Environmental Grantmakers Association Strategy
Session Privately Acknowledges Grass Roots Opposition,
Plans Strategy

by Erich Veyhl, Land Rights Letter, February 1993.

Preservationist attempts to divert public discussion away from their assault on property rights and the economic survival of rural communities is now commonplace. Defenders of property rights are misrepresented as deliberately promoting the destruction of the environment. Belligerent, personal character assassination against property owners who dare to speak out for their own and others' civil rights is growing. Hysterical misrepresentations systematically accuse individuals who speak out as being “fronts” for everything from Exxon to the John Birch Society to the Moonies.

Many observers wonder if this bizarre phenomenon is (a) a deliberately dishonest smear campaign, (b) frantic paranoia from power–seekers who are unaccustomed to being morally challenged, (c) a fund–raising gimmick, and/or (d) a case of environmentalist movement groupies who will believe anything they hear if it seems to support their cause – and have honestly, if indiscriminately, accepted their own escalating propaganda as if succumbing to a contagious disease.

While national preservationist groups have publicly threatened to further “expose” the property rights movement through alleged “investigations” purporting to demonstrate their accusations, at least some serious environmentalist leaders actually have “investigated” – and are now privately grappling with the truth they have been forced to face: that their opposition is in fact a grass roots uprising against environmentalist abuses of the personal values, rights, and economic viability of millions of ordinary Americans.

A group of influential environmentalist leaders met last October at the plush Rosario Resort in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state for a three day conference. They were discussing movement strategy under a central financial umbrella group called the Environmental Grant Makers Association, which heavily influences both environmentalist political strategy and the dispensation of hundreds of millions of dollars in environmentalist funding.

Outside, a small band of placard–carrying protesters desperately tried to tell the dispensers of the money that the well–funded environmentalist campaign is killing their jobs and their communities. Inside, one of the more revealing of the twenty four scheduled sessions, all closed to the public, focused on the victims.

The session was entitled “The Wise Use Movement – Threats and Opportunities” and was led by Beltway resident and environmentalist activist and lobbyist Debra Callahan.

Callahan is a former Executive Director of Americans for the Environment and former New England Political Director of the League of Conservation Voters. She is now Director of the Environmental Grass Roots Program at the W. Alton Jones Foundation, one of the largest sources of environmentalist funding nationally, dispensing over $7 million through about 100 separate grants in 1990 alone [she subsequently returned to run the League of Conservation Voters, a lobby consortium of the big environmentalist activist groups].

Callahan's presentation was introduced as “about some of the information–gathering that's been going on about the wise use movement, the Property Rights Movement, from all across the country.” She was clearly worried about what she had discovered.

“Wise use”, she began, “is a term that was coined by a figurehead named Ron Arnold who actually showed up here yesterday or the day before with these people who had yellow placards and they were walking around in a circle, and they were saying – you know – your grants are taking away our jobs and that sort of thing.” (“How,” she would rhetorically ask later in the session, “do you say to somebody, no, I don't want you to have your job?”)

Before proceeding with her presentation she checked the group out: “Are any of you associated with wise use groups?”

Not to worry, it's just starting to get interesting.

“Our foundation put together a report about eight months ago [and] I'd like to update you ... on what we have learned in about the last four months in continued research,” she explained.

Defining her subject, she said, “I tend to think of the wise use movement as being more generically the environmental backlash movement, because in fact as you talk to activists on the ground who are dealing with what we think of as wise use – some of these organizations are formally associated with the wise use movement and Ron Arnold and really the vast majority of them are not ... So it's really in some ways sort of a mistake in nomenclature just to refer to this stuff as 'wise use,' but we do it...”

Callahan said she had previously thought of the resistance to environmentalism as coming from “command and control, top heavy, corporate funded, front groups,” but that “what we're finding is that wise use is really a local movement driven by primarily local concerns and not national issues... And in fact the more we dig into it having put together a fifty – really constructed over a number of months a fifty state fairly comprehensive survey of what's going on ... we have come to the conclusion that this is pretty much generally a grass roots movement, which is a problem, because it means there's no silver bullets.”

Silver bullets or not, she pushed on: “The movement is actually growing quickly at the grass roots as it finds its base ... around the country, in some states more quickly than others, but again, [now very emphatically] this – is – happening – in – every – single – state. We think of this as being a western phenomenon – It's not true.”

She rapidly ticked off several examples, “In New England it's about the Adirondack Mountains, it's about private property right movements, it's about the North Eastern forests” – “In the Southeast it's about coastal zone management and coastal development” – “It's about shrimpers in Louisiana” – “In the midwest it's about farmland” – “In coastal Louisiana and Texas it's about, you know, minerals development” – “All over the country it's like a gas this, this – it's filling, it's, it's filling the available space.”

“Generally speaking,” she added later, “you see as many women as men ... as far as age range – same thing is true.”

“The real question here,” Callahan concluded – revealing a bias that rural people are not “mainstream America” while expressing fear of even more popular opposition – “is this movement then going to expand beyond its natural base into mainstream America? Are you going to find that suburbanites are beginning to associate with wise use?”

“What people fundamentally believe about environmental protection,” Callahan said polls reveal, “is that no it's not just jobs, and no it's not just environment, why can't we have both?”

“The high ground is capturing that message, ok?,” she said, betraying more concern for capturing a strategic position than being right. “The wise use movement is trying to capture that message. What they're saying out there is 'we are the real environmentalists. We're the stewards of the land. We're the farmers who have tilled the land and know how to manage this land because we've done it for generations. We're the miners and we're the ones who depend for our livelihood on this land. These guys live in glass towers in New York City. They're not environmentalists, they're elitists. They're part of the problem and they're aligned with big government and they're out of touch.'”

“And if that's the message that the wise use movement is able to capture, we are suddenly the equivalent of incumbents in this election year. We're really unpopular.”

Callahan described the protesters outside the resort: “ten folks who are real people out there, with placards, who've lost their jobs, who live in communities where there's real economic stress because of transition, economic transition, based on resource extracting issues.”

“And they were saying – and they were lookin' us straight in the eye – and they were saying, hey, because of the work that you've been engaged in, we're hurting, we're losing our jobs and it's not right. And how do you say to somebody, no, I don't want you to have your job. And when Joe Sixpack hears that message he goes, 'you're right, dammit, people oughta be able to work, and the environment ought to be able to be managed.'”

“And the minute the wise use people capture that high ground, we almost have not got a winning message left in, in our quiver.”

Later, another participant added, “There are – as Deb has made clear – ordinary people, grass roots organizations who obviously feel their needs are being addressed by this movement... We have to have a strategy that also is addressing those concerns. And that cannot come simply from environmentalists... it can't come just from us. That's the dilemma here. People it's not simply that they don't get it, it's that they do get it. They're losing their jobs.”

And another commented, “This is a class issue. There is no question about it. It is true that the environmental movement is, has been, traditionally as someone said over the last three days sitting up at the podium, this has been in the past an upper class, conservation, white movement. We have to face that fact. It's true. They're not wrong that we are rich and, you know, they are up against us. We are the enemy as long as we behave in that fashion.”

“How much money are we talking about – that they have?” someone in the audience asked.

“It's more than we have,” Callahan replied after accusing 'People for the West' of raising 90% of over $2 million from mining companies, then admitted, “Some of these grass roots groups are dirt poor.”

“And some – in fact at the last wise use conference, while we were down in Rio at the Earth Summit, they were in Reno having a conference. And there were more environmental spies [laughing] at that thing I think there practically were wise use people – I mean they were everywhere [laughter].”

“And there was one person – and I talked to a bunch of these folks – and one of these folks said they were sitting down with a wise use person and one of the speakers up there talked with great mirth about how the environmentalists were portraying them as being front groups of corporations and how they were just rolling in money and apparently the room just burst out hysterically laughing.”

“It was about as funny as us hearing them say, oh those guys are corporate backed and they're just rolling in dough, which they're saying about us right now.”

The money, she claimed, is in “some of these other groups that are based in Washington, that are coalitions of special interest groups, like the wetlands coalition, where the American Farm Bureau is a member of it, the Cattlemen's Association, the NRA, some of these existing associations have banded together on particular issues and they're working with the wise use grass roots operations.”

“So, who knows,” she shrugged – then insisted, “but its more than we've got is the right answer.”

Explaining that how to “capture the high ground” is “really what the battle ground is,” Callahan presented her views on “wise use” philosophy and proposed an outline of an environmentalist strategy to contend with the growing popular resistance to environmentalist philosophy and its consequences.

But despite the results of Callahan's investigation, the EGA strategy makes no public mention of the essentials of the public dispute with environmentalism, but rather still includes an emphasis on an “extremist” smear campaign continuing, according to Callahan, to

“reveal the extreme positions of the wise use movement. We need to expose the links between wise use and other extremists: the Unification Church, the John Birch Society, Lyndon LaRouche.”

Copyright © 1993 Erich Veyhl and Land Rights Letter. All Rights Reserved

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