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Interview of George Wuerthner ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is George Wuerthner. He’s the former Ecological Projects Director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He is an ecologist and wildlands activist. He has published 38 books on environmental issues and natural history including such environmentally focused books as Welfare Ranching, Thrillcraft, Energy and most recently, Protecting the Wild. Today we talk about the right wing assault on public lands.

So, as always, thank you for your extraordinary work and thank you for being on the program.

GW: I appreciate it and I’m glad to be here.

DJ: So, when you say “assault on public lands,” what does that mean? And also, can you give a history of – I don’t want to say “the history of public lands,” because of course that is beyond just the formation of the BLM, etc., but can you talk about the formation of the BLM, the Park Service, the National Monument system, whatever is appropriate to this discussion.

GW: Sure. Well, briefly; the assault on public lands is an attempt by mostly extractive interests. Oil and gas, ranching, logging, etc. To have greater influence over the management of those lands to benefit their bottom line, basically. And this is not a new issue. It’s almost been endemic to the creation of public lands in the first place.

I’ll give you a little bit of history on that. It’s kind of an interesting thing to think about, because our nation, back in the mid-1800’s, was pretty much devoted to trying to give away as much land as possible. They had the Homestead Act, they had the Timber and Stone Act, they had the Mining Law of 1872. They gave almost 200 million acres to the railroads, presumably for building, helping to finance the building of railroads cross country. In other words, the whole way of approach was to try to get rid of the public domain as quickly as possible, and part of the reason was it was a way to settle the country, which was seen as a way to make sure we had people there, to have a claim to the territory, you might say. And then the other was the hope to get new tax revenues and so forth, from all these endeavors.

That was the general policy, and the first sort of crack in that policy happened in 1864, during the Civil War. The federal government relayed the Yosemite Valley to the State of California to maintain as a state park. That was sort of the first time, in a federal way, that there was any attempt to keep lands from being given away.

And then, in 1872, an even more extraordinary thing happened, and that was the designation of Yellowstone National Park. And you really have to look at this within the context of the era, where the whole goal was to give away land as quickly as possible, and turn it into private land. So the idea of withdrawing from public acquisition and exploitation of over two million acres of land, and the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, was a real change in whole attitudes about land, and what the public policy should be.

And that continued on through the 1880’s and 90’s. In the 1890’s, legislation was passed that allowed the President to designate what were called at the time “forest reserves.” And the forest reserves were predecessors of our national forests. The idea was to withdraw them primarily from homesteading, and other activities were still eventually going to be allowed on them, although initially they were more like what we think of as national parks, where logging was not allowed, etc., even though they were called forest reserves. And the main justification for these forest reserves was that in the West, aridity was seen as a major issue, and the reserves were seen as a way to protect watersheds.

So then in 1890, we got our second and third national parks; which was Yosemite, much larger than the Yosemite Valley was protected, and Yosemite National Park; and then Sequoia National Park was also set aside. A lot of that was through the efforts of John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club.

And then we get into the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, and there was an increasing realization that maybe the frontier was ending. I mean, the whole idea of giving away land was predicated on the idea that we had infinite land and we’ve gotta settle it and use it and so forth. That idea that the frontier was more limited started to give rise to efforts to take some of that land and keep it in federal ownership.

And another thing that contributes to this, that people should know about, is when states west of the Mississippi River, primarily, the western states, entered the Union, they would get a certain percentage of federal lands designated to them for their state use, to fund schools and other activities. So that’s a large part of how we’ve gotten state forests and state rangelands in the West, on state lands.

In any event – so, we’re around 1900, and there were a couple of things that happened. One, and it pertains to this whole idea of national monuments, which I’ll get to in a moment – but there was a stone dish found in Sequoia National Park, by one of the employees there. And when the supervisor of the park demanded that that be kept in public ownership and be returned to the park, this worker refused. And there was actually no way that the superintendent could force him to give up this stone bowl.

And that kind of led to some concern about all these antiquities, as they were called, mostly Indian ruins, in places like Utah and Arizona and New Mexico, that increasingly were getting robbed by pot hunters and others. So all of this was coming together, a sort of change in attitude about public lands, that happened to coincide with the election of Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt was very conservation-oriented. I don’t think there’s been any President who’s been more conservation-oriented than Roosevelt. So, he was sort of a big game hunter, and he was also an extremely astute bird watcher and very much believed in preserving wildlife and the habitat it relied on for future generations.

So anyway, he’s there, and Congress, to deal with this stone problem in Sequoia, passed what is called the Antiquities Act. And the basic idea behind the Antiquities Act, 1906, is to allow a President to designate certain features in the public domain as national monuments.

The original purpose of it was to try to protect some of the Indian ruins around the West and those sort of artifacts. But it was also quickly used to protect other things, for example; Devils Tower in Wyoming was designated a national monument for its geological features.

All along, around this time, there’s been discussion about setting aside the Grand Canyon as a national park. And Teddy Roosevelt was very much in favor of this, but there was, as is typical, and still occurs, local opposition to creating the national park there. Miners, loggers, grazers, etc. Northern Arizona didn’t want a park and fought against this idea.

And then Roosevelt was sort of again reviewing the Antiquities Act, then noticed that there was no size limit imposed, other than large enough to protect whatever the object of protection in that monument was to occur. So Roosevelt checked with his Attorney General and said “Is there any limitation on the size of a national monument?” And the Attorney General reviewed the law and said “Well no, there isn’t.” And so Teddy Roosevelt said “Well, I hereby declare that the Grand Canyon be set aside as a national monument,” which greatly outraged the local people. Along the same lines as we hear today, from people in southern Utah where the Bears Ears National Monument, another national monument, set up recently; has been designated.

It’s important to note at this point that a lot of what are national parks today, were originally national monuments. The difference between a national monument and a national park often is only a matter of how it was created. National parks can only be created by Congress. In other words, you have to get a bill through Congress that designates such-and-such a place as a national park, national seashore, or whatever. And a lot of these national monuments, like the Grand Canyon, eventually were re-designated by Congress as national parks. And the advantage of designation by Congress as a national park is that it’s less subject to the whims of presidents. Like right now, President Trump is attempting to “review,” he says, 27 national monuments that have been designated by Bill Clinton, George Bush and President Obama. The review is supposed to determine whether they should even exist in the first place, or should they be resized – “resized” means made smaller – or modified in other ways.

And no president has done this since, like the early 1900’s, made any changes to national monuments created by other presidents. So this is a real first, in having this review. And many of the areas that are being reviewed, I would not be surprised if in ten or fifteen or twenty years, they were to be re-designated as national parks, in keeping with some of the many other areas that were originally national monuments. For example, what is now Olympic National Park was a national monument. What is now Grand Teton National Park was a national monument. What is now Zion National Park was a national monument. What is Death Valley National Park was a national monument, and so on. So, a lot of our very famous parks around the West originally had their origins as national monuments.

So that’s kind of how we got national monuments. Now, through the 1920’s and 30’s and so forth, we had a whole lot of national forest created, particularly, again, by Teddy Roosevelt. In fact, there’s stories told about Teddy Roosevelt drawing on the floor of the White House with Gifford Pinchot, who was the first director of the Forest Service – sitting on the floor, with a map of the West, drawing lines on it for new national forests. And as he was designating these new national forests, western congressmen were very upset. You can read all this rhetoric about lockup of the land, the same kind of rhetoric we hear today, back in the early 1900’s. And in fact, Congress passed a law making it illegal for Teddy Roosevelt to create any more national forest. And he didn’t have enough votes to oppose, to veto it. In other words, if he vetoed it, it would be over ridden.

So the night before the law was to take effect, he and Pinchot spent another night drawing lines on a map and he created sixteen more national forests that night, before the law passed making it illegal for him to make any new ones.

So Teddy Roosevelt was quite a hero in a lot of ways. He also designated a lot of national wildlife refuges, too, by the way.

So the Forest Service got its start about then, during the Roosevelt years, and Gifford Pinchot was the first director. And national forests were seen different from national parks in that resource extraction could occur. So you could graze on national forest, you could log on national forest, you could mine on national forest. Most of those activities are prohibited in national parks.

So that was sort of the origin of our Forest Service lands. And then, in the 1930’s, there was a whole lot of land that was designated national forest; there was land that was designated as national parks, and wildlife refuges; and then there was a whole bunch of other sort of public domain that didn’t have any special designation, and it was under the General Land Office and the Grazing Board. And then in the 1940’s, those two agencies were combined to create the Bureau of Land Management. So that’s how we got BLM land, which were the lands, as it’s sometimes said; the lands that nobody else wanted. In other words, if it had been good for homesteading it would have been homesteaded; if it was good for mining it would have been mined, and so forth, and privatized. So we have a lot of lands around the West, in fact more acreage in BLM land than we have under any of the other agencies; the Forest Service or the Park Service.

And many of these national monuments that were established by Obama, as well as by Clinton, were on BLM land primarily. So for example, Grand Staircase-Escalante, in southern Utah, was BLM. The Bears Ears National Monument designated by Obama was BLM. The Mojave Trails in California, designated by Obama, was primarily BLM.

So these agencies are still given the opportunity to manage them, presumably better than they would be as just any old public land. Which, critics would say, hasn’t really happened. But that’s the goal, in any event.

So what we have left is we have about a third of the nation’s land, total land area, that is in public, federal domain. And that’s under all these four different agencies: Forest Service; Fish and Wildlife Service, which is the wildlife refuges; BLM, Bureau of Land Management; and the Park Service.

And collectively, you could say that’s part of the nation’s heritage for future generations, and it’s also some of the most critical wildlife habitat we have left, and some of the most important watershed, drainages in the West. It is some of the most stunning, scenic landscapes, and of course very important to a lot of people for just recreation and sort of communing, I’d say, with nature. So it’s a tremendous asset for the country. You go back east, to places like New Jersey, or, you know, Kentucky or wherever, and you have a lot less public domain in those places. And that’s primarily because what is National Forest land, or parks and those areas, pretty much all had to be bought at one time or another, and actually taken back from private ownership, whereas the public domain in the West has been retained in public ownership through all this.

And, depending on what it is, different activities are either prohibited or allowed, as I said. So you can mine on BLM land, and you can log on BLM land and Forest Service land, but you can’t on national parks. And sometimes log, mine, etc. on wildlife refuges, but a lot less than you would on, say, Forest Service or BLM land.

And throughout this history of public domain, starting from way back in the 1800’s, all the way to the current situation, there have been people, particularly in rural communities, who have always chafed under the idea that government, federal ownership of this land, and have from regulation and prohibition that limit their ability to utilize it and exploit it, primarily for their own profit. And so we have recently had, for example, the Bundy boys who took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge; Cliven Bundy down in Nevada who has been grazing his cows on public land for decades now without paying any fees and ignoring all warnings to remove his cows; those are examples of people who basically feel that the federal government and the rest of us have no right to manage these lands, to have an opinion about how they’re utilized, and basically shouldn’t be allowed to control these lands. So that’s where we’ve got to today with the idea of privatization.

And the fear is – and what is being done by some members of Congress, is to introduce legislation, and there’s various pieces of legislation out there that’re ultimately designed to, in my view, and a lot of people’s view, to privatize these lands. They would never say that, that would never be the stated goal. But what will happen, more than likely, is that the lands would be sold off. So for example, there are bills in Congress to turn over some federal lands to states. And why is that a worry? Well, a lot of states have no protections about selling off public domain. You can actually nominate lands for sale in states like Wyoming and Idaho. Say “Hey, I see 160 acres there, I want to nominate it for sale,” and the state will put it up for bid, and if you’re the only bidder, in particular, you can get it for any price you want to offer for it. So the goal of a lot of states is still like the frontier days, which is to sell off as much of the public domain as they can.

This is an issue, for example, in Oregon right now. There’s a state forest called Elliot State Forest, it’s about 90,000 acres of land on the coast of Oregon. And the state initially, about a year ago, or less; voted to sell off the entire state forest, to the highest bidder. Well, they only got one bidder, and some people felt like it wasn’t high enough, and there was a big movement also in Oregon to keep it in state ownership, public ownership. And just recently, I think last week, the State Forestry Board reversed its decision, I think that’s who was in charge. Anyway it was reversed and now it’s going to stay in public ownership under some plans about how they’re going to accomplish that. But the point being is that transferring federal land to the states is very risky. And there’s a good chance that a lot of that land will eventually be sold off to the highest bidder.

DJ: So when we are talking about the western resistance to public lands, or western assault on public lands; you said that there was opposition to the creation of these parks in the first place. I want to read a few quotes from your excellent article called Some People Have Always Hated National Monuments Until They Loved Them (http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/some-people-have-always-hated-national-monuments-until-they-love-them) and the quotes are – there’s three or four of them.

When they made Yellowstone National Park, the editors of Montana’s Helena Gazette said “We regard the passage of the Act, (to protect the area) as a great blow struck at the prosperity of the towns of Bozeman and Virginia City.” Which of course could be said today too – they use the exact same words. National Park – Grand Canyon National Park. The Williams Sun Newspaper, northern Arizona, captured the common sentiment of the time when it editorialized that the national park had represented a “‘fiendish and diabolical scheme,’ that whoever had come up with such an idea must have been ‘suckled by a sow and raised by an idiot. The fate of Arizona depends exclusively on the development of our mineral resources.’”

Mount Olympus National Monument/ Olympic National Park, a local person, 1909, wrote “We would be fools to let a lot of foolish sentimentalists tie up the resources of the Olympic Peninsula in order to preserve its scenery.” Jackson Hole, they said that Jackson will become a “ghost town,” which of course is nonsense. Glacier National Park; they argued that they should dismantle the park, arguing that “it’s more important to furnish homes to land-hungry people than to lock up the land as a rich man’s playground, which no one will ever use,”

And I don’t know exactly how the politics are where you live, George, but these sentences could happen today in Del Mar County in northern California. I’ve seen these essential quotes in the newspaper, from locals arguing against the national park here.

GW: Well, exactly. And that’s the point I was trying to make, is that the rhetoric hasn’t changed at all. They still use terms like “lockup.” Or that it’s going to destroy the economy. And of course time has shown in every instance that that is exactly the opposite of what happens. As you referred to; Jackson Hole, the “ghost town,” has sixteen thousand people living in it today. And primarily living off of the national park that’s just outside of the town. The same with towns like Bozeman, which the Helena paper predicted was going to suffer tremendously; the experience is Bozeman is one of the most vigorous, economically vigorous towns in Montana, in the large part because of its proximity to Yellowstone. And it’s very important for people to understand that, and one of the common criticisms you hear is that creating a park just makes seasonal jobs for part time help. And that critique is totally wrong, because what happens – first of all, you get a lot of creation of small-scale businesses. You can say whatever you want for it, but, you know; restaurants and bookstores and other things; outdoor shops, fly fishing guides, whatever. These businesses are often run by local people who adapt to the creation of the park, and then offer some sort of service or business that is attractive, by that public domain there.

But beyond that, there is a movement – it’s always been there, but it’s really accelerated in the last decade or two, where people are choosing to live in places with what’s perceived to be a high quality of life. And “high quality” is defined by a lot of things; lack of traffic, perhaps; good schools, etc. But one of the factors is just having beautiful landscapes in your life; with wildlife, with opportunities to go for a hike, and otherwise recreate on. Things like national parks and national monuments; one of the reasons they’re attractive to people is that somebody who decides to live close by knows that those areas are likely to be retained, and available, throughout their lives, for future generations. So it makes it an attractive place for people to move businesses to. In other words, somebody who has nothing to do with the park.

When I lived near Yellowstone, I lived adjacent to Yellowstone in Livingston, Montana for about twelve years. There were people moving to Livingston throughout the time I was there, who had businesses either that they had established in town, or they brought with them. An example is a financial advisor I knew in town, moved from Minneapolis to Livingston. And all his clients were back in Minneapolis, but what he could do was work on computer, and he moved to Livingston because he wanted to be close to Yellowstone Park.

So he was spending his money locally, supporting the schools with his taxes. He eventually expanded his business and hired a few other people. And that’s the kind of situation that’s much more common today. So that his business, as financial advisor, has nothing to do with serving tourists, but it’s still an economic opportunity that is in a large part being created because of the proximity to Yellowstone Park.

So we see that kind of thing happening in a lot of rural communities around the West. And the irony is, to me, that a lot of these rural communities are very hostile to the idea of these changes, in part because, you know; “my daddy was a logger and by gosh I’m gonna be a logger,” or “my daddy was a rancher, and my grandfather was a rancher, and I’m gonna be a rancher.” And there’s resistance to changing and trying to see if you can do something different.

And the other part of it that hurts a lot of these rural towns initially, to get to a certain threshold of change, is that the cultural attitudes of a lot of those towns are so negative that people who might be willing to bring a business to the community and liven up the economic opportunities are not willing to live there. So they hurt their own, sort of, hopes for the future in a lot of cases.

I’ll give you an example. Burns, Oregon, where the Bundy guys took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge, is a case in point. Something like 35 or 40 percent of the people in Burns supported that takeover of the refuge. They didn’t think they should be dealing with guns and stuff, but they really agreed with the general attitude that the public lands around there should be turned over to the people of Burns to do what they want with it.

Well, that attitude is really unattractive to somebody like me, and a whole lot of other people who might be willing to otherwise find Burns an attractive location, because it does have a lot of amenities, like a wildlife refuge, out the door, not to mention other public lands.

So in their sort of negativity they actually hinder the opportunity for different economic diversity in their communities.

I’ll give you another personal example. Years ago, I bought a lot in Challis, Idaho. I worked for the Forest Service on the Challis National Forest, and I bought a lot there. I had always thought I’d want to retire to Challis, because it’s just surrounded by a tremendous array of public land. There are wolves there, there are salmon in the Salmon River. It’s just a great outdoor location with a lot of wild lands close by.

But as I got older, I realized that I just wouldn’t fit in Challis. The community is very hostile in general to public lands, they’re hostile to wolves. It’s just a place that, I said to myself, “I just can’t see myself living there.” And eventually I sold my lot for that reason and never did settle in Challis.

So, what happens, I think, is this hostility to public lands actually hurts these communities. Tom Power, who I actually had as a professor in college – he used to be the chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana – used to say that most communities had what he called a “rear view mirror” of their economy. And what he meant is that people know what used to drive their economy. “We used to be a logging town” or “we used to be a mining town” or “we used to be a ranching town.” And he said most people have no idea what their economy is doing at this moment, much less can predict the future. And a lot of these small communities are constantly looking backwards and saying “We used to be a logging community and we should be a logging community.” That’s what’s driving a lot of the voters who voted for Trump. Y’know, “We’re a coal mining town, we should be a coal mining town today. It doesn’t matter that coal mining, burning coal, contributes to global warming. We’re going to be a coal mining town.” That kind of looking backwards instead of looking forward hurts these communities, because they really are not willing to embrace what could be great opportunities.

DJ: So, you’re raising a whole bunch of really good points, and one of the ones that I want to kind of tease out is … I think, in some ways it’s accurate that the land grabs of public lands, or when we talk about these takeovers of public lands, that individuals are small – you know, we’re often not talking about somebody who runs four cows, or something. We’re actually talking about – you know, the largest public lands ranchers in the West are, I dunno, Anheuser-Busch, or just huge corporations. And it’s the same with mining, etc. So on one level, this public lands takeover – the individual, the rugged rancher, is a Trojan horse. I would like for you to talk about that, and then at the same time, like you also said, there’s 35% or whatever of the people in Burns supported it, and in Crescent City it would be the same, if there was going to be some sort of takeover of the local national park, the – many locals would support it, even those who are small business owners and would gain nothing out of it. So can you talk about both of those – do you see what I’m trying to get at? There’s a Trojan horse element and at the same time there’s this support for the Trojan horse, or there’s also the individual – if you know what I’m trying to ask, then you can do a better job of answering it than I did of asking it.

GW: The point that you’re trying to make, which is accurate, is that there’s a populist front of the “little man,” or woman, put out to represent the efforts to privatize these lands, or to at the very least, reduce regulations on how they are used, and utilized. And you’re absolutely correct. For example, J.R Simplot, a billionaire in Idaho, who’s now dead, but his corporation still exists – was, and may still be, the single largest permittee on public lands. And I think numbers two and three are several mining companies in Nevada, which gets to your point. One J.R. Simplot controls more of public grazing land than a thousand small-time ranchers that’re out there. And yet, the face there will be is the guy who’s got a hundred cows or something, and who’s got torn-up jeans and an old pickup truck, and we don’t see the corporate J.R. Simplot represented in any attempts to talk about how there should be more grazing on public lands.

And the same thing is true for logging, and so forth. Big corporations, Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, these are names that we all know, who dominate logging on public land. And ironically, just like grazing on public lands, most timber sales on public lands, if not all, are subsidized by taxpayers. And so we’re indirectly subsidizing these corporations and their stockholders.

And we of course have the same thing with mining on public lands, and oil and gas drilling. Almost all the demand for utilizing public lands, and for trying to get them with fewer regulations and under state control, in particular, is that states tend to be more manipulable, I don’t know if that’s the right word, malleable maybe; more receptive to reducing regulations in the federal government, which are not great, but which have more backbone than most state governments do. The idea is that if we put these lands under state control, they’ll be able to log more, they’ll be able to graze easier, etc.

And that’s all fronted by this populist face of a poor logger or a poor rancher, when in fact the beneficiaries will largely be corporations and very wealthy individuals who control large segments of that particular industry.

DJ: And that’s all true, and that’s half of it, but there’s also – how does it – okay. You and I both understand it. We are veterans of fighting against those corporations. But that doesn’t alter the fact that you get –

Decades ago now, I was at a Forest Service meet and greet, and I got into an hour-long argument with some guy about clearcutting, and the guy was the owner of a drive-in. He didn’t have a vested interest. He wasn’t a Plum Creek flack. And there is still this – like you just said, this 30% support for – how does it end up happening? That there is this populist support for these corporate land grabs. That’s really what I’m getting at, too.

GW: Well part of it is a failure, as I was mentioning earlier, looking at their past economies. A failure to understand where they are and to even imagine where they’re going. A lot of that sense is “Oh, if we only could reopen the mill here we’d have a nice economy again.” Never really looking at the fact that even people who worked in the mill and the loggers in the woods, generally, on the face of it, didn’t really like their jobs that much anyway.

But the point being, is that they identified with the larger corporations and the rich landowners, because they see those folks as representing similar values, even though they’re not likely to benefit from those changes.

And some of it’s philosophical. To make an analogy to the current situation, with the Republican attempt to revisit health care, at least what’s been produced so far, would harm a lot of the poor rural residents of the West. And yet, overwhelmingly those same residents are supporting the Republican agenda, even though it will hurt them.

And that’s not an uncommon thing. One of the free-marketeer-type people, like the Peer in Bozeman, I don’t know what it stands for anymore, something economic research, but they are a free market proponent, and they always argue assuming that people are rational about it, and obviously they’re not. A lot of people do not vote in their own economic self-interest, partly because sometimes they don’t even realize what would be in their economic self-interest, or they have other philosophical components to why they support a certain agenda.

And so the fundamental assumption that local people know the land better, they’re gonna take care of it better, those are all slogans that you hear. But they are not borne out by actual experience. And when we see how – you have to go back to why did these lands get taken out of the giveaway in the first place? They got taken out of the giveaway, to remain as federal lands, because they were largely being abused. I mean, the reason, or the rationale, for the creation of the Forest Service, for example, was to control the excessive logging that was occurring on lands, and to protect watersheds. The reason we had the BLM created was to correct the abuse of grazing that was happening.

And to a degree, all these agencies, for all their flaws and faults, have done a better job of that than not having the regulations, have done a better job than what happens on private land. The worst clearcuts you see in Oregon are all on private land. The worst grazing lands in the West are generally private. When you compare lands that are equal, the vegetation. Despite what I can tell you about how badly the BLM has managed its grazing, it still does a better job than what happens on private land.

So the assumption that if you put it in private hands it would be taken care of better is not borne out by the actual experience. You can always find exceptions, of course. But in general, private lands are more abused than public lands.

DJ: So we have about seven or eight minutes left, and you’ve – One of the things I love talking – one of the reasons I love talking with you is because we get this bigger picture and – this has been a wonderful history lesson. And I’m wondering if you can bring us up to date, and talk – once again, we only have seven or eight minutes – if you can talk about the most recent round of attempts at land grabbing. Perhaps start with Reagan and then bring us up to Trump, and talk about politically – about the political movement to take over or destroy or assault public land.

GW: Well, you know, there are two ways to talk about takeover. And you don’t have to necessarily have a change in ownership as much as change in policy. So you kind of had that with Reagan, and other presidents. A lot of the, particularly the Republican presidents we’ve had, appointed people, like James Watt was Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who are very hostile to the very idea of public lands, protecting endangered species, and so forth. So, by appointing people who in many cases worked for industry prior to their appointment, and we saw that with the Bush administration too, who had former executives from timber industries running the Forest Service, things like that; we get a top-down command that can greatly affect the policies on the ground.

Now, so ultimately, as long as we retain the ownership, we can correct those over time, but one of the ways that you sort of work the system is you don’t actually work to get it under some other ownership. You just work to invalidate regulations and put in more friendly administrators and regulations. And that’s what we see happening under the Trump administration right now. Things like the EPA took down any mention of climate change, on its website. We have Secretary of the Interior Zinke looking at 27 national monuments to see if they should be eliminated or resized. These are all efforts to reduce, you might say, the long-term sustainability and integrity of these public lands, and to give more control to those people who are seen as deserving of their use.

And that brings up another topic, one of my things that I’m irked about with media constantly, they talk about local control. As if, again using Burns as an example, just because you live in Burns, Oregon, you have some sort of right to express and exert greater manipulation, express greater control and authority over what is federal domain owned by all Americans, who are, by the way, also paying the bill for these lands. To my mind, there is already an exorbitant amount of local control. If you are living in Burns, Oregon, you can walk into the BLM office or the District Rangers office there and have a discussion with the administration there, the District Ranger or the BLM manager, and voice your opinion. And of course, even if you do it nicely, those people know it.
And then there’s – it’s very hard to be, like, a BLM manager or Forest Service District Ranger, living in a town like Burns. Because, you know, you want to get along, you want your kids to enjoy the schools and so forth. So you have a strong incentive to try to work with that local rancher, logger, whomever. To satisfy them and make them happy, even if it’s to the detriment of the long-term public interest.

And so we have that kind of call for more local control, which just seems crazy to me, given that there’s already an exorbitant amount of local control and influence already occurring.

DJ: So what do you want people to do with this information, and what do you want them to do, especially regarding the assault on public lands?

GW: Well, two or three things. The most immediate thing right now is to encourage people to make comments in support of the existing national monuments, which the Secretary of the Interior is taking comment on right now for the next couple of months. The Bears Ears in Utah has a comment period that’s going to end May 25th, pretty soon, but the others have I think another month beyond that. So try to write comments saying “Hey, I want these lands protected and to remain as national monuments.”

And then beyond that, to realize that there’s a constant assault, and you’ll hear all this rhetoric about how it’s destroying the economy, which is false; the rhetoric that locals know best how to manage it, which is false. You’ll hear that the best way to utilize these lands is for some sort of resource extraction, which invariably, taxpayers support. We subsidize the logging, we subsidize the grazing, etc. That’s just the straight subsidy, and if you add up the environmental costs of those activities, in other words when you log a hillside and you get erosion, or the grazing pollutes the water or spreads weeds – the rest of us pay for fixing these problems, if we fix them at all. And so the cost of having these activities occur is huge.

So we’re subsidizing the destruction of these lands. And it’s an important point to remember. And so the more of those activities that occur, or the less regulation of these activities, the more it costs us all in the future.

DJ: Well thank you so much. And I would like to thank listeners for listening, my guest today has been George Wuerthner, this is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on May 21st — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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