private owners."

None of those goals is new. What is new is the way the movement has combined strong organizational abilities with grassroots activism, while advancing the agenda of big business.

Industry "is incapable of having an agenda by itself," said Wise Use leader Arnold. "It's illegal for it to come together in coalitions because of the Anti-Trust Act." But thanks to the Wise Use movement, Arnold claims, "There are now 500 little, non-profit groups, run by grassroots folks out there, spreading the gospel."

As the number of groups rallying behind the Wise Use banner has grown, so too has the level of violence aimed at environmental activists
The Wise Use alliance of seeming grassroots activists is really a loose coalition of industry lobbies. Exxon USA, UNOCAL, Chevron USA, Dupont Co., Louisiana Pacific Corporation, Energy Fuels, Pegasus Gold Corporation, Home Stake Mining Company, the National Cattlemen's Association, and Kawasaki, have all extended financial or other support to Wise Use.

"Its corporate backers were eager to create the appearance of a grassroots movement," explains Dave Helvarg in his book "The War Against the Greens."

"Wise Use leaders also attracted the support of shadowy, right-wing organizations including white supremacists and militia movements," says Helvarg. "As the number of groups rallying behind the Wise Use banner has grown, so too has the level of violence aimed at environmental activists. From arson and rape to pet mutilation and attempted murder, vigilante terrorism has become a disturbing reality for environmentalists," according to Helvarg.

For example, the newsletter of the California-based Wise Use group, called the Sahara Club, lists names and addresses of environmental activists and advises: "Now you know who they are and where they are. Just do the right thing, and let your conscience be your guide."

In reaction to Helvarg's book, Arnold, wrote "EcoTerror," which equates environmentalism and terrorism.

"I am convinced the problem of violence to save nature is growing so rapidly that it must have full Congressional hearings and action," he told Wise Users last week. Copies of his book were distributed among lawmakers.

"I became involved because people are losing their jobs in the West because of government regulation that favors trees and spotted owls over miners, loggers, and ranchers," says Wise Use volunteer Linda Deen.

Wise Use appeals to loggers and ranchers in Western states whose economic futures are uncertain and who blame government regulation for their troubles.

But the solutions offered by Wise Use, explains John Gatchell, program director for the Montana Wilderness Association, "are aimed at advancing industry's agenda."

Gatchell told IPS, "Wise Use is deliberately trying to drive a wedge between people who should be natural allies. Environmentalists, ranchers, and loggers all have an interest in sustained yield."

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Albion Monitor June 22, 1997 (

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