Visionaries or dreamers?

  • Existing designated wilderness areas in the West

    Map by Diane Sylvain
  • Dave Foreman, co-founder of The Wildlands Project

    Jack Dykinga photo
  • Michael SoulÄ, co-founder of The Wildlands Project

    Greg Hanscom photo
  • Mount Rainier National Park and Glacier View Wilderness

    Trygve Steen photo
  • Black-tailed jackrabbit

    Dick Randall/Defenders of Wildlife
  • Grizzly bear

    Neal and Mary Jane Mishler
  • The pronghorn was last seen in Lassen in 1979

    Neal and Mary Jane Mishler
  • The red fox has been missing from Bryce Canyon since 1961

    Sherm Spoelstra
  • Barbara Dugelby, Wildlands Project ecologist

    Greg Hanscom photo
  • Steve Hinchman from the Western Slope Environmental Resource Council

    Greg Hanscom

"Our vision is simple. We live for the day when grizzlies in Chihuahua have an unbroken connection to grizzlies in Alaska; when gray wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland; when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations
of plants and animals; when humans dwell with respect, harmony, and affection for the land; when we come to live no longer as strangers and aliens to this continent."
--Mission statement, The Wildlands Project

The bottle of tequila circling the campfire wasn't doing much for the border country silence. Laughter and off-color jokes drifted up from the ring of wilderness hounds, over the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park to where a full moon burned a perfect hole in the sky.

Above the din rose the drawl of Dave Foreman, the leader of Earth First! - a group of die-hard environmentalists determined to wage war against industrial society in the name of Mother Earth. It was 1984, and the group was headed for its heyday. Before the decade was out, activists would don spotted owl suits to protest logging, lock themselves to bulldozers, and unfurl a black plastic "crack" down the face of Glen Canyon Dam to lament the drowning of a redrock canyon. Around the West, monkey wrenchers pounded trees with spikes to keep them standing and toppled billboards in their stead.

"It was the only time I ever heard Foreman sing," recalls Barbara Dugelby, at the time a leader of the Texas Earth First! chapter. Her collection of hippie university students and biologists had trekked across the desert from Austin to meet Foreman and his Tucson, Ariz., clan.

Then, late in the evening, Foreman performed a miracle. He downed the last of the tequila, worm and all; with a great whoop, he heaved the bottle toward the heavens and toppled over backward in his lawn chair. A dozen pairs of eyes watched the bottle spin upward and disappear into the dark. They froze like a bunch of kids around a well waiting for the splash of a dropped rock. But they never heard the bottle shatter. The only sound that cracked the air was the cackle of coyotes.

"We decided it never came down," says Dugelby.

"I had a two-week hangover," says Foreman, "and I haven't touched a bottle of tequila since."

But Foreman still fires things toward the sky. Seven years later, he joined a more sober gathering in San Francisco. At that 1991 meeting, an alliance of high-powered scientists and activists launched the "Wildlands Project." The project's goals were as ambitious and arrogant as its founders: to stitch together the roaded, subdivided landscape of North America and create a place where wolves, grizzly bears and other native wildlife could live as they had 500 years ago.

The Wildlands Project, which now has a staff of 10 based in Tucson, is a different beast than Earth First! Foreman left behind protests, blazing headlines and an arrest in favor of behind-the-scenes planning, lofty scientific ideals and a vision he says may take a century or more to realize. He said farewell to the hippie anarchists and teamed up with conservation biologists and computer mapping experts.

Foreman hasn't escaped his past altogether, however. Like the wolves and grizzlies he champions, Foreman is a lightning rod. To some, he is a visionary; to others, he is a threat. And like Earth First!, the Wildlands Project has the power to polarize as well as invigorate. While a new generation of activists is rallying around the project, critics say that they are aimed for a head-on collision with political leaders and rural people.

For nearly a decade, Wildlands Project supporters have batted their ideas around mapping tables, college classrooms and more than a few campfires. But the project has spun there, mid-air, with seemingly little relevance to what's happening in the real world.

This year, the project will finally hit the ground. Critics say it will shatter like so much junk glass. But a surprising group of proponents believes that the Wildlands Project has already percolated into the halls of environmental groups and federal agencies. They say it will revolutionize the way we look at the land.

An Earth First! exodus

What happened between the launching of the tequila bottle and the launching of the Wildlands Project is a story of two paths - activism and science - that met over pancakes, eggs, and a whole lot of coffee in a diner in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Barbara Dugelby spent the mid-1980s with Texas Earth First! doing street theater, direct action and going after the U.S. Forest Service to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The group met with some success: It prodded the Texas attorney general to sue the Forest Service over its forest management plan and convinced the city of Austin to adopt an endangered species ordinance.

But Dugelby and her compatriots were frustrated at always being on the defensive, fighting over a timber sale here, an endangered species there, while developers and industry carved up the landscape.

"Earth First! had attracted a lot of intellectuals, people with academic backgrounds who started to wonder, 'What can I contribute here?'" says Kieran Suckling, who left Earth First! and helped found the media- and law-savvy Southwest Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson (HCN, 3/30/98). "We realized there was this huge untapped world of litigation, scientific research and conservation planning that was stuck in these test tubes in universities and wasn't getting out into the world."

Then, on May 31, 1989, armed FBI agents stormed Foreman's Tucson apartment and arrested him.

The same day, agents arrested four other Earth First!ers, charging them with conspiracy and eco-sabotage. Four of them would do jail time. After a drawn-out trial, Foreman would plead guilty to felony conspiracy and agree not to speak out about monkey wrenching.

The arrest of the "Arizona Five" was a tough dose of reality for Foreman's academic-minded wilderness defenders. Over the next year, many split off from Earth First! and tried to put as much distance between themselves and their monkey-wrenching pasts as possible.

Earth First!ers like Suckling and Jasper Carlton, who had started the Earth First! Biodiversity Project a few years earlier, turned to "paper monkey wrenching" in the courtrooms. Wielding the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act like clubs, they halted logging on Southwest national forests for 10 months over the endangered Mexican spotted owl, kicked cows off streams, and put animals like the jaguar and Preble's meadow jumping mouse and plants like the lady's tresses orchid on the endangered species list.

Others, like Barbara Dugelby and Reed Noss, threw all their energy into science to achieve their conservation goals. Like Foreman, they were convinced that in order to stop the nation's wildlife from spiraling into oblivion, they would have to come up with a vision for North America based on the best science available.

"I came to science from extreme activism," says Dugelby. "I wanted to do visionary conservation activism."

Activism and science intersect

The man who could teach her more about the subject than anyone was Michael Soulé, a slight, goateed scientist in his 60s, known in academic circles as the father of conservation biology. Soulé, who had studied under ecologist Paul Ehrlich, author of the 1968 book, The Population Bomb, concluded that he could not sit back and be an "objective" scientist while the natural world went to hell.

The human race was driving the sixth great extinction crisis, Soulé believed, on par with the disappearance of the dinosaurs and Pleistocene creatures like the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger. It was only natural, he thought, to search for ways to protect life, and his profession. Taking the cue from Aldo Leopold and others, he added conscience to science. Soulé's conservation biology has been likened to medicine; it's science aimed at healing the land.

Conservation biology grew largely out of a school of thought called island biogeography. The theory was pioneered by such notable naturalists as Charles Darwin, and captured in the 1967 book, The Theory of Island Biogeography, by ecologist Robert MacArthur and biologist Edward O. Wilson. Its basic principle is that large islands close to the mainland can support more types of plants and animals than smaller, more isolated islands. As islands shrink, species fall prey to inbreeding and accidents, and start dying off.

The principle applies to the mainland as well. In 1984, Michigan graduate student Bill Newmark traveled around the West, visiting national parks and setting up camp in their libraries. In the records of wildlife sightings, he found an unsettling picture: National parks had become islands in a sea of development. Large parks such as Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada, still held all the creatures that were seen 100 years ago. But smaller parks were losing residents.

Yosemite had lost the mink and the black-tailed jackrabbit. The white-tailed jackrabbit, red fox and spotted skunk had disappeared from Bryce Canyon in Utah. Most startling was Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California - a mountain park surrounded by the heavily logged and roaded Lassen National Forest. Since its establishment in 1907, the tiny park had lost six animal species: the Nuttall's cottontail, fisher, river otter, striped skunk, ringtail and pronghorn.

Newmark's conclusion, published in the journal Nature in 1987, was that virtually none of the national parks in the West were large enough to provide a long-term home for the animals that lived there.

If we were serious about saving the West's wildlife, argued Michael Soulé, we would have to protect larger wilderness areas, buffer them from development and connect them with migration corridors to allow isolated animal populations to reach one another. Where there were islands of wilderness surrounded by a sea of humanity, he wanted to see human islands in a sea of wilderness.

So where do the pancakes and eggs come into the picture? By the late 1980s, Soulé and Foreman knew each other's work - Soulé had been publishing papers in the scientific journals, and Foreman and his cronies had followed conservation biology in the Earth First! Journal. But the two had never met.

In 1988, Barbara Dugelby, who had come to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study with Soulé, arranged to have Dave Foreman and Sierra Club "archdruid" David Brower speak at the university. The next morning, she took Foreman, Brower and Soulé out to a local diner for breakfast. Brower shoveled his eggs onto his pancakes and coffee flowed like the Colorado River in spring.

The talk revolved around the fate of the conservation movement and the need for a broader, science-based vision, recalls Dugelby. Soulé expressed his support for radical conservation that set the standards much higher than standards set by the big Greens like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. He also emphasized that, for the first time, science could demonstrate the need for a system of large-scale, interconnected nature reserves.

In Foreman, Soulé saw the passion and the drive to take his science to the people. And in Soulé's science, Foreman saw the foundation for his vision. The wilderness preacher had found his new gospel.

The cover of the puzzle box

The diner breakfast led to a larger gathering of scientists and activists in 1991 in San Francisco. About a dozen wilderness activists from around the country spent two and a half intense days on Russian Hill at the house of Doug Tompkins, who had used his Esprit clothing fortune to start the Foundation for Deep Ecology. It was there, in a green oasis in the middle of the city, that Foreman, Soulé and 11 others launched the Wildlands Project.

"Our vision is simple," they wrote later. "We live for the day when grizzlies in Chihuahua have an unbroken connection to grizzlies in Alaska; when gray wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland; when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations of plants and animals; when humans dwell with respect, harmony, and affection for the land; when we come to live no longer as strangers and aliens to this continent."

In more recent iterations of the mission statement, the word "simple" has been replaced with "ambitious." Still, some folks think a more fitting description would be "pie in the sky."

Maybe, but the project serves a purpose, says Soulé, who retired from the University of California at Santa Cruz three years ago, moved to rural western Colorado and built a house. "Our mission is to embolden the conservation movement to think much bigger and on a larger time scale," he says. He compares the Wildlands Project to building the great European cathedrals: Many of the workers died before the buildings were finished, but without the grand architectural plans, they never would have been built. "Without an inspiring vision," Soulé says, "nothing is going to happen on the ground."

The project is aloof by design. Its founders did not want to compete with existing conservation groups. They wanted to create a framework those groups could work within, and a clearinghouse for information and science. They modeled the group after the old Wilderness Society, where Foreman had worked as a lobbyist and organizer before starting Earth First! Foreman describes the Wilderness Society of the 1970s as "a great collection of old wilderness warriors working with local, independent groups."

Based in a nondescript Tucson, Ariz., office complex, the Wildlands Project now has 10 paid staff and no members. Its money comes entirely from donations and foundation grants. Its mouthpiece is Wild Earth magazine, based in Richmond, Vermont, which is technically a separate organization, but is overseen by Foreman, as its publisher. Reading Wild Earth is a little like watching Christians debate the Bible. Wilderness is Truth in these pages, and Foreman is happy to take on any who question it.

The task of making wilderness real on the ground falls to regional groups that are busy remapping the continent. In the West, there are 10 affiliates. One, Yellowstone to Yukon, or "Y2Y," based in Canmore, Alberta, is trying to protect an 1,800-mile stretch of the Northern Rockies from Yellowstone National Park to Canada's Yukon Territory (HCN, 11/10/97). In Bellingham, Wash., the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance is gearing up for an "R2R" (Rainforest to Rockies) campaign to reconnect the Cascades to the Rockies.

From Casper, Wyo., south through Colorado to northern New Mexico, the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project is mapping territory for reintroducing wolves. And further south, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already returned wolves to the wild, the Sky Island Alliance is mapping habitat for grizzly bears from New Mexico's Gila Wilderness to the Sierra Madre in northern Mexico (see story next page).

Wildlands mappers start with state and federal agencies that have information about the ranges of plants and animals, and the extent of human development. But agency data is often fragmented or out of date, says Bill Martin, mapping coordinator with the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project in Boulder. The next step is to get people out on the ground, surveying roads and roadless areas, taking inventory of old-growth forest, counting trail users, and looking for signs of important or rare wildlife.

All of this information is fed into a computer, which spits out a map of the world from wildlife's point of view. "After a while, you start to see how a landscape fits together," Martin says. "The Wildlands Project is big time, big theory. This is a way to communicate that. People see things on a map that would take a 20-page paper to write."

Wildlands mappers provide the vision, explains Foreman, while grassroots groups will make it all happen. "It's like the picture on the cover of a jigsaw puzzle box," he says. "We don't know which group is going to put each piece down."

Big cats and blood

Bill Martin admits that some people look at his maps and see nothing but red. "Maps are dangerous," he says, and explains that many wildlands affiliates have become wary of releasing the maps to the public. He tells the story of a 1997 range tour in western Colorado, where one of his maps went off like a bomb. The tour was sponsored by the Delta-Montrose Public Lands Partnership, a group of environmentalists, ranchers and recreationists that was looking at the Forest Service's travel management plan for the Uncompahgre Plateau.

Martin's map showed "core" areas for wildlife, from which he thought motorized vehicles and cattle should be excluded. He hadn't intended to show it to the group, but someone got a copy and passed it around.

"That put me on one hell of a spot. I was completely blind-sided," says Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project President Dennis Hall. "They jumped all over me. They were asking, "What about the people who graze their cows out there?" "

Also sure to raise hackles is planned habitat for top-of-the-food-chain critters with big teeth.

Conservation biologists argue that if you protect large predators, you protect a host of other animals as well. Large predators need large areas of relatively unmolested country to survive. An adult male grizzly bear, for example, needs 300 to 500 square miles, so if you protect enough wilderness to support a population of grizzlies, you're bound to catch lots of smaller, less charismatic animals and plants.

Big predators need big wilderness, but does wilderness need predators? Absolutely, says Soulé. Remove predators, and the whole landscape suffers. In Yellowstone National Park, for example, wolves were wiped out in the 1920s. Without its main predator, the northern Yellowstone elk herd has grown so large that it has grazed the range down to tatters, say some scientists (HCN, 9/15/97).

One of the best illustrations of the importance of predators to natural systems comes from Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where Russian fur hunters drove the sea otter almost to extinction in the late 1800s. Today, otters have returned to some islands but not others, and the difference is striking. University of California Santa Cruz biologist Jim Estes found that the waters surrounding islands without otters are relatively barren; sea urchins have grazed plants down to the ocean floor.

But where otters have returned, they've eaten enough sea urchins to allow a rich kelp forest to grow, and along with the kelp come fish, bald eagles and sea ducks. Estes calls the otter a "keystone species' because it has an inordinate impact on the shape of the entire ecosystem.

The same goes for wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions and an array of other animals that ranchers and the federal government have done their best to drive out of the West.

"If your goal is to protect biodiversity, we have to have large carnivores," says Soulé. "In order to save the wilderness in Colorado, we have to have the wolf and grizzly back."

Or as Dave Foreman put it at a conference last October, flashing a slide of an African lion making a gory meal of a gazelle: "This is what the Wildlands Project is all about: Big cats and blood."

Fear and loathing

Talk of "rewilding" North America gives some people nightmares of wolves running through the streets of Chicago and of grizzlies in L.A. One critic has posted "simulated" wildlands reserve maps on the Internet, showing the entire Western U.S. as wilderness areas or "Buffer Zones - Highly Regulated Use." Similar maps have shown up in small towns around the West.

"Foreman's dream, known as the Wildlands Project, has transmuted to an Orwellian nightmare, supported by innumerable U.N. agencies, embraced by the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNESCO, the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the EPA," writes another alarmed onlooker. "It is being unleashed relentlessly across America."

The backlash is no surprise to some observers, who say the Wildlands Project is ivory-tower conservation at its worst. In their excitement about creating a new wild America, Wildlands backers have forgotten about people, they say. And without concern for people, the project will be about as welcome as a rattlesnake in a sleeping bag.

Supporters within the environmental community also have reservations. "You want to talk about island biogeography - let's talk about island political geography," says Steve Hinchman, director of the Western Slope Environmental Resource Council in Paonia, Colo., a rural coal-mining and fruit-growing community that is also the home of High Country News. "Their supporters live in Boulder, Salt Lake and Santa Fe. They're like isolated gene pools that have been inbreeding too long."

Hinchman's group sponsored a talk by Dave Foreman at a local meeting hall two years ago, where the eco-preacher gave his stock Wildlands sermon and finished by telling the story of Aldo Leopold killing a wolf and realizing the error of his ways. The finale, as always, was a cathartic howl by the group (HCN, 8/4/97).

Hinchman had been attracted to the Wildlands Project by its fresh vision - one that took conservation beyond beautiful mountains for backpackers, to healthy landscapes and wildlife. But what struck Hinchman at the talk was not the excitement Foreman's vision generated, but the fierce antagonism it sparked.

"The wise-users came armed for bear and just attacked Foreman," says Hinchman. While he still thinks the project's vision is inspiring and its science is invaluable, his group voted to disassociate itself with the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, the local Wildlands affiliate. "They're branded as the ludicrous fringe. We can't possibly adopt this strategy and survive - not in our community," he says. "Unless it makes sense to any person who grew up here, who lives out here and who's going to die out here, it's not going to work."

Hinchman's prediction played out in the Southwest last year, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced Mexican gray wolves on the Arizona-New Mexico border. Before the year was out, five of 11 wolves had been shot. A sixth wolf was found dead in March, just six days after officials released it into the wild.

Says Hinchman, "You can't change the rural West from the outside."

It's a lesson Northwest Ecosystem Alliance Director Mitch Friedman learned the hard way in the early 1990s, when he aired a plan to protect the Columbia Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. The proposal met widespread opposition, even from some environmental groups that felt overlooked. The project "withered on the vine," says Friedman, a former Earth First!er and one of the founding members of the Wildlands Project.

A second proposal, this one for an international park on the U.S.-Canada border, was shot full of holes by Gingrich Republicans and United Nations-fearing conspiracy theorists. "The lesson there," Friedman says, "was that simply putting out the best science-based land proposal isn't going to make it happen."

"No one is going to implement this plan because it's a good idea," agrees Kieran Suckling, whose Southwest Center started as a Wildlands Project affiliate but moved on. "You've got this big vision and this big visionary (Foreman). The big question is, how are they ever going to get it implemented? How do you get it off the paper?"

A roadmap for conservation

Despite their vague strategy for making the Wildlands Project happen on the ground, Soulé's science is compelling and Foreman's preaching has a way of getting people starry-eyed. Together, they've managed to enlist a surprising troop of supporters.

"I am aware of the debate between vision and pragmatism," says Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows, who recently joined the Wildlands Project board. "But if we don't have a vision, we won't get the practical results we deserve. They have a vision that inspires all of us - the grassroots groups and the big national groups like the Wilderness Society."

Other groups, such as the Sierra Club, have come up with their own maps, dividing the country into "eco-regions."

It's not just the big greens who have jumped on the bandwagon. Take, for example, Jim Winder, 38, who grazes about 1,000 cows on mostly public land in south central New Mexico. "When I first heard about Wildlands, I was just like any rancher. I wasn't real thrilled with it," he says. "But they're the only people in the environmental community who are doing things in a scientific manner.

"They're developing a roadmap for conservation," he adds, and that saves ranchers a lot of guesswork. "You never know when an environmental group is going to protest something."

But then Winder is no ordinary rancher. He supported reintroducing wolves in the Southwest, and now sells "Wolf Country Beef" for a premium in specialty stores. Now, he's reintroducing endangered fish in a stream on one of his ranches, and he's started a small eco-tourism business. It's all in the name of survival, he says, in a time when ranchers are selling out and hanging up the saddle for good.

"I've gotta be out there kicking some ass," he says. "I want to see ranchers get rich as hell off of healing the land. We got rich screwing it up."

There are also signs that Wildlands Project thinking has permeated the thick walls of land management agencies. The Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, for example, has garnered the support of both the U.S. and Canadian national park services.

Even some skeptics admit that the science behind the Wildlands Project is making waves in the agencies. "The Wildlands Project is a little beyond political and social reality. It can't deal with the tide of humanity," says Hal Salwasser, director of the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station in Berkeley, Calif. "But conservation biology is not a pipe dream. We use the concepts and tools that came out of conservation biology pretty regularly. They're in the regular toolbox."

In the Northern Rockies, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to connect grizzly bear habitat in Yellowstone, Idaho and Montana, according to agency bear biologist Chris Servheen. Montana's Swan Valley is an important passageway for grizzly bears traveling between the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and the Mission Mountains. Servheen's agency has helped show that bears will steer clear of residents' homes as long as they don't grow apple trees, raise chickens or keep dog food outside.

"The local people live in these areas because they have space; there're no streetlights, barking dogs or cars racing around," he says. "Bears need the same things."

But Servheen is quick to draw a line between the kind of conservation biology he practices and the kind that appears in the academic journals. "Who reads Soulé's books? Is it the people who live in these areas? Absolutely not," he says. "The future of these animals rides on public support, not on these grand concepts."

Unless conservation biologists can find a way to convince common people that their ideas are legitimate, adds Servheen, they will only make battles over public lands and private property worse. "We (agency officials) end up picking up the pieces of poorly sold ideas," he says. "And the ones that really suffer are the animals."

Here comes the Wildlands Project

Wildlands proponents understand that they'll never get a second chance with a first impression. If they blow it, it could take a long time to recover.

They're gearing up for the big debut, which should hit the pages of The New York Times this fall in the form of a two-page ad with maps. By the end of the year, they expect to release a string of reserve maps, including plans for the Sky Island region of Arizona and New Mexico, the Southern Rockies, the Klamath Siskiyou region of Oregon, the central coast of British Columbia and the northern Yukon territory.

"We're looking very hard at how to make the Wildlands Project immediately relevant and how to make it have an impact right now," says Foreman. "Otherwise, it's not worth the paper it's printed on. It'll do nothing but collect dust."

Making the project relevant, he says, starts with the grassroots wilderness proposals that are popping up like wildflowers around the West. Many are modeled after the Utah Wilderness Coalition's proposal that seems to be making some headway in Congress, thanks to a national constituency (HCN, 8/3/98).

The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance wants to protect 2.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land as wilderness. A similar proposal for Arizona is in the works. Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette has introduced a bill in Congress that would designate 1.5 million acres of wilderness in her state. California activists are pushing for up to 6 million acres of new wilderness. Nevada environmentalists want approximately 16 million acres. In Oregon, it's 4.5 million acres. And in Washington, conservationists are asking for 3.1 million acres.

Some activists contemplate a national or West-wide wilderness bill, according to Jack Humphrey of the Sky Island Alliance. "The national wilderness movement is really kicking in," he says. "A national bill would take it out of the hands of Western senators and make it a national debate."

Also in the works on the national level is a "Native Ecosystem Protection Act," sort of an Endangered Species Act for whole landscapes. This "new NEPA" would outlaw the "taking" or destruction of protected ecosystems on public lands, says Reed Noss, a former Earth First!er who is now the president of the Society for Conservation Biology. The act, which has not yet been written up as legislation, would also set up a fund to buy wildlife habitat on private land.

"Instead of addressing species one by one, we need to focus on ecosystems and slow down the cascade of species warranting listing under the Endangered Species Act," says Noss. "The idea is not to wait until things are virtually impossible to fix."

He admits that a national law is not a panacea, and that conservation plans will vary from place to place. "It's a little foggy. No one knows what's going to work."

To make the Wildlands Project work, Foreman admits he needs to step out of the wilderness and into the messy private lands and human communities in between. He has taken the lead in presenting the new Sky Island-Greater Gila reserve design in the Southwest. Once the environmental movement's chief agitator, he now finds himself struggling to become its head peacemaker.

"In the past, the conservation movement's greatest weakness has been that private-lands conservation has been divorced from public-lands conservation, wilderness protection has been divorced from endangered species protection, economic practices have been divorced from ecosystem recovery," says Foreman. "What we're saying is, let's look at all of it and see how it fits together."

Foreman has also been meeting with sympathetic ranchers like Jim Winder and Drum Hadley, who runs the Gray Ranch in the New Mexico boot heel. "Big private ranches that are managed for their ecologic values are in many ways the best places to restore sensitive species," he says.

Land trusts, conservation easements, and raising money to simply buy up land are all part of the picture, he says. He also supports efforts to make conservation make sense to people's pocketbooks. In the Southwest, for example, environmentalists are working to convince ranchers to sell predator-friendly meat and retire grazing allotments on public lands in exchange for trophy elk-hunting permits.

Barbara Dugelby, now the Wildlands Project's ecologist, says she's seen Foreman change his tack in recent years. "He's become a little softer, more focused and analytical," she says.

Still, the old eco-warrior acknowledges that he's walking into a fight with many rural Westerners. "We're not going to throw all economic uses off the land. That's realism," he says. "On the same token, we're going to have wolves back throughout the West. That's a reality they're going to have to live with."

Greg Hanscom is an HCN assistant editor.

The following sidebar articles accompany this feature story:

- 'This is not a radical notion...'

- 'It's like the Manhattan Project...'

- Extra photos to Visionaries or Dreamers

You can contact ...
* The Wildlands Project, 1955 W. Grant Road, Suite 148, Tucson, AZ 85745-1147 (520/884-0875), [email protected], Internet at;
* Wild Earth Magazine, P.O. Box 455, Richmond, VT 05477, 802/434-5980.

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    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.