Conservation, Not Environmentalism

Much of the disagreement over the use of America's natural resources stems from confusion over the difference between conservation and environmentalism.  Conservation, a rational, conservative approach to protecting and preserving the environment, is an ethic of resource utilization.  Conservationists view man as a natural, invested partner in the endeavor to preserve the environment to ensure its continued, sustainable use by humans.

Environmentalism began as a sincere conservationist movement but subscribes to a view of man as nature's enemy.  Nature itself is revered and intrinsically embodied with value.  Environmentalists seek to limit human access to, rather than allow use of, nature to advance human life, health, and happiness.  Environmentalists perceive man as an immoral, destructive interloper who can interact only negatively with his natural surroundings.

In his book, Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take It Back (American Tradition Institute, 2013), Greg Walcher focuses on these ideological differences as he examines the environmental movement.

Walcher begins with the history of the environmental movement.  He demonstrates how the stewardship of our resources – water, forests, energy sources, other natural resources – has become less about real science and conservation and more about politics and achieving centralized control.  This change in focus has created unintended consequences, far removed from the ideals of caring for the environment and, today, bordering on malfeasance.

The author describes an environmental industry that has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1980s.  Although their stated goals have remained the same, the nature of the groups has changed radically as they borrowed techniques from non-profit organizations in other fields and raised huge sums of money, much from major foundations such as the Ford Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and other entities known for supporting anti-capitalist goals.

Many of the organizations boast membership statistics that dishonestly include visitors to their websites and attendees to their meetings to claim extensive and widespread support for their activities, while having few actual, dues-paying members.  Large organizations often spawn new groups that are portrayed as concerned citizens promoting an alleged grassroots issue of regional concern, such as "Friends of the Canyon," to give an image of neighborhood conservation groups valiantly fighting large, evil corporations.

The emphasis has been on stopping development rather than compromising to balance community needs with legitimate environmental concerns.  As a result, hundreds of new local groups have sprung up to influence nearly all major natural resource agencies at every level of government.  They pursue lawsuits in staggering numbers, greatly impeding progress on the development of environmental policies.  The Sierra Club alone filed 129 federal lawsuits between 2001 and 2007.

During his tenure as head of the Department of Natural Resources in Colorado, Walcher dealt firsthand with the full smorgasbord of environmental concerns.  He describes his interactions with factions of the powerful, politically connected international environmental industry and takes issue with their negative characterizations of coal-miners; oil, gas, and mining companies; loggers; and farmers as irresponsible abusers of the environment.

Walcher considers the Endangered Species Act of 1973 – the most powerful environmental law ever passed – a failure.  Half of the species on the endangered list have been on the list for more than 20 years, and only one third have an actual recovery plan in place.  The legislation has accomplished little to recover endangered species, and, in the vast majority of cases, the situation has worsened.  Rather than recovering and reintroducing self-sustaining populations of species, the focus has been on habitat conservation, resulting in legislation and regulations to control property, land access, and resources with a negligible effect on actual species recovery.

Walcher's approach to species endangerment was to build state-of-the-art recovery facilities: first an aquatic species hatchery and, later, similar facilities for birds and mammals.  The goal was to recover sufficient numbers of the species to place them into a suitable habitat for their growth.

While the program became overwhelmingly successful, little interest arose from the government and environmental groups.  Walcher became aware that listings of endangered species were made with inadequate proof that they were, in fact, endangered, and statistics on historic populations or recovery goals were not part of the equation.  Further, the law offered no appeals process or comment period for the public to contest a potential listing.  Since the inception of the Act, 1,435 species had been placed on the list, and only eight had been removed.  From this dismal record, Walcher concluded that the real agenda was to control land and human activity.

In his well researched book, Walcher describes similar scenarios of environmentalists' intrusions in the management (or mismanagement) of other resources: forests, land, water, and energy.  He shows how well endowed environmental organizations are adept at imposing their agendas at any cost and with any subterfuge necessary.

In land management, he explains how America's forests had traditionally been kept in check by nature, with periodic fires sparked by lightning.  But forest management was created and engaged in fire suppression, with logging taking the place of fire to thin forests.  In the late 1990s, logging became unpopular and a hot-button issue for environmentalists.  The result: a massive overgrowth of trees, brush, grasses, and weeds that deteriorated the health of forests and produced a literal tinderbox.  Our forests are so overcrowded that they currently burn at a rate unmatched in recorded history, threatening the wildlife they sustain.

An interesting split on land management and development issues between the West and East is also explored in Smoking Them Out.  Whereas in the Western states, much of the land is state- and federally owned, government land ownership constitutes a mere 1% to 2% in the East.  For example, Nevada consists of nearly all public land, while less than 1% of New York State land is government-owned.  This means that Nevada has a much lower tax base available for local schools, fire departments, water and sewer services, and other needs.  The amount of publicly owned lands presents a difficult challenge for Western states hampered by government regulation of much of the land surrounding their communities.

In the end, Walcher promotes a policy of hands-on environmentalism – recovering endangered species, restoring forests through effective clearing, responsible mining with an emphasis on mitigation and reclamation, and other such sensible interventions.  With millions of acres of land currently restricted for human activity, our forests and water supply have suffered, and we have strayed from the original intent of resource protection to a hidden agenda of control.

Flush with cash and an armamentarium of legal guns, the environmental groups have embarked on a multi-decade destructive crusade that has plundered resources and ensured that the next generation will not enjoy the same standard of living; will travel less; will live in smaller homes; will relinquish cars; and will consume, manufacture, and produce less.  In Smoke Them Out, Greg Walcher demonstrates that the answer is not to continue to promulgate a massive regulatory morass, but to engage in sensible conservation and recovery policies.

Moving forward, environmental policy should be about responsibly providing the necessary natural resources to sustain a prosperous country.  As is clear from the many examples set by impoverished countries, when people have inadequate resources to sustain their communities and livelihoods, they focus on survival and don't expend time and energy for conservation. 

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