Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from the Ninth Annual National Conference
on Private Property Rights

The Pleistocene Park Project—Removing Civilization from North America

Robert J. Smith, Adjunct Environmental Scholar, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Thank you! It is a great, as usual, to be back here. I consider Carol LaGrasse an absolutely national treasure for what she has managed to accomplish. I am especially honored to come back because this is I believe in the nine conferences that she has had, this is the fifth time I've been here, which is three more than my buddy, Jim Burling.

The first one I was at in 1995 the keynote speaker then was an obscure Congressman from California by the name of Richard Pombo, and Richard Pombo is the author of this new approach to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that may finally protect private property rights that Jim was telling you about. You people who care about property and have had problems with the ESA need to send a note to and say thanks to Richard Pombo. Congressmen like to hear that when they do that kind of work.

Now, my talk today has some bazaar title, "Pleistocene Park—A Threat to Civilization." What does that mean? Well, on Thursday, August 18, this summer while most of you may have been enjoying the end of your summer vacation, the kids were at summer camp or whatever, you might be planning to go off on Friday and take your last three-day vacation to go to the beach or go trout fishing or something like that, the world's most distinguished and prestigious science journal, called Nature, hit the news stands. It contained a remarkable article written by twelve authors, ecologists and conservationists, all at ten different American universities and institutions, and it called for the creation of something called the U.S. Ecological History Park.

Okay, so what? Just another park. We have got hundreds of national parks. What is one more? Just a little more private land acquired by the government, a little more loss of liberty as the government land ownership continues to expand and is now almost fifty percent of all the land in the United States. But this was a park with a twist. It wasn't just another 100,000 acres here or 500,000 acres there. It calls for taking much, if not most, of the land in the Great Plains, the short grass and the mid grass prairies, all the land from the east side of the Rocky Mountains to the western edge of the tall grass prairies just to the west of the Mississippi River, and turning it into a park. This includes much of the land of ten states from Canada to Mexico—Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. If my math is right, these ten states are about one fifth or twenty percent of the entire United States. And this includes several hundred thousand square miles of land.

Well, for what? What they want to do is restore the ecosystem and all the large animals that roamed North America 10,000 to 13,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age, which were killed off by the Native Americans, which they weren't supposed to do apparently according to modern Greens. Now, unfortunately, the mastodons are gone, the mammoths are gone, the saber tooth tigers are gone, camels are long gone. So what to do? Well, not to worry. What these scientists are planning to do is take their nearest kin and begin re-introducing them to the Great Plains and this will restore, or here is an important word, re-wild the ecosystem and the wildlife that belonged there before humans came here and starting messing up nature. It will help save large animals that are endangered elsewhere in the world. So the plan calls for re-introducing, and as soon as possible, get this, African elephants, Asian elephants, Asian lions, African cheetahs, Bactrian camels (that is, the Mongolian camel with the two humps (not the Arabian camel with one hump), all sorts of wild horses, and also those wild giant Bolson tortoise. There are still a few of them left in northern Mexico. This will involve removing all fences on the plains and other barriers to free migration of all these animals. They hope to begin it almost immediately on some of the vast private ranch lands owned by exceedingly wealthy Green landowners like Ted Turner, who owns more land than anybody else in America. And Drummond Hadley—many of you may know him. He owns the entire boot heel of New Mexico. He is a very eccentric multi-zillionaire heir to the Anheuser Busch fortune. What they want to do, because these are private ranches, is to begin stocking the ranches almost immediately with elephants and cheetahs and the tortoises. Then they think they can complete their whole project within the next fifty years by working in cooperation with BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Most of you are probably saying to yourselves that this is a total joke and silly nonsense. But, unfortunately, I suggest, this is deadly serious and this kind of idea and the ideas leading up to it are becoming more popular all the time.

This idea has come from a joint vision of a number of groups. The radical Greens and so-called monkey wrenchers, if you know who they are. Also effete urban planners at some of the eastern universities, the deep ecologists who sit around and figure out what's the relationship of man to the rest of the world, and the saving-the-creation religionists. While the article surely jolted the world's media for about a week this summer, there was no cry of outrage from the scientific community at all. And it quickly became nicknamed the Pleistocene Park. Leading conservationists and ecologists called it "a bold vision." It's certainly that. It "will fill long vacant ecological niches." It will "return U.S. grasslands to their evolutionary health." And, we are trying "to look at a bigger conservation pattern." And they also say, well, it will bring in eco-tourism.

Well, it may bring some eco-tourists, perhaps, but it will also make it rather dangerous to step outside your door early in the morning and let your kids go outside if a lion decides to eat your kids. We already had a couple of problems with that with grizzly bears and the Endangered Species Act in Montana.

One of the victims of the ESA was a guy named John Schuller who, late at night, saw grizzly bears, three of them. He had floodlights all around his house. There were so many grizzly bears out there, but they were endangered and he couldn't do anything about them. They were headed right to the corral where he had just gathered all of his sheep in for the winter. So, wearing nothing but his underwear—he had just taken a shower and he was coming downstairs to watch TV, he grabbed a rifle by the door and went running out into the dark and the snow and the hail and everything looking for them. The sheep were milling all over. Suddenly, he heard a noise and the grizzly bear came rising up and charging at him. He shot the grizzly bear, and he was cited for violating the Endangered Species Act.

Although there is a clause that says self-defense is excusable, justifiable, the judges said no, no, no,—this wasn't self-defense. He was putting himself deliberately in harm's way by protecting his property. He should have stayed in his home where he belonged. You can imagine what is going to happen now when you've got elephants and African lions and everything running all over the place.

Well, there were very few critics of the program. One was a scientist, M. A. Sanjayan at the Nature Conservancy, of all places, who said, I see some problems with this. Well, duh!

Let's look at the plan's origins, two parallel movements, and friends.

One, the radical Greens and deep ecologists say man has been destroying the planet, the ecosystems, biodiversity, and especially the large carnivores. And talking about large carnivores and talking about California, as we have been, there is a reason that the only place you find grizzly bears in California is on their state flag. People have a tendency to not like to have things around that suddenly eat you.

Then, almost all of these radical environmental groups support zero population growth and actually even negative population growth. Most of them believe that humans are exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet. First we must stabilize and then reduce human population growth. It is six billion now. Probably, you would find the leaders of most of the environmental groups agreeing that the human population of the planet should be reduced to about two billion or even one billion, and some of the hard-core think that we shouldn't have more than about a few hundred million humans on the planet if the planet is going to operate as it should ecologically or whatever. Many very prominent ones are talking about the necessity of having the government eventually come up with licenses to breed, and have written about it in journals that normal people never look at. They talk about two or one child maximum families in the United States.

Two, books. Some people are starting to catch on to what really is behind and driving environmentalism. People join the Audubon Society because they want to save birds or watch birds. What the Audubon Society leaders are really about is something very different. I highly recommend you look at two important books by major writers—Michael Creighton's recent book, State of Fear. He understands what the Greens are trying to do and the devastation they are trying to cause. Also Tom Clancy's book, Rainbow Six. In 1979 another person, Lynn White, a philosopher at the University of California, wrote an important article saying that the Judeo-Christian religion was destroying the planet because it convinced people that God actually told man to go forth and be fruitful and multiply and he gave man dominion over the creation, and this was a mistake. Then there is something called Greening the Churches Movement, and they had a big huge conference called Caring for the Creation in 1990 in the National Cathedral in Washington. Everybody was there, the top Catholic leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Muslims, Hare Krishna, American Indians, and you name it. And Prince Philip of England was there, too. Prince Philip is famous for his statement that, if there is reincarnation, he hopes to come back as the deadly virus so it can exterminate the human race and save the planet. He has actually seriously said that. They all talk about the hubris of mankind, for man to think that he was more important than the rest of God's creation and actually an endangered butterfly is just as important in God's eye as men and women. We weren't created in the image of the Creator. This whole movement actually it is a very interesting, because they begin to worship the creation rather than the Creator.

Then the father of this whole concept, this modern concept that has led to the Pleistocene Park idea, is Dave Foreman. You may know that Dave Foreman used to be a respectable lobbyist for the Wilderness Society. He got tired of that, saw that it wasn't working, wasn't saving the planet, so in 1979 he started Earth First with an exclamation point on the end of it, "We mean this!" They started a concept called monkey wrenching, and that is, they are modern day Luddites. You had Ned Lud, who wanted to stop the industrial revolution and said, you throw a spanner in the works and all the machines will all shut down. Edward Abbey, a writer, wrote a book called the Monkey Wrench Gang and, also, Hayduke Lives. Paul Watson is his buddy who runs the Sea Shepherd that goes around and rams and sinks ships that are trying to catch whales. They all believe man is a cancer on the planet, man is a plague on the planet. It was Dave Foreman that came up with the idea of tree spiking, hammering spikes in the trees to shut down the timber industry, because when you run them through a sawmill, the blades explode when they hit a spike. One guy almost had his neck ripped off, almost died. A number of people were harmed, so then they put in x-ray machines to find the metal spikes. So then the Earth First! people started putting in porcelain spikes that you couldn't find. This is called eco-sabotage. They said, if you are dying of cancer, you know you are a goner, why just go quietly? Tie a big bomb to yourself and go tie yourself to Grand Cooley Dam or Boulder Dam and blow up the dam and take it with you. Save the planet when you die.

This set the foundation for modern eco-terrorism, the Animal Liberation Front, Environmental Liberation Front, and so on. In 1989 Dave Foreman was caught with three other Earth Firsters trying to blow up the transmission towers to the power lines that went in and out of the Arizona nuclear power plant. He wasn't prosecuted, but there was a quiet deal made that he had to leave Earth First! because he was too charismatic. Well, that was a mistake, because he has caused more trouble since. In 1990 he and his friend, Reed Noss started The Wildlands Project, which believes it is a mistake to let humans run the planet and place nature and wildlife in parks and preserves and refuges like zoos. It is man who is the dangerous one and man must be restricted to preserves, while the rest of the continent is re-wilded. They said, we are doing it backwards. We need to restore and return a minimum of fifty percent of all the land in North America to wilderness and let ecosystems work naturally, evolve naturally. Start with existing corridors like National Parks, wilderness areas, most of the Rockies and the Sierras, remove all traces of man in there—buildings, roads, railroads, everything—and then connect them all with corridors, with greenways, with trails, so wildlife can move, and surround them all with buffer zones. Humans should be banned from the core areas. Then he even called for prohibition of air flights over these corridors, because a lot of the Greens get outraged when they are out in the wilderness area and they look up and see a con trail. They say a con trail bothers them. A cloud is okay but a con trail really upsets them. Their magazine is Wild Earth. Get a copy of Wild Earth and see what these people are talking about.

Again, when it was started in 1990, it was considered a kooky idea. It is now pretty well mainstream. Their vision statement is:

"Our vision is simple. We live for the day when grizzlies in Mexico have an unbroken connection to grizzlies in Alaska, when gray wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland, when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations of plants and animals, when humans dwell with respect, harmony, and affection for the land, when we come to live no longer as strangers and aliens to this continent."

They have since added connecting the panthers of Florida with the mountain lions of northern Canada. This is another crackpot scheme that is now mainstream. Conservation biologists around the world, thousands upon thousands of biologists, scientists, and conservationists all accept this. Science Magazine did a formidable thing on it. One of Dave Foreman's big arguments is that civilization is destroying man as man because when man used to live out in places where he was being tracked and followed by jaguars and grizzlies and tigers, only then was he truly alive and truly man because he could feel suddenly the hair on the nape of his neck rise. He had six senses that we've lost now and you knew that meant a tiger was about to attack you and that was the only time that you were alive. Well, maybe so, but a second later that was when you were suddenly dead. The last thing you would hear if you could hear anything was the crunch of the tiger's jaws through your skull.

Now, a lot of people claim that The Wildlands Program is some international conspiracy of the United Nations. It is not. It is just normal biologists and environmentalists. It is a vision they have. They think man was a mistake on the planet and we have to create balance.

Then the next thing that appeared on the scene was a guy by the name of Dr. Frank Popper and his grad student, now his wife, Dr. Deborah Popper, who, in 1987, were both urban intellectuals, both professors of urban planning at Rutgers University. They published an eight-page article in Planning magazine called "The Great Plains from Dust to Dust: A Daring Proposal for Dealing with an Incipient Disaster." They said that several hundred thousand square miles of the plains have less than six people per square mile. That's the density that was very important in United States history when historian Frederick Jackson Turner used it in his frontier thesis to declare that once every county had at last six people per square mile the American frontier was closed. That was back in 1893. Many counties out there today have fewer than two persons per square mile and some of that area is losing population. Frontier counties are increasing. There are supposedly over 6,000 ghost towns in western Kansas and only 6.5 million people living in this whole area, which is less than the population of the state of Georgia. And they want to take, they propose taking a minimum of 20 million acres to start to de-privatize all that land. That is their scheme. Tear down the fences, re-introduce vast buffalo herds. They were going to create the Buffalo Commons, and let the buffalo roam across all the way from Texas and Mexico up into Canada through all the Great Plains like they used to before people were there. They thought they might start with the semi-voluntary program and have the U.S. Forest Service pay farmers and ranchers for fifteen years to replant and restore native grasses. At the end of those fifteen years the Forest Service would purchase all of their land except that, if they wanted to, they would be allowed to have a forty-acre homestead and that's it. They want to restore the commons. They say it is manifest destiny in reverse.

It was first met with outrage. They had to have state troopers protecting them when they went to give little talks out in the Great Plains and so on, but now some government agencies out there are saying, hey, this is cool. This will allow us to get some mission creep going and get federal funding and so on, work with the Forest Service and BLM and the National Fish and Wildlife Service. Just a couple of years ago the North Dakota State Labor Market Information Center endorsed the whole concept. And some state travel bureaus are endorsing it and chambers of commerce and saying, hey, we'll get eco-tourists out here to see the buffalo. Well, you can go see the buffalo in half a dozen federal parks already. Now, this is what? This is almost exactly the very same several hundred thousand square miles from Canada to Mexico that was proposed for the Pleistocene Park.

Then in 2001 an Australian paleontologist and mammalogist by the name of Tim Flannery, who I know fairly well, wrote a book called The Eternal Frontier — An Ecological History of North America. I visited with him in Australia. He is the world's leading expert on extinction of the gigantic Pleistocene marsupials in Australia. He is proposing that we might stop extinction of big mammals around the world if we took all the relatives of the extinct North America fauna and returned them. To show where he is coming from, in his book The Future Eaters he suggested the human population of Australia was already way too big, that it had to be reduced from twenty million people to a mere six million people and that brings us back to the August 18 issue of Nature magazine and the first serious proposal by leading scientists to call for the de-population of the heartland of America and filling it with a vast alien and native mega-fauna.

Don't say you weren't warned or, who was that masked man? some day in the future.

What I wanted to try to do, as quickly as I could, was to just give you an overview of where all these different streams of thought are coming from. Each time you hear about a new plan or new land grabs, whether it is a Highlands project or whether it is the Y2Y project (this huge corridor from the Yukon to Yellowstone), the Tall Grass Prairie, the Northern Forest Lands, new National Trails, re-introducing new endangered species, this is all coming under essentially the guideline of this philosophy that the leading Greens and Green philosophers and deep ecologists and urban planners and so on have, what the leaders of the environmental movement begin with. This was just sort of a thing that most people saw this summer and really couldn't believe, couldn't take it seriously, but this is really what is behind the philosophy of environmentalism. Thank you.

Back to:
PRFA Property Rights Conferences Rangeland and Grazing Wildlands PRFA Home Page

© 2005 Property Rights Foundation of America ®
All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.