Director, Defenders of Wildlife; Principal, Margery Tabankin & Associates; Executive Director, Stephen Spielberg’s “Righteous Persons Foundation”; President, the Barbra Streisand Foundation
Search results for: defenders of wildlife
Director, Defenders of Wildlife; former professional staff member (D), Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation Committee
Senior Vice President, Wildlife & Habitat Protection, Humane Society of the United States; former executive vice president, Defenders of Wildlife
Committed to an “open-minded search for truth,” and armed with “unrivaled scientific expertise,” the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) “doesn’t say anything [it] can’t back up with solid evidence.” At least, that’s what its fund-raising letters say. The reality is quite different.
UCS embraces an environmental agenda that often stands at odds with the “rigorous scientific analysis” it claims to employ. A radical green wolf in sheep’s clothing, UCS tries to distinguish itself from the Greenpeaces of the world by convincing the media that its recommendations reflect a consensus among the scientific community. And that’s what makes it so dangerous. Whether it’s energy policy or agricultural issues, UCS’s “experts” are routinely given a free pass from newspaper reporters and television producers when they claim that mainstream science endorses their radical agenda.
Here’s how it works: UCS conducts an opinion poll of scientists or organizes a petition that scientists sign. Then it manipulates or misconstrues the results in order to pronounce that science has spoken. In 1986 UCS asked 549 of the American Physical Society’s 37,000 members if Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was “a step in the wrong direction for America’s national security policy.” Despite the biased wording of the push-poll question, only 54 percent disapproved of SDI. Even so, UCS declared that the poll proved “profound and pervasive skepticism toward SDI in the scientific community.”
More recently, UCS pulled a partisan, election-year stunt in 2004 aimed at the Bush Administration. The group rounded up 60 scientists to sign a statement complaining that “the administration is distorting and censoring scientific findings that contradict its policies; manipulating the underlying science to align results with predetermined political decisions.”
On issue after issue, UCS insists, the White House fails to embrace global scientific “consensus” — and that automatically means it has “politicized” science. But UCS itself is frequently guilty of that exact sin. For instance, it works overtime to scare Americans about a whole host of imagined environmental problems associated with genetically modified food. But every authoritative regulatory agency, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization, declares that biotech food crops are perfectly safe.
UCS routinely abuses and politicizes science. Its crusade against farm animals receiving antibiotics presents guesswork as scientifically rigorous analysis, and is calculated to scare the public about risks it admits are groundless. UCS helped initiate the vicious attacks on Danish scientist (and “Skeptical Environmentalist”) Bjorn Lomborg, only to be repudiated by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology, and Industry. And in 2003, the group dressed up its “strong opposition to the US invasion of Iraq” as an exercise in science.
Like many environmental activist groups, UCS uses the twin motivators of cheer and fear. A giggly Gwenyth Paltrow and a catty Cameron Diaz headlined a series of short appeals about energy conservation that UCS produced. The two mega-stars crow that they turn the water off while brushing their teeth, switch off the light when they leave their bedrooms, and keep the thermostat at 65 degrees. “Its time for us to band together and really make every effort to conserve our natural resources,” chirps Diaz. That’s the sunny side.
But UCS is more adept at producing horror stories than chick flicks. They are fear-mongers of the first order — turning the sober science of health and environmental safety into high drama for public consumption. For example, UCS recently warned that by 2100 the U.S. might suffer 50-80 million more cases of malaria every year if the Senate fails to ratify the Kyoto treaty. Such racy statistics are based on clumsy modeling of worst-case scenarios, and assume — against all evidence of human behavior — that no countermeasures whatsoever would be employed. “Not considering factors such as local control measures or health services,” in their own words. Of course, you won’t find those caveats in the press release.
Genetically Modified Science
Among UCS’s many concerns, “the food you eat” is at the top of the list. More than a million dollars went to its food program in 2001. Genetically enhanced foods — dubbed “Frankenfoods” by opponents — have caused worldwide hysteria even though no reputable scientific institution can find anything to be afraid of. But that doesn’t stop UCS’s “experts” from playing cheerleader to these unfounded fears.
They warn that biotech foods could result in the “squandering of valuable pest susceptibility genes,” “enhancement of the environment for toxic fungi,” and the “creation of new or worse viruses.” They scream about “Poisoned wildlife” and “new allergens in the food supply.” Biotech foods, they claim, might “increase the levels of toxic substances within plants,” “reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics to fight disease,” “contaminate foods with high levels of toxic metals,” “intensify weedy properties” and cause the “rapid evolution of resistance to herbicides in weeds,” leading to “superweeds.”
Rigorous scientific analysis led UCS to this list of horrors, right? Wrong. That was merely a “‘brainstorming’ of potential harms.” So how likely are any of these to occur? “Risk assessments can be complicated,” UCS says, and pretty much leaves it at that. In other words, they have absolutely no idea.
In contrast, more reputable authorities have a very good grasp of the potential risks of genetically enhanced foods. The U.S. Environmental protection Agency says that genetically enhanced corn “does not pose risks to human health or to the environment.” The World Health Organization says that biotech foods “are not likely to present risks for human health” and observes that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population.” Even the European Union, which has gone out of its way to stifle food technology for political reasons, notes: “The use of more precise technology [in genetically enhanced crops] and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods.”
The Food and Environment Program at UCS is headed up by Margaret Mellon and her deputy Jane Rissler, both of whom hold Ph.Ds and have held positions at prestigious universities. So what do a couple of highly trained research scientists, armed with nothing but guesswork, ideology and a million dollar budget, do? They fight biotech food every step of the way.
Although UCS claims that it “does not support or oppose genetic engineering per se,” Mellon and Rissler in fact have never met a GM food they didn’t mistrust. That’s because they hold biotech foods to an impossibly high standard.
In 1999, UCS joined the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Defenders of Wildlife, in petitioning the EPA for strict regulation of corn modified to produce large amounts of the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin. Bt is a naturally occurring insect poison that protects plants from pests like the European corn borer. UCS’s letter was part of a major scare campaign to convince the public that Bt corn posed a risk to the Monarch Butterfly.
Both the USDA and the EPA later concluded that Bt corn caused no harm to the Monarch. This reinforced the findings of federal regulators who had performed a comprehensive safety review of Bt corn before it was allowed into the marketplace. UCS remains unconvinced, even though the safest place for a Monarch larva to be is in a Bt cornfield. Rissler argued there was “insufficient data” to make such a conclusion.
Of course, “sufficient” data can never exist for zealots like Rissler. She continued: “Do we assume the technology is safe… or do we prove it? The scientist in me wants to prove it’s safe.” It’s impossible to prove a negative, to absolutely demonstrate that there are no dangers whatsoever for any given product. The scientist in her knows that too, but she and her colleagues at UCS continue to be guided by the “Precautionary Principle.” This misguided maxim argues that, based on the fear that something harmful may possibly arise, we should opt for technological paralysis.
The Wall Street Journal editorialized in 2000 that The Precautionary Principle “is an environmentalist neologism, invoked to trump scientific evidence and move directly to banning things they don’t like.” It’s a big hit among anti-technology activists because it justifies their paranoia and serves to bludgeon technological progress.
Martin Teitel, who runs another misnamed activist group called the Council for Responsible Genetics, admitted as much in 2001. “Politically,” Teitel said, “it’s difficult for me to go around saying that I want to shut this science down, so it’s safer for me to say something like, ‘It needs to be done safely before releasing it.’” Requiring scientists to satisfy the Principle by proving a negative, Teitel added, means that “they don’t get to do it period.”
It should come as no surprise that UCS joined Teitel’s organization and other die-hard opponents of biotech foods in an activist coalition called the Genetic Engineering Action Network. While acknowledging that “we know of no generic harms associated with genetically engineered organisms,” UCS consistently opposes their introduction to the market on the basis of purely hypothetical risk.
Confronted with the real-world benefits of biotech foods, UCS simply changes the subject to its anti-corporate, socialist leanings. Rissler’s appearance on the PBS show Nova – on a program called “Harvest of Fear” — is a case in point. When the interviewer suggested that “genetically modified crops are arguably much less harmful to the environment” Rissler responded: “It depends on where you want to compromise. There’s another issue here with corporate control of the food supply.”
UCS’s knee-jerk reaction to biotech foods is matched only by its animus towards agribusiness. A 1994 press release condemning FDA approval of biotech foods complained that some of the data used by the oversight agency was provided by private enterprises.
In her zeal to decry increased food production from the corporate adoption of biotechnology, Mellon has argued that it’s “not clear that more milk or pork is good.” And UCS supports a radical vision of “sustainable agriculture.” That means no pesticides or herbicides; no fertilizer (other than E.coli-rich manure); and eating only “locally grown” produce. If it’s not clear under this plan where New York City would get its rice or how Chicago would scrounge up any bananas, there’s a reason for it. They wouldn’t.
Pigs, Chickens and Cows, Oh My!
Hogging It, a UCS report published in 2001, argues that the use of antibiotics in farm animals could result in human diseases that are resistant to conventional treatments. The report received a great deal of press attention, and UCS is not afraid to brag about it. “We developed the numbers that everyone uses when talking about… overuse of antibiotics,” trumpets a fund-raising letter. But how did they go about developing those numbers? “Rigorous scientific analysis”? Hardly. While the livestock industry actually calculates the amounts of antibiotics administered to farm animals using hard sales figures, UCS guesses at average drug dosages and then multiplies by the total number of animals. That’s “brainstorming.” Not science.
The real experts, like David Bell, coordinator of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s anti-microbial resistance programs, aren’t impressed by Hogging It. Interestingly, UCS admits the weakness of its evidence. The executive summary of Hogging It complains about a “gaping chasm” in the data. Nevertheless, the authors are proud to produce the “first transparent estimate” of livestock antibiotic use in America.
Estimate? That’s right. “The numbers everyone uses” are just estimates. Moreover, UCS measures antibiotic usage in total tonnage. But is that relevant in any way? UCS concedes that it’s not. The activist group wants the FDA to track antibiotic usage by “type,” since most antibiotics used in animals are unlike those used in humans.
Consumer Reports quotes Margaret Mellon saying, “We know nothing. We are flying blind.” No wonder the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Coalition for Animal Health also reject Hogging It’s findings. But none of that stops UCS from scaring the wits out of the public. Mellon warns of an “era where untreatable infectious diseases are regrettably commonplace.” That might be worth getting “Concerned” about, if only it were based on good science.
Unfortunately, political science masquerading as real science can have real-world consequences. In July 2003, identical bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate threatened to ban the routine use of eight entire classes of antibiotics in livestock. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), a slick PR coalition of activist groups, was especially pleased with the news because its favorite statistic became the legislation’s main factual “finding.” Namely: “An estimated 70 percent of the antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed to farm animals.”
Guess who “estimated 70 percent” for KAW? The Union of Concerned Scientists, a long-time coalition member. UCS admits that this estimate was created from mere guesswork, saying on its own website that “data to answer [the following] questions are not available”:
- What is the total amount of antibiotics used each year in the United States?
- How much of this is used to treat human disease?
- How much is used in animal agriculture?
- How much is used to treat sick animals and how much to promote their growth?
- How much of each major class of antibiotics is used as supplements to animal feed or water?
- Is agricultural use increasing? By how much?
- Which agricultural uses are most likely to contribute to problems in treating human disease?
For a group facing so many unanswered questions, answers seem to come remarkably easily. While freely admitting that no good science exists to determine the effect (if any) of livestock antibiotics on human health, UCS managed to convince members of Congress otherwise. At the same time, UCS activists protested outside fast-food restaurants, holding giant “pillburgers” (prop hamburgers stuffed with oversized drug capsules) and chanting “Hey hey — ho ho — Drugs in meat have got to go.”
Founded in 1892 by John Muir to “make the mountains glad,” the Sierra Club is the oldest and arguably the most powerful environmental group in the nation. But its concerns are no longer limited to the happiness of the valleys. Once dedicated to conserving wilderness for future human enjoyment, the Sierra Club has become an anti-growth, anti-technology group that puts its utopian environmentalist vision before the well being of humans.
This is not your father’s Sierra Club. Some of its leadership positions are held by activists with radical ties and even violent criminals. The Club has done well preserving a “mainstream” image, despite its increasingly radical bent.
The Club’s new extremist priorities are best illustrated in the person of animal-rights extremist Paul Watson, elected to the Sierra Club’s board of directors in 2003. Watson founded the ultra-radical Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) in 1977 after being booted from Greenpeace (which he also co-founded) for espousing violence in the name of the environment. Watson and his Sea Shepherd pirates sail the high seas, terrorizing the fishing industry by sinking ships and endangering lives. “I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot the kids who shoot birds,” says Watson (as quoted in Access to Energy, 1982).
In 2003 Watson announced that he was openly “advocating the takeover of the Sierra Club,” claiming to be just three votes shy of controlling a majority of the group’s 15-member board. During the Sierra Club’s 2004 election season, Watson allied himself with candidates endorsing strict limits to legal immigration. Promising to “use the resources of the $95-million-a-year budget” to address both immigration policy and animal-rights issues, Watson actively promoted his chosen slate of candidates — and lost big in a record turnout. Nevertheless, Watson will remain on the Sierra Club’s board until 2006.
Bashing Food Technology
Genetically modified food crops have been heralded for their environmental benefits, including the ability to grow more food on less land, and a decreased need for pesticides. Biotech crops are widely considered one solution for chronic food shortages and starvation throughout the world. Nobel laureates and green activists alike have praised agricultural biotechnology and encouraged its advancement.
Despite all the promise that these revolutionary crops hold for the future, the Sierra Club demands “a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and the release of all GEOs [genetically engineered organisms] into the environment, including those now approved.” This technophobic stance falls right in line with former Sierra Club executive director David Brower’s creed: “All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.” The natural conclusion of this flawed logic is the much-maligned “precautionary principle”; like many other green groups, the Sierra Club uses it to thwart technological progress in the biotech sector. The Club states its official policy on agricultural biotechnology on its website: “We call for acting in accordance with the precautionary principle … we call for a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops.”
As international food policy expert Dr. Robert Paarlberg has noted in The Wall Street Journal, the “precautionary principle” has run amok, putting millions of lives at risk. “Greens and GM critics,” says Paarlberg, “argue that powerful new technologies should be kept under wraps until tested for unexpected or unknown risks as well. Never mind that testing for something unknown is logically impossible (the only way to avoid a completely unknown risk is never to do anything for the first time).” Anti-biotechnology zealot (and former Council for Responsible Genetics head) Martin Teitel candidly disclosed activists’ “precautionary” motivation in 2001: “Politically, it’s difficult for me,” Teitel told a scientific conference, “to go around saying that I want to shut this science down, so it’s safer for me to say something like, ‘It needs to be done safely before releasing it.'” Teitel added that implementing the precautionary principle really means: “They don’t get to do it. Period.”
The Sierra Club united with Greenpeace and organic-only food activist groups in 1999 to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over its approval of genetically modified crops. In the same year, the Club joined the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Defenders of Wildlife in petitioning the EPA for strict regulation of corn modified to produce the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin. Bt is a naturally occurring insect poison that protects plants from devastating pests like the European corn borer.
The Sierra Club’s EPA petition was part of a coordinated campaign to convince the public that Bt corn posed a risk to the Monarch Butterfly. However, both the USDA and the EPA later concluded that Monarchs were never in any danger. This reinforced the findings of federal regulators who had performed a comprehensive safety review of Bt corn before it was allowed into the marketplace. Yet despite conclusive proof to the contrary, the Sierra Club continues to promote the false notion that biotech corn kills Monarchs.
The Sierra Club is also a member of “Genetically Engineered Food Alert,” a PR campaign dedicated to demonizing genetically enhanced food products. In 2002 the Club co-hosted an event called “Reinventing the Meal: Ecological Food Choices for the 21st Century.” Attendees were urged to only “grow and buy organic food,” shun food from large, modern farms, and avoid foods produced through biotechnology.
According to Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, widely acknowledged as the “father of the green revolution,” the reckless actions of groups like the Sierra Club may hinder our ability to feed future populations: “I now say,” Borlaug told a De Montfort University crowd in 1997 “that the world has the technology — either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline — to feed a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology. Extremists in the environmental movement from the rich nations seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks.”
Bashing Modern Farming
Biotechnology is just one of the food production practices in the Sierra Club’s crosshairs. The group pushes an animal-rights agenda and maintains a coordinated campaign against what it calls “the growing menace” of modern livestock farms.
It’s clear that the Sierra Club is fond of putting its ideological cart before the scientific horse — if you can use that term without offending the growing animal-rights faction within the organization. Sierra Club activists in Florida endorse PETA’s mantra that eating meat is a form of animal abuse that contributes to world hunger. In 2002, the Broward Sierra News promoted “a vegetarian lifestyle as a way to counter the alleged abuse animals endure to feed a hungry and growing global population.” The newsletter plugged PETA and their message that meat-eating in general, and livestock operations in particular, are a cause of world hunger and animal abuse. Sierra Club chapters in New York and Michigan promote the “Vegetarian Starter Kit” distributed by the misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (a PETA front group), as a way to fight “corporate greed.”
These chapters also encourage people to sign EarthSave International’s “VegPledge” as a way to “save the Earth” by going vegetarian. The New York chapter of the Sierra Club cosponsored an event with People for Animal Rights in 2002 dubbed “Behind Closed Doors.” The purpose of the gathering was to vilify livestock operations, and appropriately featured Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Bauston.
And the Sierra Club embraces those with designs on combining environmental activism with animal-rights dogma. The Club’s board of directors chair Lisa Renstrom explained: “The [Sierra] Club could begin to include animal rights positions in decades to come as members and the American public acknowledge the impact of our high animal protein diet on sustainability.” The Club’s “sustainable consumption committee” issued a report in 2000 that listed “eating less meat” as a “Priority Action for American Consumers,” right alongside “buying a fuel-efficient car.” Joan Zacharias, one of this committee’s leaders, is scheduled to address the “Animal Rights 2004” convention in Virginia. Her influence is seen in the committee’s stated goal of developing “stronger ties with vegetarian organizations.”
The Club’s “Rap Sheet on Animal Factories” lists farms that the Sierra Club has targeted for “action.” What type of action? In the May 2000 issue of Sierra, the Club announced its intention to sue large-scale livestock farms across the nation: “No one [court] case,” wrote Sierra’s editors, “will be a magic bullet … You have to fight on multiple legal fronts.”
On February 28, 2001 the Club announced an alliance with trial lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr.’s radical Waterkeeper Alliance as a “full partner in litigation” against pork companies. That same day, the Sierra Club declared that it had filed multiple lawsuits “across the United States” targeting Smithfield farms. One of the suits filed accused Smithfield of mafia-style racketeering — a charge that was ultimately laughed out of court.
The Sierra Club has sued time and again in its war against farmers. Between 1998 and 2002 it joined multiple lawsuits to prevent the construction of dairy farms in California. In 2003 it filed suit in Nebraska to stop a new hog farm from opening. Filing lawsuits is cheap, especially for Sierra’s well-funded team of lawyers.
Not Just a Club, But a Law Firm
In 1971, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund was founded as a nonprofit law firm to serve as a legal arm to the Club’s grassroots operation. In 1998, its name was changed to the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund. (It now operates simply as “EarthJustice.”) EarthJustice exists to use the courts as a weapon against businesses and public agencies, in the hope of forcing them to operate in a manner acceptable to the Sierra Club. EarthJustice’s aggressive legal posture regarding everything from livestock farms to mining doesn’t harm the Club’s reputation as much as it might, since few members of the public realize that the two groups work hand in glove. Earthjustice sued on behalf of the Sierra Club 38 times in 2003 alone.
Not even something as critical as military training can escape the Earthjustice legal machine. In early 2004, Earthjustice filed suit to stop Marine training exercises in the Makua Valley (Hawaii) citing concern for supposed endangered species habitat. The Army issued a terse statement in response to Earthjustice’s irresponsible legal maneuver: “To win the war against terrorism and get ready for future battles, the U.S. military must be prepared. The conduct of realistic live-fire training in Makua is part of that preparation.” In 2000, Earthjustice also sued to stop military training on the small, uninhabited island of Farallon de Medinilla, citing concern for migratory birds.
Just as the Sierra Club is no friend of farmers, it has also made enemies of ranchers. Sierra Club board member Lisa Force once served as regional coordinator of the Center for Biological Diversity, which brags of prying ranchers and their livestock from federal lands. In 2000 and 2003, the two groups sued the U.S. Department of the Interior to force ranching families out of the Mojave National Preserve. These ranchers actually owned grazing rights to the preserve; some families had been raising cattle there for over a century. No matter. Using the Endangered Species Act and citing the supposed loss of “endangered tortoise habitat,” the Club was able to force the ranchers out.
Not to be outdone by its former parent group, EarthJustice has sued the federal government to curb grazing on more than 13 million acres of public land in New Mexico and Arizona.
Suing for Profit
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology notes that one of Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope’s “major accomplishments” is his co-authorship of California’s infamous Proposition 65. “Prop 65” requires any product containing one of several hundred “known carcinogens” to bear a warning label — even if the chemical appears in concentrations so low that adverse health effects are essentially impossible.
Prop 65 has a “bounty hunter” provision to encourage frivolous lawsuits by trial lawyers looking to cash in on any product containing a listed “carcinogen” and lacking a warning label. Prop 65 “violators” can be fined up to $2,500 per day, per violation, and plaintiffs can collect up to 25 percent of the total take. Between 2000 and 2002, one California group called As You Sow (AYS) reaped more than $1.5 million playing the Prop 65 lawsuit game.
Sierra Club president Larry Fahn is also AYS’s executive director. A self-described “leading enforcer of Proposition 65,” As You Sow functions as a litigation machine, conjuring up lawsuit after lawsuit. The group has sued everyone from scuba gear manufacturers and retailers to the makers of nail care products.
Under Fahn’s leadership, AYS routes its Prop 65 money to some of the most radical groups around, including the Rainforest Action Network and the Ruckus Society (both co-founded by Earth First! godfather Mike Roselle), as well as California affiliates of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance and David Brower’s Earth Island Institute.
Another group funded by AYS is called Environmentally Sound Promotions — it’s run by Earth First! organizer Darryl Cherney. On a 1990 CBS broadcast of “60 Minutes,” Cherney made it clear where his Earth First! sympathies lead him. “If I knew I had a fatal disease,” Cherney said, “I would definitely do something like strap dynamite to myself and take out Grand Canyon Dam, or maybe the Maxxam Building in Los Angeles after it’s closed up for the night.”
Despite this web of extremist connections, few seem aware that the Sierra Club has institutionally embraced the most radical side of the green movement.
Why is an “angling” group concerned about world population? At a Glance Posing as an angling group, the Izaak Walton League of America receives streams of money for a variety of pet environmentalist causes, ranging from anti-energy campaigns to population control. Background Founded in 1922 by 54 anglers and named after a 17th Century author, […]
“It could have killed someone,” said San Diego fire captain Jeff Carle. Three workers sleeping at a construction site were able to escape after the terrorist Earth Liberation Front (ELF) set fire to an unfinished, 200-unit condominium development late one night in August, 2003.
A newspaper reported: “Flames leapt 200 feet into the air and could be seen for miles. Grapefruit-sized fireballs landed in courtyards and patios of adjacent buildings, and burning embers swirled in the night.” Nearby residents were evacuated and returned home to find their window blinds had melted from the heat. A 500-gallon fuel tank exploded. Damages were estimated at $50 million.
One local resident described the event for San Diego’s NBC affiliate: “Smoke was just coming straight at you. The flames were just all over. It was just terror.” A construction worker remarked: “I’m out of work now. Thank you, arsonist.”
A twelve-foot sign next to the arson site read: “If you build it — we will burn it — the E.L.F.’s are mad.” The Earth Liberation Front, along with its sister group, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), have taken responsibility for more than 600 crimes since 1996, totaling more than $100 million in damages.
The Earth Liberation Front sprung from — and in many ways is still an arm of — Earth First!.
Earth First! (EF!) is a “warrior society” that takes a “by any means necessary” approach to “defending mother earth.” The group declines to participate in the democratic process, preferring instead to damage, disable, and destroy the property of its ever-growing list of enemies. EF! targets include, but are by no means limited to, loggers, ranchers, and farmers — especially those who grow genetically modified crops. Earth First!ers’ crimes include assault, arson, and untold acts of sabotage.
Before he quit in the late 1980s, the driving force behind EF! was a man named Dave Foreman. His book Ecodefense: A Field Guide To Monkeywrenching is a how-to for environmental saboteurs. It includes nine chapters of instructions on subjects ranging from tree spiking to destroying roads, from disabling equipment to making smoke bombs. Rodney Coronado, an Earth First! zealot who was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison following a string of arsons, calls the book “our bible.”
A “Mainstream” Spin-off?
The legend of EF!’s founding involves five friends hanging out in the desert, drunk and high. They were inspired by Edward Abbey’s book The Monkeywrench Gang, which chronicles a gang of environmental zealots who sabotage oil, mining, and farming interests. A different story, one that doesn’t get told as often or as gleefully, was outlined by author Ron Arnold in Trashing the Economy:
Defectors from the environmental movement have told us that Earth First! founder Dave Foreman was approached by the Sierra Club and his employer, the Wilderness Society, in 1979 with an offer to fund a new extremist point group for the movement. It would serve the function of making their own demands look more reasonable … Defectors say that Foreman made the deal by himself in a comfortable Wilderness Society office, and accepted the offer on the condition that funding would be steady and adequate, and that his participation was a limited 10-year deal.
While this story is almost impossible to confirm, there is evidence for its veracity. Dave Foreman did quit EF! after about ten years. And comments from Foreman himself are revealing. Smithsonian magazine writes:
“We thought it would have been useful to have a group to take a tougher position than the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society,” Foreman remembers. “It could be sort of secretly controlled by the mainstream and trotted out at hearings to make the Sierra Club or Wilderness Society look moderate.”
In his own book, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Foreman brags: “A major accomplishment of Earth First! … has been to expand the environmental spectrum to where the Sierra Club and other groups are perceived as moderates.” Foreman made the same point to Audubon magazine in 1982: “When I call the Sierra Club ‘namby pamby,’ that is done consciously to negate what [Secretary of the Interior James] Watt says when he calls them extremists.”
In the same Audubon article, long-time Sierra Club executive director and Foreman mentor David Brower argued: “The people that are easily named extreme make the people who were extreme seem suddenly reasonable.” Brower told E magazine:
The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We’re still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable.
The Earth First! Journal
Every industry has its trade rags, and the leading magazine for the environmental fringe is the Earth First! Journal. Unsuspecting magazine browsers in mainstream bookstores might stumble across the Journal, which provides tactical information and motivation to saboteurs — while singing the praises of Earth First!ers who destroy fishing boats, genetically modified crops, and logging equipment.
The Journal features articles by some of America’s most violent eco-terrorists. One issue, for example, included an essay by convicted arsonist Jeffrey Luers about “Why I set a fire at [Eugene, Oregon’s] Romania Chevrolet.” The same issue included a treatise titled “The Non-violent Use of Gunpowder.”
“By every means necessary we will bring this and every other empire down! Mutiny and sabotage in defense of Mother Earth!” screamed another recent article condemning the war in Iraq. Elsewhere in that same issue: “A snitch is no longer entitled to basic expectations of safety. As such, it is righteous to hurt them, burn down their house or do similarly naughty things to them.”
In 2000, the 20th Anniversary issue of the Earth First! Journal bragged: “The simple idea of putting the earth first had drawn expanding crowds of hippies, anarchists, animal rights activists and all sorts of riffraff.” The kind of people who “riff” alphabet songs like this one:
I is incendiary, like burning ‘dozers
J is for jail time, and other enclosures
K is for kill, what they’ll do if they catch you.
In 2002, the Earth First! Journal published a two-page spread called “Most-Wanted Eco-terrorists: the Biotechnology Industry.” Claiming that “everyone at Monsanto is an eco-terrorist,” it opened with a line that has become emblematic of green radicals everywhere: “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed by corporations such as the biotechnology industries, and the people who are killing it have names and addresses.” The article then went on to list names and addresses.
“The Earth First! Journal Collective” wrote an open letter appearing in the Spring 2003 issue of the rag for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). One of the most violent groups of animal-rights zealots, SHAC has incubated the technique of harassing, threatening, and in some cases physically harming people who happen to work for a company they don’t like. The open letter read:
SHAC’s tactics and strategies need to be analyzed and implemented by the environmental movement. The results generated by SHAC’s actions are awe-inspiring, and the environmental movement needs to start paying attention.
The letter went on to describe how Earth First!ers have begun harassing “an ecoterrorist in our eyes” whose job it is to remove tree sitters safely from their perch:
In recent months, activists haven’t waited for Climber Eric to show up in the forest. They have visited his home, business and insurance company. At home, Climber Eric was not the same confident, controlled person that he is in the woods, where he is usually protected by his crew and local police. In fact, he was visibly distraught. For Climber Eric, this is just the beginning.
Several newspapers reported Rodney Coronado boasting that he “was no pacifist hippie, my actions speak louder than my words.” What the papers didn’t report was that those words were directed at “Climber Eric,” and, according to his employer, Coronado continued: “I’m coming to your door. Hey, do you got any food in your house? Don’t worry, I’ll go to your house and ask your wife.”
“Earth First! is a verb, not a noun.”
EF! works very hard to convince the public that its activities are not governed by any formal institution. “Earth First! is not an organization, but a movement” is the constant refrain. “There are no members of Earth First!, only Earth First!ers.”
There are practical as well as romantic reasons to downplay any organizational structure. According to the Earth First! Journal: “To avoid co-option, we feel it is necessary to avoid the corporate organizational structure so readily embraced by many environmental groups.” Of course, most green groups engage in legal activities — and therefore don’t fear “co-option.”
While there is no primary EF! office, there are numerous incorporated Earth First! organizations, each with its own specific function. These include Daily Planet Publishing (which publishes the Earth First! Journal), the Fund for Wild Nature (formerly the Earth First! Foundation), the Trees Foundation, and the Earth First! Direct Action Fund.
For the benefit of anyone who doubts that these are genuine, legal “organizations,” consider that the website of the Fund for Wild Nature once read: “The Fund relies on invididual [sic] contributors like yourself, and your friends. We accept donations of cash, stock or other financial assets.” Here is a tax-exempt foundation making a plea for corporate securities, on behalf of a group that claims to exist without any structure.
This non-organization, which preaches “no compromise in defense of mother earth,” is very much aware of who pays the bills. The Washington Times reports that Atlanta media mogul Ted Turner, who has personally contributed to radical environmental groups, gets a free pass from EF! militants:
While a timber-cutting operation was under way on one of his [Turner’s] ranches in 1998, members of the radical environmental group Earth First! instead protested timber cutting on a nearby ranch owned by Zachary Taylor, said private investigator Barry R. Clausen, who spent a year undercover at EarthFirst.
He asked a protester why the group did not include take on [sic] Mr. Turner, Mr. Clausen said, and was told: “We cannot. That’s where our money comes from.”
Mr. Clausen, author of “Burning Rage,” an investigation of domestic terrorism, said environmental groups’ nickname for Mr. Turner is “Daddy Greenbucks.”
“Ted Turner has canned hunts where you can shoot a buffalo … and drilling … in New Mexico and clear-cutting trees and he never gets protested. And when you ask why, it’s because he is one of the biggest contributors to extremist groups,” Mr. Clausen said.
Interlocking, Interrelated Radicals
If you want to contribute money to EF! and get a tax break on your donation, send your check to the Fund for Wild Nature (FWN). Formerly named the Earth First! Foundation, FWN serves as a tax-exempt pass-through for money to reach Earth First!ers. It has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to EF! organizations.
FWN has doled out money to the Earth First! Journal, Mendocino Earth First! and North Coast Earth First! (California), Elaho Earth First! (Canada), Wild Rockies Earth First!, Arizona Earth First!, and many others. More often, though, the Fund gives to EF! groups that don’t have the words “Earth First!” in their names — like the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH). BACH’s leader is Karen Pickett, whose arrest record hasn’t prevented her from holding the purse strings for the Earth First! Direct Action Fund.
Another FWN beneficiary is the Cascadia Forest Alliance (CFA). According to Bear Deluxe magazine, “Former Earth First! members conceived the CFA as a fresh organization for combating Salvage Rider cutting in Oregon. Since then, hundreds of people — including Portland’s Tre Arrow, who gained local fame when he spent 11 days protesting the sale from a second story ledge at the Forest Service headquarters in Portland — have occupied the tree-sits at Eagle Creek.”
“Tre Arrow,” whose real name is Michael Scarpitti, graces the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in October, 2002 for a string of arsons, including the torching of three cement trucks. The government has offered $25,000 for information leading to his arrest. Although Scarpitti is still on the loose, law enforcement officers spotted him in 2003 near Arcadia, California — accompanied by none other than Rodney Coronado.
Coronado argues that EF! is part of one big happy family, along with the FBI’s most feared domestic terrorist groups, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front: “Whether a member of a Headwaters nonviolent affinity group, Cascadia Forest Defenders or the Earth Liberation Front,” Coronado wrote in a 2001 essay, “all Earth First!ers should recognize the positive value of each other’s contributions and exploit the leverage they create against our common opponent.”
FWN provided the initial support for EF! spin-offs like the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Ruckus Society, both of which were started by Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle. Indeed, FWN thinks of itself as the venture capitalist of radical environmental groups.
The Fund for Wild Nature is by no means Earth First!’s only source of revenue. For example, the Dogwood Alliance, which claims to believe in “peaceful” tactics, has funneled money to Katuah Earth First! and other groups that work with Earth First!.
Earth First! founders Dave Foreman, Bart Koehler, and Howie Wolke are now board members, officers and/or founders of other environmental organizations. Those include: the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (Wolke); the Ecology Center, Inc. (Wolke); the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (Foreman); the Wilderness Society’s Wilderness Support Center (Koehler); and the Wildlands Project, a.k.a. North American Wilderness Recovery, which recently merged with the Cenozoic Society (Foreman).
“Direct Action” on Your Dinner Plate
In 1999 FWN began to bankroll “direct action” against biotech crops (although Earth First!ers began targeting them as early as 1987). The now defunct Bioengineering Action Network (BAN) received FWN money. When it was functioning, BAN served as a press-outreach service for the FBI-certified domestic-terrorist Earth Liberation Front (ELF), another Earth First! spin-off. BAN’s website featured a how-to guide for tearing out biotech crops (they call it “nighttime gardening”) and instructed saboteurs on how to “research your target.”
1999 was also the year that Al H. Jacobson, founder of the avowedly anti-biotech crops organic food line Garden of Eatin’, gave FWN $54,500. Jacobson’s Naturganic Foundation kicked in $200,000 to FWN for 2000. In those years, Jacobson was by far FWN’s biggest donor.
Earth First! makes your dinner more expensive by practicing economic sabotage on cattle ranchers as well as farmers who raise genetically enhanced crops. The EF!-founded and FWN-funded Buffalo Field Campaign, for example, uses “direct action” to block government officials from keeping buffalo in and around Yellowstone Park from passing on the contagious disease brucellosis to nearby cattle. As of December 2002, at least 21 Buffalo Field Campaign activists have been arrested — quite a rap sheet for a tax-exempt group.
But even EF! draws a line between the kind of illegal activities that can be funded with tax-exempt money, and those that are too violent for the Fund for Wild Nature to touch. Cash for these endeavors comes from the Earth First! Direct Action Fund. Bragging that “thousands of EF!ers have been arrested around the world,” the EF! Direct Action Fund’s website appeals for donations:
Direct action requires courage, commitment, training and the ability to focus on an urgent issue. Unfortunately, it also requires money. Since 1985, The Earth First! Direct Action Fund (DAF) has assisted in planning, coordinating, and funding activists on the front lines. These people are the backbone, indeed the heart and soul, of the Earth First! movement.
Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle registered the Earth First! Action Fund as a California business in 1990, with the Action Fund’s address listed as “C/O Rainforest Action Network,” another Roselle creation. He lost control of the checkbook in settling his divorce from fellow Earth First!er Karen Pickett. But that hasn’t stopped Rainforest Action Network from supporting Earth First! groups. On one occasion, RAN donated “$10,000 of general support to Luna Media in their work with North Coast Earth First!.”
Yet another Roselle group, the Ecology Center in Montana, is also active in funding Earth First! activities. In the 1990s the Ecology Center poured more than $20,000 into Earth First!’s Cove Mallard anti-logging campaign in Idaho. The Ecology Center also supports the Buffalo Field Campaign, the Earth First! Journal, and the legal defenses of Rodney Coronado and something called the Buffalo Action Project, or BAP!
BAP! appears to be little more than a support system for a woman named Delyla Wilson. Wilson gained fame in 1997 after she dumped a five-gallon bucket of rotting bison innards on a panel of senior government officials who were discussing how best to manage Yellowstone Park’s buffalo herd. Her victims included Dan Glickman, then President Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture, Marc Racicot, then Governor of Montana, and Montana Senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns.
Another Fund for Wild Nature grantee is New West Research, a New Mexico anti-ranching group that produced the “Animal Damage Control Hall of Shame.” A more appropriate name would have been the “New Mexico Hit List.”
New West Research sued the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the names and addresses of all New Mexicans who had petitioned the Wildlife Service to help control predators on their property. New West proceeded to post this information — 25 pages in all — on its website. At the top of this “Hall of Shame” was the familiar line: “The earth is not dying — it is being killed. And the people killing it have names and addresses.”
When criticized for inciting violence against ranchers and farmers, New West responded: “That’s the same kind of whining we hear from pedophiles and crack dealers who don’t want their identities known to the public.”
The Earth First! Octopus
There are several hundred Earth First! organizations in America, and at least 50 in other nations. Most of them use the words “Earth First” in their title, but a cheat-sheet might be helpful for those Earth First! entities that go by other names. Bear in mind that many Earth First! organizations rapidly form around a cause, and then disappear. As a result, a complete list of Earth First! organizations is impossible to compile. However, when you see the following names, think Earth First!
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project
Cascadia Forest Defenders
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers
Cove Mallard Coalition
Daily Planet Publishing, Inc.
Direct Action Fund
Earth Defense Education Project
End Corporate Dominance
Environmentally Sound Promotions
Friends of the Wolf
League of Wilderness Defenders
Redwood Action Team
Warrior Poets Society
Zero Xtract from Public Lands
The Earth First! Journal includes a section called “EF! Campaigns and Projects.” The following organizations have graced that list in recent years:
Bioengineering Action Network
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers Video Project
Earth Liberation Prisoners
EF! Action Update
North American ALF Press Office
ELF Press Office
Earth Liberation Front
North American Earth Liberation Support Network
The Earth First! Journal has listed the following groups as “contacts”:
Arizona Wildlands Museum
Biodiversity Liberation Front
Blue Mtns. Biodiversity Project
Boxcar Books and Community Center
The Brokedowns/Elgin Food Not Bombs
Cascadia Forest Alliance
Cascadia Forest Defenders
Church of Deep Ecology
Confluence/St. Louis IMC
Direct Action Network
Environmental Resource Center
Fairfax Action Team
Flagstaff Activist Network
Forest Ecosystems Action Group
Lawrence Grassroots Initiative
Liberated Zone Infoshop
Lost Cause Collective
Mass Direct Action
New Mexico Direct Action
Oceandream Media Foundation
Shuksan Direct Action
Stone Soup Collective
Tornado Alley Resistance
Unci Maka Uonihanpo (Honor Mother Earth)
Wild Wasatch Front
The following EF!-named groups have been listed by the Earth First! Journal as contacts:
Bay Area EF!
Big Bend EF!
Boundary Waters EF!
Buffalo Trace EF!
East Texas EF!
French Broad EF!
Katúah EF!/River Faction
Katúah EF!/Tennessee Valley Faction
Katúah Foothills EF!
Lake Erie EF!
Lake Worthless EF!
Loon Antics EF!
Love Canal EF!
Olympia EF!/Cascadia Defense Network
Peninsular Ranges EF!
Red Gate EF!
San Juan EF!
Santa Cruz EF!/EF! Radio
Sonoma County EF!
Two Rivers EF!
Uwharrie Earth First!
Wild Rockies EF!/Wild Rockies Review