Property Rights Foundation of America®

from the Sixth Annual New York State Conference on Private Property Rights
November 16, 2002, Albany, New York

The Wildlands Program
Thomas M. Bennett
Maryville, Tennessee

Thank you for that wonderful introduction, and it really is an honor and a privilege to be here with you folks. I'll echo something one of the earlier speakers mentioned about being with kindred spirits and I do feel like I am with some in this room.

If I can, I want to put a little bit of flesh on some of the things that Dr. Reisman talked about and explain to you a little bit more about how "The Wildlands Project" is actually designed to function or to be implemented. One of the things that I want to say early on is that I want to give you a term to keep in mind, called "synergy." Keep that in mind, because as we go through this talk, even though Dr. Reisman gave you a great example of how The Wildlands Project is quite likely playing out in his state, when I talk to people as a rule, they sit there and they say, "Set aside 50 percent of North America in a 'Wildland' area? That's crazy. That could never happen." I probably would agree if someone went to Congress and said we are going to pass a bill that says we are going to set aside 50 percent of North America. That would never pass. But if you think about the synergy that is going on between with the laws and the legislation and the regulation that we already have, we don't need to pass Wildlands regulation. All the Wildlands folks need to do is just continue to work, to be patient, and as I go through the presentation I hope you will come to understand why I consider this such a real threat.

The Wildlands Project is termed by them as the "North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy," and probably the best place to start is with their mission statement. It says quite simply that their vision is simple: "We live for the day when grizzlies have an unbroken connection to grizzlies in Alaska and when gray wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland." That's a pretty ambitious vision statement or mission statement.

You might be saying to yourself, who in the world could come up with something like that? Well, one of the co-founders of The Wildlands Project is a gentleman by the name of Dave Foreman. You may remember that name as the gentleman who was also one of the founders of Earth First!. Just to give you a little bit of a quick background, in the early nineties Mr. Foreman came into some real problems, legal problems, and also he came into some problems within Earth First!. And as a result of kind of a combination of those two, he was either pushed out or left of his own accord, I'm not sure which, but he decided that it was time to go in another direction and to pursue what he called The Wildlands Project. Together with some other influential scientists and financial underwriters, he began to start a whole new endeavor, saying at the time that they felt like Earth First!'s work was done and it was time to move ahead and to pursue something different. Well, he really kind of set the tone and laid out the groundwork in a book that the wrote in 1992 called Confessions of an Eco Warrior, and in that book a direct quote is, "The only hope of the earth is to withdraw huge areas as in inviolate natural sanctuaries from the depredations of modern industry and technology ... Move out the people and cars. Reclaim the roads and the plowed land." (Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Harmony Books/Crown 1991, p. 19)

Earth First! has since moved from Tucson, Arizona, to where Wild Earth magazine is published just right across the state line in Richmond, Vermont. One of the early people who worked with Dave Foreman was a man by the name of John Davis who, I believe, is now back working with Wild Earth. He made really a very succinct description of what I think The Wildlands Project is all about. He said, "Does all the foregoing mean that Wild Earth and The Wildlands Project advocate the end of industrialized civilization? Most assuredly. Everything civilized must go." And although they have hired a PR consultant, and we can't quite get the little juicy tidbits like that those we are used to, there is no doubt in my mind that that concept is still the primary objective that most of them would like to see.

The Wildlands Project really rests on a foundation of two, of a philosophy on the one hand and a science on the other. On the one hand, they are believers in something called "deep ecology." I will just say a few brief comments about deep ecology. It was actually started by a Norwegian philosopher by the name of Arne Naess. You might say to yourself, well, why would you need a philosopher, or "ecosophy," as he calls it? What role would that play? Well, if you start thinking about the idea of setting aside 50 percent of the North American continent just really for nothing but a bio-preserve, it necessarily entails that your lifestyle is going to dramatically change. Most people aren't that crazy about willingly giving up the good life. But what if it could become an article of faith? What if in order to fulfill your religious or spiritual needs, you subscribe to a philosophy that said, hey, all life is equal and basically to the extent that humans imposed their will on non-human life it is both morally and ethically wrong. So you see there is reason there to begin to put out, to lay the groundwork, if you will, for this sort of spiritual conversion for the American public. Because I don't care how concerned people in New York City are about saving playgrounds back in the rural areas, they still don't want to live like people lived 300 years ago. So there is a place where the rubber is going to meet the road and the only way to get past those objections are to somehow convince people that they will be spiritually rewarded much like in my view someone who straps a bomb on his back and climbs into a bus and blows it up. You know, you are going to heaven and the ecological equivalent of nothing but virgins, I suppose, is up there.

Now to get right down to how this thing lays out on the ground, I will ask you to sort of think along with me. Imagine that you start with a piece of property and you draw a circle around it. And that piece of property is probably, oh, say it is a national forest. So you say, within this piece of property, or you are going to call this piece of property your "core" area. These areas are going to be large, and they are going to be mainly off-limits to any kind of human activity, because you want people out of here so they don't muck everything up. Right?

So you start with these core areas, and they are large areas of public land, and now you say to yourself, okay we've got these cores, but we still have cities and roads and all this around them. Is it possible that some of the pollution might blow in or some of man's impact might blow in somehow? Well, yeah. So what we are going to do then is we are going to surround the core areas with "buffer" zones. As you go in toward the core areas we are going to be more and more restrictive on the kinds of human activities that we allow. On the far side, you know, we may allow some organic farming or something like that. On an interior core we might let people do some bird watching and that sort of thing. Always keep in mind, though, that regardless of whether you are core or buffer, you are putting the preservation and conservation of nature first. That's got to be your prime objective no matter what.

Well, you've got these pockets of land set up all over the United States. The Wildlands Project has mapped this out and if you look at it, you can see wherever there are large concentrations of federal land, there is a Wildlands Project. What a coincidence, right? Well, now we want these grizzlies to be able to go all the way up to the Yukon, right? The way we are going to do that is we are going to connect these core areas with what we call "corridors" and these are going to be along zones, they are going to be state lands. There is even language in The Wildlands Project that says, well, you know, those probably aren't really going to be enough so we are going to have to take some private land, too, to make sure that we can make all this system come together and work.

Now, before I go too much further, I know right now you are thinking that really does sound so far-fetched that there is no way it could ever happen. Let me just highlight a few things that we talked about. When you look at the components of The Wildlands Project, we have got to set this land aside, it needs to be roadless, and we need to return predators to it so that nature is regulated naturally, not necessarily by people hunting or that sort of thing. Let me kind of give you a little bit of some of the high points from the Clinton and Gore Administration. While I wouldn't say that the Clinton and Gore Administration was out there saying, oh, we are implementing The Wildlands Project, you have to again understand this synergy that I am talking about. Clinton and Gore reduced timber sales on national forests by 75 percent. They tried to set aside 60 million acres of land in roadless areas that restricted motorized recreation. They designated new National Monuments and millions of acres of public land was taken out of use that we don't even know about. It was just little interjections into the federal registry that said this land used to be multiple use. Now it is off limits to oil, gas, timber, ATVs, whatever.

So the key thing to always remember is that this synergy out there whether it be the Endangered Species Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers, all of that works together along with conservation easements, biosphere reserves, all these things fit together quite nicely within the framework of what The Wildlands Project is actually trying to accomplish. Granted, if it weren't for funding, none of this would really stand a chance. The funding over the last ten years, the last decade, is what really brought this to the forefront. We have groups like the Environmental Grant Makers Association that have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into these different projects. Ron Arnold, whom many of you know, wrote a great book called Undue Influence that details the way these work. The Pew Charitable Trusts foundation, whose executive director was kind enough to write a nasty letter back to a magazine that published an article that quoted Carol and I, and said, how dare you accuse us of being involved with The Wildlands Project. I always think about that line in Shakespeare, I think the man doeth protest too much.

But, anyway, the one thing I want to leave you with is, be aware of what is going on around you. I probably am preaching to the choir when I say that to this group, but I mean, really look at what is happening around you and don't just think of it, oh well, this little initiative or this little ballot referendum won't hurt, but put it in the context of The Wildlands Project and think about, okay, now this little ballot initiative, could it advance this long-range agenda? In Wildlands, they talk about how this may take us a hundred years or a hundred and fifty years. When you frame it in those kinds of timeframes or look at it through that kind of a looking glass, you begin to see how this policy is being implemented without us even really knowing that it is being implemented.

I often am accused of being anti-environment which, believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. I'll close by leaving you with our little organization,'s motto that it is not a question of if you protect the environment, it is a question of how. Because Treekeepers believes like you do, I am firmly convinced that property rights, individual decision-making, and market-oriented solutions are the best way to protect the environment, not something like The Wildlands Project. And as Carol mentioned, please go to our web site,, and a lot of what I said is on there in case it gets a little fuzzy to you somewhere along the way.

Again, thank you for your time and your attention and hang in there. We are making a little bit of progress. It is slow, but we are making some.

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