Can Southwest activism and money coexist?

  • Old-growth ponderosa pines, part of the La Manga sale in New Mexico

    Robin Silver
 

They lobbied. They staged sit-ins. They crashed town hall meetings. They chained themselves to trees. They scrounged for pennies and sued every despoiler of public lands they could find.

The guerrilla tactics of the Southwest's disparate environmental activists have worked. They have contributed to an enormous decrease in logging in the region's 11 national forests: Less than half the timber that fell there in 1990 falls today. And a blockbuster lawsuit last year forced the Forest Service to halt virtually all logging in the Southwest until federal biologists study its effects on the threatened Mexican spotted owl (HCN, 10/30/95).

But the activists knew their victories were temporary. Without permanent protection, the last ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests could still fall. They also realized that enduring change in forest management required public outcry to force the hands of reluctant politicians and Forest Service administrators. And to accomplish that they needed something they never have enough of - money.

So last year the leaders from 50 groups, including the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and the Forest Conservation Council, banded together under the name The Southwest Forest Alliance. They went after the big bucks, and they hit the jackpot.

The Pew Charitable Trusts has promised a two-year, $500,000 grant to the Alliance, if it can come up with a matching $425,000 - a sum it is well on its way to raising. With roots in oil money, the Philadelphia-based foundation has assets of $3.8 billion and hands out $20 million annually to environmental causes.

Officially, the Pew grant seems a godsend for a coalition that combines the most confrontational, activist organizations in the Southwest with the environmental mainstream. While it's clear that the money will buy the activists more sophisticated tools, the jury is still out on what effect $1 million will have on Southwestern environmental activism.

The good news

Peter Galvin, a veteran activist and the Alliance's coordinator, says the Pew money has already changed the way forest activists are working - for the better. "For us in the Southwest, (the Pew money) was a major impetus for cooperation," says Galvin. "We're networking with each other a lot more closely."

Galvin believes the Alliance will be able to get the Forest Service to adopt new forest plans which protect big trees and restore large areas to old-growth conditions. Already, a six-person steering committee - under the oversight of a 16-member board of directors - has used Pew money to finance an ambitious effort to map all the surviving patches of old-growth forest in the Southwest, underwrite studies on everything from cattle grazing to mistletoe, and lay the groundwork for a door-to-door public-education campaign.

The Alliance will eventually hire several people to spearhead grassroots education on Southwestern forests, something the individual groups could never afford in the past, says Robin Silver, perhaps the most aggressive activist in the region and a steering committee member. Their first public relations blitz will hit airwaves and doorsteps in the Southwest as well as the pages of the New York Times around tax day.

And the reservations

But Pew has been charged with redirecting environmental agendas in the past. After the entire Endangered Species Coalition staff was fired last summer during a stormy period between Pew and Washington, D.C., environmentalists, New Mexico activist Sam Hitt compared the foundation to "a death star in the solar system. They set up their own gravitational field and everyone begins to revolve around them." (HCN, 10/16/95)

Others say that when environmentalists leave the grassroots and hit the big time, they set themselves up to be characterized as urban elitists by their opponents - a tactic the Wise Use movement has used with great success. And some Northwestern environmentalists complain that the Pew-supported Ancient Forest Alliance accepted compromise forest plans that allowed logging to continue in many of the region's old-growth areas.

"The ultimate result of Pew is it removes the spine from the environmental movement," says Tim Hermach, executive director of the Native Forest Council in Eugene, Ore. "It compels them to become more pragmatic and complicit. I say it's a form of prostitution."

Andy Stahl of the Oregon-based Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics pointedly disagrees, noting that Pew money played an important role in the recent reduction of logging on the Northwest's public lands from 5 billion to 1 billion board-feet a year. The foundation underwrote some of the early spotted owl lawsuits and funded the media blitz that primed President Clinton to come up with his Northwest Forest Plan. Stahl says grassroots and mainstream environmentalism can work symbiotically.

"Passion alone isn't going to change a region's whole economy and social structure, as we did in the Northwest," says Stahl. "It isn't going to go up against a political and industrial infrastructure which was dominant for 100 years. You need scientific and legal skills as well. I don't know how you're going to get those skills without paying for them ... I'm much less interested in the purity of (a group's) environmental rhetoric than I am in the effectiveness of their actions."

But the criticism Pew stirred up in the Northwest is echoed in the Southwest. John Talberth, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Forest Conservation Council and a member of the Alliance's steering committee, believes the prospect of Pew money has already diverted the efforts of the Southwest's most successful activist groups.

"Going to the urban areas and doing massive outreach and door drops looks good in the media, but (they're) not necessarily things that we would have seen as important on our own," says Talberth. "As we get into the second and third year of the campaign, a lot of the things the campaign wants to do aren't things I would have chosen to do."

Talberth's critique exemplifies the strains that arise between fiercely independent activists as they seek common ground. Talberth's organization became embroiled in a publicity firestorm when restrictions on firewood gathering in the Carson National Forest were triggered by a lawsuit filed by him and the Forest Guardian's Sam Hitt (HCN, 12/25/95). The Alliance mostly stayed out of the issue, reasoning that to pit environmentalists against poor people needing firewood could only benefit the timber industry.

Tom Wathen, Pew's program officer for the environment, says charges that the foundation derails environmentalists' agendas stem mostly from differences within the activist community itself.

"Pew funds forest activists in the Southwest and other regions because we agree with them, not because they agree with us," says Wathen. "We (often) get put on one side or the other, and we're not seeking to be on either side."

Most of the Alliance members insist that the Pew Foundation has attached no strings, exercised no control, and dictated no agendas. What's more, the activists who founded the Alliance say they would walk away from the money the minute Pew tried to force them to accept anything in which they didn't believe.

"We do not intend to do anything we don't believe in," says Galvin. "If anything, Pew has been extra cautious in all our dealings about offering even constructive criticism. Maybe it's a response to some of the criticism about them. We just don't feel any pressure."

Adds Robin Silver, a Phoenix-based activist whose résumé includes the co-founding of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, bringing the Mexican spotted owl lawsuit that shut down logging in 11 national forests, and helping make a national issue out of the Mount Graham telescope: "The Alliance is not set up to be the Teflon tip of our artillery shells - it's set up to be the largest coalition ever established in the Southwest to save the last of the largest trees. We've been able to fight this battle with minimal resources in the past and we're not going to compromise our stances when there's too little left for it even to be a consideration."

The writer works out of Phoenix, Arizona.

For more information, contact the Southwest Forest Alliance, P.O. Box 1948, Flagstaff, AZ 86002 (520/774-6514); The Pew Charitable Trusts, One Commerce Square, 2005 Market St., Ste. 1700, Philadelphia, PA 19103-7017 (215/575-9050).

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking two full time community organizers to join our team. Positions can be based in Garfield County, Montrose...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Join our team as the Association's Executive Director. Working closely with the Board of Directors, take ANWS to the next level of professionalism by managing...
  • FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Development Director who will have the overall responsibilities of leading our fundraising programs and reports directly to our...
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...