Open hostilities: national park personnel are increasedly targeted by the Wise Use Movement's campaign of violence.
* At Grand Canyon National Park, employees backed down from plans to remove old mining equipment in the western part of the park after local county commissioners threatened to have them arrested.
* At Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Park Service must get permission from the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General to cross Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territory along the park's northern border for fear of setting off an armed confrontation with a rancher who is illegally grazing his cattle on federal lands.
* In The Pacific Northwest, environmentalists, including members of NPCA and a staff person with Audubon, have received death threats from property rights and militia groups, who see a United Nations plot in a proposal to link the North Cascades with a Canadian provincial park. They believe the United Nations intends to dismember the United States and establish a totalitarian New World Order. The Wise Use Movement, a campaign to roll back environmental protections, also sees further evidence of a U.N. takeover in the World Heritage Committee's designation of Yellow-stone as a park in danger as well as President Clinton's plan to restore the Everglades, another World Heritage Site.
To date, National Park Service (NPS) workers and supporters have managed to avoid becoming victims of the assaults, bombings, and armed confrontations that employees of other natural resource agencies, such as the Forest Service, BLM, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have experienced. One reason may be that much of the anti-environmental violence linked to Wise Use campaigns in the West has been driven by economic self-interest and public lands industries that are most active outside park boundaries. In one incident, for example, Forest Service Ranger Guy Pence's Nevada office and home were pipe-bombed in March and August of 1995. He had asked an area rancher to remove hundreds of cows from the Toiyabe National Forest and denied a miner's request for a permit to build a road in order to protect and restore the public range's ecological integrity.
The miner was a dose friend of Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver who, backed by an armed posse, bulldozed the road through anyway. Carver later bragged at a Wise Use rally that had one of the two Forest Service rangers who tried to stop him gone for his gun, "50 people with sidearms would have drilled him."
Although Park Service personnel have not yet been involved in that level of confrontation, Special Agent Pat Buccello, who teaches a course on "extremist groups on public lands" for Park Service rangers and employees, worries about what she calls "a blurring of the uniform. Some of these people just see any federal ranger as part of the problem. Sometimes we get chewed out over BLM and Forest Service issues," she explains.
While her course covers extremists of varying ideologies and beliefs, she sees Wise Use groups as the major problem today. "They're merging with Christian Identity [a racist cult linked to Aryan Nations] and all these other right-wing extremist groups. You see the rhetoric changing, where it is now acceptable for them to say, `I think you ought to be shot.' I've dealt with groups like [the militant environmental group] Earth First! where you talk to them and agree how many people are going to get arrested, and they show up in their [animal and tree] costumes, and you arrest them. But it's different with Wise Use. I think the Wise Users really want a confrontation."
Wise Use was founded in 1988 by right-wing political activists and oil, timber, and other natural resource industries, who were united in their fear that newly elected President George Bush was "too green." Organizers understood that if they were to "open up" the nation's public lands to further commercial development they would first have to discredit the government's most popular and successful use of those lands - as national parks. In fact, much of the initial organizing force of the Wise Use Movement came from targeting national parks and the National Park Service.
"They're going to come in and strangle you! You're going to lose your valley! The Park Service wants to get rid of you!" shouted Chuck Cushman more than a decade ago on February 6, 1984, to a school full of nervous residents of New York's Upper Delaware Valley. Hired by canoe outfitters who did not want to become regulated concessioners, Cushman warned local residents that hunting and fishing would be restricted, farms and stores shut down, and ancestral lands seized if the Park Service developed a land use plan based on Congress' declaration of the area as "Wild and Scenic."
A short time later, someone slashed the tires and painted a swastika on a Park Service vehicle. Still, Cushman, now a national leader of the Wise Use Movement, recalls that evening as "a magic experience.... It wasn't far from where that big concert took place, Woodstock, and it had some of that electricity."
Glenn Pointier, editor and publisher of the River Reporter, a local paper that exposed inaccuracies in Cushman's presentation, is not so nostalgic. After Cushman left the area, the local group Upper Delaware Alliance, led by real estate agent Don Rupp, began to harass local environmentalists, elected officials, and Pointier's newspaper. In 1986, Pointier's house burned down in a mysterious arson fire.
A similar campaign of harassment, death threats, shootings, and arson took place in the early 1990s in New York's Adirondack State Park. The largest park in the continental United States, Adirondack consists of a mix of state-owned and private lands. The Adirondack Solidarity Alliance and other militant "property rights groups" backed by local real-estate developers were at the heart of an anti-environmental campaign that spun off militia-type underground groups. These groups beat up activists, trashed an environmental storefront, shot into an occupied Park Agency vehicle, and burned down the barns of park commissioner and author Anne LaBastille. The Adirondack Alliance, which also warns of a United Nations takeover of the Adirondacks, is part of the Wise Use umbrella group Alliance for America, which has its national headquarters inside the park.
A former Los Angeles insurance man, Cushman first became an anti-environmental activist after investing in a private cabin inside Yosemite National Park in California. In 1977, he received a Park Service letter saying cabin owners were prohibited from building out on their property. Early the next year, he helped found the National Inholders Association, for people with property claims inside park boundaries. While the inholders association helped to force the National Park Service to reform some of its more arbitrary rules and regulations, Cushman quickly gained a reputation for creating new conflicts where none had previously existed (a skill that has earned him the moniker "Rent-a-riot" among his supporters).
After President Reagan was elected in 1980, Secretary of the Interior James Watt appointed Cushman to the National Parks System Advisory Board, where he served alongside astronaut Wally Schirra, Lady Bird Johnson, and others. "I was the skunk at the lawn party," Cushman recalls with glee. It was during this period that he met and became fast friends with Ron Arnold, who had been commissioned by Paul Weyrich's Committee for a Free Congress to write Watt's biography. (Weyrich also co-founded the Moral Majority during this period.) Arnold's laudatory profile of Watt got him hooked up with conservative direct-mail fund raiser, gun-rights activist, and convicted tax felon Alan Gottlieb on the idea of a movement that would target "run-away environmentalism."
"It worked out far better than I would have predicted," Gottlieb later admitted. "I've never seen anything pay out as quickly as this whole Wise Use thing has."
A year before they sponsored the founding conference for Wise Use, Gottlieb and Arnold published a book, Stealing the National Parks, written by former concessioner and Yosemite Park & Curry Company president Don Hummel. The 414-page book argues that "it is not some private-sector corporate lobby that is stealing the national parks, but the environmental lobby," with their "lock-it-up-and-keep-'em-out" philosophy. Dismissing issues such as overcrowding, Hummel wrote, "The carrying capacity of the entire park system is immense and barely touched." He went on to suggest that the most effective way to counter environmentalists and Park Service "bureaucrats" would be to open up wilderness areas to new development and sell all government-owned public park facilities to private operators.
The 1988 Wise Use Agenda (written by Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb after the 1988 conference) went well beyond the demands of their social base among inholders and concessioners. The agenda called for opening all public lands, "including wilderness and national parks," to mining and energy development.
"We create parks and refuges and wilderness areas, but they create no dollars for the American worker. Mining creates jobs, trees create jobs, farming creates jobs, and American factories create jobs," is how Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska), chairman of the House Resources Committee, justifies incorporating Wise Use demands into the legislative proposals being put forward by the 104th Congress.
Young has appointed some anti-federal firebrands to his committee, which oversees parks and public lands. They include Republican representatives Wes Cooley of Oregon, Barbara Cubin of Wyoming, and Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, a Wise Use activist and militia hero. Her stock speech about spiritual warfare between environmentalists and true Americans is available for purchase from the Militia of Montana.
Along with Chenoweth speeches, one of the most popular screenings at Wise Use conferences and events is a country-western music video called Big Park, performed by Teddy Canady and the Rough Rangers. It begins with a rural family sitting on their ranch house porch. Suddenly a band of Park Service rangers in mirror shades drives up and seizes the house, disarming Pop as he goes for die rifle over the mantle, tying him and Mom up in red tape, eating the food out of the family's refrigerator, and then carting off the whole family, including Grandma and Sissy, in a horse trailer as they convert the home into a ranger station. "God bless all the animals, the forests, and the streams, and we'll say goodbye to humankind and build a big park of our dreams," the jackbooted rangers sing as the kidnapped family is driven off. Then the chorus kicks in: "We don't answer to the taxpayers or to your congressman, and we don't take no from anyone. We just want to take your land."
Big Park is one of more than a dozen videotapes and "documentaries" on national parks, wetlands, wildlife reserves, and other "threats to private property" distributed by the Elko, Nevada-based Wilderness Impact Research Foundation, an industry-supported group that calls for the privatization of public lands.
Although it may be easy to dismiss the anti-park activists as representing only a tiny fraction of the public, the power of Wise Use and other Astroturf (synthetic grassroots) groups to disrupt the planning and operation of even a "crown jewel" such as Yellowstone was demonstrated in late 1991 when Cushman, People for the West, the Western Environmental Trade Association, and other industry groups were able to disrupt and undermine the "Greater Yellowstone Vision Plan" designed to protect the park's surrounding ecosystem.
Claimed as a "grassroots victory" by Wise Use, the interference in the planning process sparked a 15-month congressional investigation, which produced a report in July 1993. The report found that what really occurred was a "concerted activity" among the mining industry, then President Bush's Chief of Staff John. Sununu, and other high-ranking Bush Administration officials and Wise Use activists in the West who "artificially manufactured the appearance of negative public opinion" and then excluded the larger public from the review process in order to justify the destruction of the "vision" program.
Ironically, the report on these abuses was itself subject to political pressure. The original draft report referred to a "conspiracy" among the administration and commodity and special-interest groups. In the final report, the milder sounding "concerted activity" replaces "conspiracy."
When it first was formed, the Wise Use Movement took environmentalists by surprise. It successfully copied green organizing tactics and infused issues with high emotional content to get attention. Recently, conservationists have succeeded in fighting back.
Last year, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D.-Minn) proposed legislation that would allow additional motorized use in Voyageurs National Park. Claiming that the park did not live up to its economic potential, Oberstar wanted to open up more of the park to snowmobiles. Eight local groups, some with connections to Western and Washington, D.C.-based Wise Use organizations, banded together to form the Greater Northland Coalition to support the legislation.
In a historic move, congressional hearings were held in International Falls, Minnesota, the town adjacent to the park. In the months preceding the hearings, the Greater Northland Coalition beat an incessant drum through media advertisements to get its supporters to the hearing.
They claimed that more than 5,000 people would fill the meeting hall. About 1,500 attended the hearing, nearly half of whom opposed the legislation, surprising the congressional committee.
NPCA, Sierra Club, and other conservation groups also pushed for a hearing in the Twin Cities. That hearing was packed with people opposed to the bill. "We were basically able to take the wind out of their sails," says NPCA's Heartland Regional Director Lori Nelson. "We stood up to he Wise Use Movement and beat them at their own game." Even though the first bill died, Oberstar has not given up. He has introduced another bill to create a locally dominated management council to supersede federal control of the national park. Hearings were held in Washington, D.C., in July He also introduced separate legislation seeking to open wilderness in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to more motorized use. The Wise Use group Conservationist with Commonsense supports the proposal.
Like Doctor Frankensteins monster, many of today's Wise Use activists, with their talk of civil war and armed resistance to federal "thugs" and the Green Gestapo." have gone far beyond the confrontational pro-industry demonstrations that marked earlier appearances at Yellowstone and elsewhere.
In Kalispell, Montana, for example, a Wise Use opponent of a building permit program recently told a militia meeting, "When the hour strikes, there will be public officials dead in the streets."
In eastern Oregon, the manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Forrest Cameron, received death threats after a local rancher was arrested for allowing his cattle to trespass on the refuge. Cameron's wife and five children were also threatened.
And in New Mexico, People for the West activist Skip Price warns that if the federal government tries to fence off "his stream [located on public lands] they're meeting bullets."
While not intending to create a base for anti-government militias, resource industries trying to expand their operations in and around national parks have to take some moral responsibility for the violent extremism they have helped to unleash. For eight years, representatives of the timber industry, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Cattlemen's Association, the American Mining Congress, and others have shared Wise Use platforms, conferences, and strategies with county supremacists and anti-Indian activists, as well as groups such as the John Birch Society and followers of those who promote a hard right agenda including Lyndon LaRouche and tile Rev. Sun Myung Moon. By lending credibility to these extremist groups, industry has aided their recruitment drive.
Still, America's new politics of terror and intimidation can flourish only in the face of public apathy or indifference. By lending support to our parks, public employees, and fellow citizens rights of free speech and assembly, we can counter, isolate, and eventually eliminate this threat to the environment and to the democratic process.
DAVID HELVARG is the author of War Against the Greens, a book about the Wise Use Movement and attacks against environmentalists, which will appear in paperback early next year.