“And we won.”

If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. (Upton Sinclair)

If the strategy of the Pew Charitable Trusts is divide and conquer, it has succeeded. Pew has systematically over the past few decades become one of the most active funding sources for mainstream environmental groups. As a legacy of the Sinclair oil fortune, its activities might represent a guilty collective conscious. More likely, it’s an ongoing effort to neutralize opponents.

This article, by John S. Adams in the Great Falls Tribune, demonstrates divide and conquer success. There are deep divides now among environmentalists in Montana.

The divide is not philosophical, at least on the surface. All parties involved claim to have conservation as their primary goal. However, since the late 1980’s there’s been a split, and this coincides with the dominance of Pew as a primary funding source. The split is best described as “activists” and “collaborators.”

The politicians only want to deal with the collaborators, and who can blame them, as they politicians get financial support from the timber lobby and other special interests. Over the years they have been putting forth the same bill under different names – Lolo Accords, Burns-Baucus, and now the Tester “Forest Jobs Recreation Act” (FJRA) – all pro-timber bills. They are incessant in pushing the same wine in new bottles.

Adams trots out some of the old farts of the wilderness movement, but oddly avoids currently active groups, listed below. The thrust has been to one-by-one neutralize groups by luring them into the fold with money. It’s not hard – most activists I have known over the years were either near-poverty or volunteers who make their living elsewhere. Activism for them is an avocation – as a career, it offers limited pay.

Pew introduces comfort – the ability to drive a nice car, pay bills, take a paid vacation. Who can object to fair wages and benefits? The problem is the source – once Pew takes over funding, the funded groups live in the apartment above Pew’s garage. So it is no surprise that those who “collaborate” and who the politicians favor are also on the Pew payroll. Under attack by the timber lobby up front and Pew from the rear, they are outflanked.

“Collaboration” and “consensus are merely new words for “losing.” Roughly defined, those words mean avoidance of confrontation. Montana Wilderness Association’s John Gatchell, cited in Adams’ piece, says that the big bills, like Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ NREPA, cannot pass. It is much akin to a general saying that he cannot win by a frontal attack on the enemy, so that the best alternative is to surrender.

Notice how he frames it: Because there is a standoff, something must be done. Why? The standoff is there not due to stubbornness, but rather incompatible objectives. Under those conditions, each side must fight for its goals despite frustration. In an old Cold War analogy, a man and a bear met in the woods, and decided on consensus. The bear got a meal, and the man got a fur coat.

To compromise before fighting for an objective is a Democratic Party strategy, to surrender before the battle and call it victory.

The number one tactic of the timber lobby is branding and marginalization. Those who are anti-collaboration are “extremists,” and it is therefore justified to remove them from the process. As mentioned before on this blog, there is an almost perfect correlation between “extremism” and “effectiveness” in the environmental movement. Adams cites former U.S. Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas said who said that collaboration would be a way to “marginalize extremists.”

Translation: We need to remove effective people from the opposition.

Adams sought out Larry Campbell, an activist from the 90’s, who had worthy sentiment:

“We did not lose very many wilderness acres between 1988, when Pat Williams’ wilderness bill went down, and when this thing [FJRA] was hammered out. We were protecting all of them — the wilderness study areas, the inventoried roadless areas as well as the small ‘r’ roadless areas — from projects, timber sales, whatever, and we won.”

There was no shortage of currently active non-collaborative “extremists” for Adams’ piece. Why he did not seek them out … journalistic timidity? He was warned by Max Baucus not long after hiring on with the Tribune not to be “confrontational.” Did he take it to heart?

The problem with “environmentalism” in the US today, its major weakness, is professionalism. The fight is between vigilant citizens and moneyed developers. Many times the vigilant ones engage in lawsuits. And win. Professionals, the mainstream groups, don’t do that. They are not confrontational.

Environmentalism must be left to those who are effective, strategic and smart (“extremist”) and have other means of making a living. The moment that they draw their salary from their activities as vigilant citizens, they cease to be effective.

A list of active Montana groups, none contacted by Adams, follows:
These groups are currently active in the Northern Rockies:
Beartooth Alliance
Swan View Coaltion
Friends of the Wild Swan
Friends of the Bitterroot
Montana Ecosystems Defense Council
Friends of the Clearwater
Western Watersheds
Save America’s Forests
Native Forest Council

Go to this link for a far more extensive list of activist groups. Most importantly, before joining or supporting a mainstream environmental group, check out their Form 990 to see who is backing them. Odds are that Pew is there in a big way.

8 thoughts on ““And we won.”

    1. I noticed this in the waning years up there – fewer and fewer wilderness users. One summer trip over the beaten path we saw only one other person, a ranger on horseback. In earlier years, it was hard to find camp spots in some places. These areas need constituencies to survive.


  1. There’s the whole epistemology issue again Mark(if I may). Anecdotal evidence is bad evidence from which to draw conclusions. So despite your observation that you noticed fewer wilderness users over the years, the statistics indicate that Wilderness user numbers are increasing and will continue to do so, though not at the rate of population increase. Thus we are seeing a total use increase and per-capita decrease. There are people out there for these constituencies, but my guess is the majority of them are being consumed by the misleadingly named Montana Wilderness Association.


    My own anecdotal experience jives with this. During two trips into Montana Wilderness areas this summer in the Missions and Lee Metcalf areas, I ran into more people in both than I had ever ran into before.


    1. I only remarked on the Beaten Path because it stuck out in my mind – in five trips over the years, it went from many, many users to none on the last two trips that put me there.

      I agree of course that anecdotal evidence is of no value.


    2. I agree of course that anecdotal evidence is of no value.

      Au contraire.

      Interesting study — it looks at demographics. I’m surprised you let it stand.

      After a pretty generous method of measuring use, they state without discussion the result Range related, but the numbers I see are bleaker. Demographics are lining up against wilderness users. I don’t see how you can expect to vote in protections. The courts, maybe?

      To paraphrase the clan leader: “a wilderness proponent should take care to have lots of sons.”


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