What grassroots wilderness movement?

  The May 10th edition contained yet another article praising an effort to protect wilderness. HCN presents these efforts as being promoted by grassroots groups, and as a result, of this reporting, the typical HCN reader is likely to conclude that there is a true grassroots movement for wilderness in the West. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In every case of which I am aware and in virtually every Western state, the reported grassroots effort is in reality the implementation of a wilderness strategy formulated by a small group of professional environmentalists working for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a large foundation headquartered in Philadelphia which runs on oil money. The unwritten rule has been if you want money for a wilderness campaign, you must adopt the Pew approach. That approach argues for concentrating on the low-hanging fruit — going for wilderness areas that local congressmen and state senators are willing to support because they are not controversial.

Not surprisingly, each grassroots effort or coalition has adopted Pew’s strategy. Even groups like the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which once challenged the political wisdom of the Eastern environmental establishment and created (with help from lots of other grassroots groups) the Ancient Forest Movement, has become meekly subservient to Pew’s views on how to go about saving Western wilderness.

Whether such influence and control by a single foundation is or is not good for the public land conservation movement is open to debate, as is Pew’s wilderness strategy. Unfortunately, neither Pew’s influence nor the wilderness strategy it funds have been adequately debated within the public-land conservation movement nor by publications like HCN. Maybe we in the environmental movement have become so confused about who we are and how we operate that we are incapable of making distinctions between grassroots and hierarchical or between a movement and an interest group.

Felice Pace
Klamath, California