All of us should care about the environment we live in. Our health depends upon the quality of the air we breathe and the purity of the water we drink. Human survival depends upon our ability to protect and nurture a sustainable food supply. Protecting the environment is not only the right thing to do, but a healthy environment increases our quality of life and insures the long term sustainability of our species.
God placed the animals and plants on this earth for man's benefit and enjoyment. Mankind has all the renewable resources we need to sustain our lives indefinitely. Yet, we have often misused the environment due to ignorance or, in some cases, in an attempt to acquire short term economic gain. America has been blessed with the technological sophistication and governmental structure which has allowed us to gain unparalleled prosperity. Granted, our technologically sophisticated modern society is far removed from the natural world. Lumber is bought at Home Depot, toilet paper at Safeway. Most of our food comes prepackaged or frozen. Many children have never even seen a live chicken, let alone know how to butcher one.
Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with the very systems God designed to sustain us. But Western Civilization has learned that maintaining a clean environment is an important aspect of our quality of life. We put technology to good use by doing things like minimizing emissions and creating efficient automobiles. We no longer see pollution pouring out of factory smokestacks. We've learned a lot about how to protect our food and water supplies from contamination.
Environmental education has had a positive impact on our way of life. However, we still have vastly differing opinions when it comes to how to manage our resources. There are plenty of reasons to applaud the pioneers of the so-called "environmental movement". Even during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, men like John Muir were opening the eyes of the masses to the beauty of God's creation. Great American leaders like Theodore Roosevelt made the protection of "wilderness" an executive priority. We owe a debt of gratitude to these historic visionaries. But today's environmental movement bears little resemblance to the godly ideals of Muir or to the common sense practicalities of Roosevelt.
Today's environmental movement has a darker side. In the traditional sense, the high school senior who turns vegetarian as a matter of conscience, or the concerned scientist who devotes his life to studying the effect of pollution on coral reefs, are true environmentalists. Yet, there is a darker, more sinister faction, that can be described as a self-serving cult which seeks power to control all human activities and merely uses the pretense of "environmental protection" as a means of accomplishing its goals.
When I was in High School, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was mandatory reading. It was the "Harry Potter" of the late 1960's and early "70"s. We were fed movies depicting environmental degradation of the worst kind. Our minds were filled with scenes of foaming industrial outflows pouring into rivers, dead birds along trash strewn shorelines, smokestacks pumping millions of tons of poisons into the atmosphere. We were terrified into believing that mankind was the scourge of the earth. It was no coincidence that I chose environmental studies as my college major. "Natural Resource Management" became my official course of study.
My professors were experts in their fields and had written most of their own texts. I lived and breathed all of the so-called "earth sciences" under their guidance. A great deal of study took place in the field where we learned first hand about the many aspects of our inter-related ecosystem. On one of my field trips I became interested in the status of the desert bighorn sheep population in Death Valley, California. I wrote my term paper on the subject. I interviewed wildlife experts, read reports on habitat and life cycles, and visited the actual watering holes frequented by the animals. I submitted my paper to my wildlife professor, a moonlighting Fish and Game Department civil servant. Shortly afterwards, the Wilderness Society, (an environmental organization to which I paid dues), published an article which blasted the Bureau of Land Management's policy of reducing the population of wild horses and burros on public lands. The native desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope were right in the middle of the controversy, yet the Wilderness Society article failed to mention anything about them.
The environmentalists' argument against the BLM horse reduction program was based on the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971. According to the Wilderness Society, horses and burros "had become as much a part of the natural desert landscape of Nevada and California as the cougar and the grizzly bear." Prior to the act, wild horses, whose populations were given to exploding across the west, were often rounded up and shot. Their carcasses supposedly ended up on supermarket shelves disguised as cat food. The WHBP Act was passed to prevent the slaughter of these animals. The BLM adoption program, which is quite popular and continues to this day, was a more humane and politically correct way of controlling the horse and burro population. But the Wilderness Society, motivated by its own agenda, condemned the BLM action.
I used my research on desert bighorn sheep as the basis for a contrary opinion letter that was published in the Wilderness Society's highly touted environmental science magazine, The Living Wilderness. I presented the Wilderness Society with documentary evidence on the negative impact feral burros and horses, both of which are introduced non-native species, had on native populations of both pronghorn antelope in Nevada and the desert bighorn sheep in California.
Numerous studies had shown that burros and horses have a much larger impact on the environment than the native bighorn sheep. Unlike the bighorns, horses and burros linger near water holes until the water or food source is depleted. Horses and burros can strip all vegetation for several miles around a watering hole. They tend to be much more aggressive and can keep smaller animals like antelope and sheep away from water sources. When a source is depleted, horses and burros easily cover vast distances over arid land seeking an alternative source. The more timid desert bighorns and pronghorn antelope are at a distinct disadvantage. The decline in the desert bighorn sheep population was clearly linked to the introduction and subsequent "over-population" of the "wild" horse and burro.
The BLM's intervention was designed to "even the playing field" for the native bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope. The BLM was not"anti-horse" as depicted by the Wilderness Society and other environmental groups. Land managers were simply trying to create a balance, albeit an "artificial" one, between horse, burro, native bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and grazing livestock. In response to my letter, the Wilderness Society offered a "qualified" retraction of their criticism of the BLM horse reduction policy. In fact, as soon as they recognized the implications of the "native species" point of view, they launched a concerted campaign that ultimately hopes to return most of North America to its "pristine" native condition. Selecting a "native" species over a "non-native" species is an arbitrary process, and it is a policy that could have devastating implications for public land use policy. Having at first written to defend this philosophy, I am now strongly opposed to it. It will, if carried to its extreme, threaten our very way of life.
Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has chosen to promote certain species over others. We farm chickens, breed livestock, genetically alter corn, and change our environment to enhance our own survival. Historically, we have followed the same logic when it comes to wildlife and other natural resources. We promoted predator control when it seemed to make sense to hunters and ranchers, and we stocked lakes and rivers with hatchery born non-native species to enhance fisheries. These things were all done for our own benefit. The difference today is that environmental radicals are promoting practices and policies which are not in man's best interest. Ironically, some of the ecocentric policies currently being promoted by the environmental hierarchy could be considered destructive to the environment.
Let me illustrate this point by shedding some light on the practice of lake sterilization. Back in the 1930's, during the "Great Depression", the Civilian Conservation Corps built most of the campgrounds and trails in the high Sierra Nevada mountains of Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and vast reaches of the Rockies. Many of the glaciated lakes in these remote areas were sterile, which means they contained no fish. Barrels full of trout were packed in on mule trains by the CCC. These high alpine lakes proved to be ideal habitat for rainbows, browns, cutthroats, goldens, brook trout, and even arctic grayling. The legendary Finis Mitchell single handedly created the best and most diverse trout fishery in the world in Wyoming's Wind River Range.
During the 1980s so-called wilderness land managers began chemically re-sterilizing many of our alpine lakes. Civil servants on government payrolls are killing healthy populations of "non- native" trout under the pretense of returning waterways to their pristine, and in many cases, barren condition. The chemicals of choice include several commercial formulations of rotenone and an antibiotic called antimycin A. The later is used as a fungicide, insecticide, and miticide. Man-made barriers have also been constructed to stop the migration and breeding of certain trout species in streams and rivers, but chemical sterilization continues to be the method of choice.
The provision for chemical sterilization of waterways is part of the "Wild Trout Program" established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission in 1971. The stated goal of the program is to protect populations of "native" species like the paiute trout and the California golden trout. But not all of the waterways that are being sterilized are being restocked with native species. Some waterways are left barren because, according to Senior Fisheries Biologist Dennis P. Lee, "trout were not native to these systems."
Additional rationalizations for exterminating "exotic" trout varieties such as the rainbow, brook, and brown trout can be found in the National Park Service Natural Resource Implementation Plan (1980). The report states that,
"The introduction of fish has had many unintended effects - the most dramatic being the resulting decline in the mountain yellow-legged frog populations (under consideration for listing as federally endangered) due to predation. Scientists have investigated the role of other causative factors in their decline, such as acid deposition, UV-B radiation, and disease, but predation is clearly the main problem. When fish are present, they eat frogs, force frogs into marginal habitat, and fragment the population, the latter of which hinders recolonization. Wildlife management staff hope to remove exotic fish from some naturally barren lakes to help restore the native frog population."
The wording in the report is intentionally misleading. The word "remove" really means "exterminate". The word "exotic" refers to any "non-native" variety of trout, including rainbow, brook and brown.
Ironically, one could use the environmentalist's own logic against the policy. Populations of rainbow, brown, and brook trout have indeed become as much a part of the mountain landscape as the granite peaks themselves. Maybe government agencies should try to be consistent and spare the fish by implementing a trout version of the BLM's horse adoption program! The entire policy is arbitrary and patently absurd. The argument that certain trout species are not desirable is simply a ruse. Taken to its extreme, the opossum, the horse, the cow, indeed all introduced plants and animals, including all non-native American people, should also be eradicated in an attempt to protect so-called "native" flora and fauna.
Resource management priorities have shifted away from uses which benefit man, to policies which overly inhibit and control man. The official USDA "Multiple Use" policy mandates that range (grazing), timber, recreation, wildlife, and water are all of equal importance. But that's just for public consumption. The current crop of land managers have a profoundly different mindset than the men of the 1930's. Increasingly restrictive rules are being enforced to limit human access to public land. Government agencies are exercising control over individual citizens and our natural resources using regulations that, for the most part, have not been subjected to public scrutiny or tested as to their Constitutionality. As a backcountry ranger in Wyoming's Bridger Wilderness, (Finis Mitchell's old stomping grounds), I issued "citations" for a wide range of infractions that had nothing to do with State or Federal law or with environmental protection.
Working for the U.S. Forest Service in the 1980's also gave me an insight into practical anthropocentric aspects of land use management. The list of projects I worked on might surprise you, and at first glance, might even seem horrifying. For example, on the Kemmerer District in the Wyoming Range, work crews sprayed chemical defoliants on certain plants growing along stream banks. Forest Service crews used one half of the chemical combination that was known as "agent orange" of Viet Nam fame. (We called it "agent purple" because the boots and clothing of the crews who sprayed it turned purple.) This practice was instituted to control the spread of Canadian Thistle, a "non-native" plant which makes cattle sick when they eat it. The spray killed the thistle, but also temporarily contaminated water drainages wherever it was used. I suspect it may have contributed to serious health problems later in life for the people who sprayed it.
My timber crew was charged with removing all the trees, except for one species, from hundreds of acres of forest land. We cut down tens of thousands of healthy pine, fir, cedar and hemlock, in order to reduce the competition for the more lucrative and marketable Englemann Spruce. We also planted seedlings in areas that had been previously logged. Since the tender roots of tree seedlings are a favorite food for gophers, the U.S. Forest Service embarked on a gopher killing program in order to protect the newly planted trees. My crew was given the distasteful task of spreading tons of strychnine laced oats in recently planted areas. Some of the strychnine undoubtedly ended up polluting water drainages already contaminated with herbicides. I refused to take part in this extermination and chose to pursue another career. It wasn't that I minded killing rodents, but I knew that the poison would have unintended victims as well. I understood, but did not always agree with, the reasoning behind much of the Forest Service's environmental manipulation. All of the practices I just described, with the notable exception of the fish killing program, were done with the idea that they were of some benefit to man. Shocking as some of these activities may sound, none of them have been shown to have had any lasting negative impact on the environment
As a society, we need to take another look at the apocalyptic Silent Spring claims of the radical environmental movement. The earth is a lot more resilient than we have been led to believe. In one example, taken from chapter six of Rachel Carson's book, the author purports to describe an area that had been "destroyed" by an experimental project to improve rangeland. In 1959 the U.S. Forest Service in Wyoming sprayed chemical defoliants over 10,000 acres in an attempt to eradicate sagebrush and promote grass growth. Ms. Carson describes the irreversible devastation on the land and wildlife which this experimental spraying allegedly precipitated. Ms. Carson concludes her diatribe by saying, "The living world was shattered". Ironically, Ms. Carson admits that she never personally visited the area.
Not many people could find the area on a map, including Carson herself. It lies in a high valley on the Pinedale District where the Gros Ventre mountains meet the Wind River Range. When I worked in the area during the summer of 1978 and 1979, it was one of the most beautiful and productive rangeland areas in the world. For forty years the public has been eating cattle fattened off of the lush grasses growing on this land. Trout are literally jumping out of the streams. Moose, bear, and elk are plentiful. Even the lowly sagebrush, being one of the world's most tenacious plants, still threads its merry way across the range.
The point that needs to be made is this: our perceptions are colored by how our environmental manipulations are understood and depicted. What Rachel Carson calls "destruction", others call scientific management. The truth is that we are still learning from our attempts at manipulating our environment. What may be perceived as good or harmful in the short run may turn out to be just the opposite over the long term.
If Rachel Carson were alive today, I wonder what she would say about the chemical sterilization of high alpine lakes? Would she call it "environmental destruction" even though this particular policy has the full backing of the environmental establishment? Personally, I find it disgusting and disturbing that trout are being killed under the guise of returning a particular body of water to its natural, "pristine" and sterile condition. The trout extermination program is certainly not aimed at benefiting man, and it certainly doesn't benefit the trout. Just imagine driving to a trailhead, lacing up your boots, strapping on a backpack, hiking ten miles and climbing thousands of feet in elevation to a High Sierra lake that had contained a healthy population of rainbow trout for the past seventy years. It is now "sterile" thanks to a taxpayer supported government program.
The public has a choice to make. Either we work to implement strategies that manipulate the environment for our own long term best interests, based on experience and the most up to date environmental science, or we sit back as those who seek power and control put us all into a box. The environmental movement has prescribed an ecocentric approach to natural resource management that does not have man's best interest at heart. They are trying to create an "Eden" only they are competent to define.
The proposed Wildlands Project covers all of the United States. Based on the United Nations Biological Diversity Treaty, the Wildlands Project outlines an America where islands of highly controlled "villages" are surrounded by millions of acres of inaccessible wilderness. The environmental elites believe that it is man himself who should be caged in a zoo-like environment. Public statements from environmental leaders call for an eighty-five percent reduction in global human population. I will leave it to the conspiracy theorists to postulate how such a scenario could be accomplished.
Perhaps the ultimate question that needs to be answered is this: If we believe that God created mankind, that He put us on this earth and told us to have dominion over it, then the land rightfully belongs to us. It is a gift to be enjoyed. It is our responsibility to take good care of it. We certainly have the right to use it to meet our needs. But if the earth itself is some sort of supreme deity, and we belong to "her" as the environmental elites like to claim, then we should bow our heads and take our place as her subjects with no greater rights than the lowly amoeba.
The author was a member of the Wilderness Society from 1974 to about 1980. This article was first published in The eco-logic Powerhouse.