As many of you may recall, I collaborated with Dave Foreman, one of North America’s leading conservationists, on my last book, the 2nd edition of Man Swarm: How Overpopulation is Killing the Wild World. With the election of Donald Trump, and the impending evisceration of the EPA, Dave gives us some sage commentary. Here is a cross-posted excerpt:
Trumping the Wild?
If we put aside Trump’s strange, chaotic behavior in the Oval Office and his odd, narcissistic personality, and key in on the matters important for conservationists—especially public lands and Endangered Species—we can compare Trump to Reagan and Bush, Jr., and perhaps wash away some of the fear we have all been battered with since Inauguration Day (though I have room only to hit the low spots).
We have been here before and have come through.
The Reagan Years
Reagan From about 1976 through 1980, public lands grazing permittees, spoiled by being left alone for generations, along with mining and drilling corporations pushed the “Sagebrush Rebellion” to hand over the public lands belonging to all Americans to the states and then disposal to private interests at cut-rate prices. Ronald Reagan, who had had an okay record on conservation as Governor of California, shifted and proclaimed himself a Sagebrush Rebel in the campaign. He showed he was one after being elected.
He appointed James Watt as Secretary of Interior. Watt was a Colorado attorney and head of the smoking-hot anti-conservation law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation, which was started and bankrolled by the far-right Coors brothers, owners of Coors Beer. (The Coors boys were that era’s version of the Koch brothers.)
Reagan named Anne Gorsuch, a hard-right Colorado State legislator, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and another reactionary Colorado State legislator, Bob Burford, as director of the Bureau of Land Management. Burford was a big rancher with a BLM grazing permit, and hated the agency. Both were also pushed by the Coors. For Assistant Secretary of Agriculture overseeing the United States Forest Service, Reagan picked timber industry lobbyist John Crowell.
Other Reagan conservation appointees followed this line.
Watt and Buford did their best to kneecap the BLM’s fledgling Wilderness program and to limit the areas to be studied for Wilderness Area recommendation. Watt further worked to offer oil & gas drilling leases in designated Wilderness Areas, including the flagship Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. Moreover, as a far-out Christian evangelical, he warned that Jesus would be returning soon and—boy, would he be pissed if we hadn’t used up all the natural resources He and God had given us to use.
Crowell pushed the willing Forest Service brass to boost timber sales— especially in roadless areas and in Ancient Forests. Forest Supervisors and District Rangers who didn’t “get the cut out” had their careers whacked. So bad was Watt that editorial cartoonists had a field day—indeed, Watt became the personification of destroying Nature. The Sierra Club got one million signatures on a petition to fire him and handed it to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill on the Capitol steps. Earth First! made Watt its honorary membership chair. Donations to and memberships in conservation groups shot up to unprecedented levels. Republican Senators even became worried about the harm Watt was doing (mostly to their re-election chances). After Watt told a tasteless joke, Reagan found an excuse to fire him.
Anne Gorsuch married her fellow Coloradan, Bob Burford, creating a power couple of the Dark Side.
But after she got tangled in a scandal, too complicated to explain here, Reagan accepted Gorsuch-Burford’s resignation. Reagan shocked conservationists by appointing William Ruckelshaus, who immediately restored the EPA to its old self. Ruckleshaus was Nixon’s first EPA Administrator and one of the great Republican conservationists/ environmentalists. (Nixon was the daddy of the EPA, remember.)
Earth First! blockaded timber sales, climbed old-growth trees to keep them from being cut down, occupied uranium mines near the Grand Canyon, and did much more to thwart the mad dash under Reagan to loot the public lands and wildlife. Monkeywrenching spread throughout the country. The Sierra Club and other mainstream groups mobilized and effectively fought the worst of the Forest Service, Interior, and EPA atrocities. Indeed, Reagan ended up signing a passel of Wilderness Area bills, often proposed by Republicans in Congress. Bad things happened on Reagan’s watch, but conservationists held the line.
Click Here to read his piece in its entirety ~ Thanks, Dave, for your wise perspective!