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Wake up, pragmatists

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Dear HCN:

Your Aug. 22 editorial is right: "The West has internalized much of what environmentalists fought for (in the Reagan-Bush years)"; it is time for environmentalists to enter the "twin tents of ecosystem management and consensus." But the "generation of environmentalists that stopped the Reagan-Bush lawlessness may not have the skills or temperament to solve on-the-ground problems."

Unfortunately, gridlock has come to the environmental movement. Many of our savvy political operators went to work for the Clinton administration, leaving temporary voids in important organizations. Some environmentalists became hypnotized by naively optimistic expectations of the Clinton administration, and quit doing the basic grass-roots organizing and tireless congressional legwork that is essential for initiatives like grazing reform to have a prayer of getting through the U.S. Senate.

Simultaneously, the self-proclaimed "grass-roots" environmental movement went radical, announced its opposition to all loggers and ranchers, and began attacking environmental infidels who attempt to get something done in the real world of American government. In addition, the cultivation of foundation grants seems to have displaced membership recruitment, public education, and constituency-building for many conservation groups, be they "grassroots" or "national."

We are spending too much time competing with each other and attacking the government officials, like Bruce Babbitt, who are most sympathetic to wildland conservation and public land management reform.

We must make a realistic assessment of our own conservation efforts. During the Reagan-Watt-Bush years it was essential to "just say no" with our appeals, our lawsuits, our protests and our bodies. Those tactics should never be abandoned as tools in the kit. But today the door is thrown open to environmentalists to demonstrate that we can roll up our sleeves, use new tools in addition to old, and help design democratic solutions to the problems we decry so effectively. If we do this, from the watershed to the White House, we'll be able to look at the Clinton years and point to tangible, real ways in which we made things better for the wild, and better for the West. Your editorial is a much needed wake-up call to pragmatic environmentalists.

John B. Risk

Juneau, Alaska

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