Big Plans for 26 Million Acre "Eco-System"

by Erich Veyhl, Land Rights Letter, April 1993.

Environmentalists regard the Northeast region of the nation much as they do the Pacific Northwest – as a massive “ecosystem” targeted for Federal control.

A leader at the Environmental Grantmakers Association conference last October referred to a single large “bio–region, stretching from northern California into Alaska” as the target for preservation.

Likewise, the environmentalists' Northern Forest Lands Campaign has targeted 26 million acres of mostly privately owned land stretching from the Maine coast to Lake Ontario in New York. (And one new group, sponsored by the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, is already promoting an expanded target from the Canadian coast, into the states south of New England, and west through the U.S. and Canada to Minnesota. [Land Rights Letter Feb. 1993])

National Audubon Society Vice President Brock Evans told a Tufts University conference two years ago,

“There are some very distinct similarities between the emerging, what I'll call the Northern Forests Lands Campaign, which is happening in northern New England right now – and if I have anything to say about it from my national perspective, it will be an even bigger campaign in the next few years – and the Ancient Forest Campaign we're just going through right now in the Pacific northwest.”
“We decided in the northwest to treat it as an Ancient Forest Campaign ... all the forests, all of it. I suggest to you that you have your ‘North Woods’. It's the same kind of situation. It should be all of it. There may be different solutions for different particular places, but it should all be treated together. Be unreasonable. You can do it. Yesterday's heresy is today's common wisdom. It happens over and over again.”

Chuck Clusen, a former leader of the environmentalists' Alaskan lands coalition and now a political strategist working for Laurance Rockefeller's American Conservation Association for the Environmental Grantmakers Association [EGA] said at their strategy conference last October that he is working on the “development of a campaign plan [for the northeast] very similar to the Alaskan situation ... that will probably go on for at least a decade.”

Preservationists quietly began the campaign for the northeast in the mid–80's. The National Parks and Conservation Association's 1988 report to Congress [NPCA, New Parks, Vol 8, I–15], developed in conjunction with National Park Service planners and other environmentalist organizations, urged “mega–conservation reserves in the Northeast”, called New England the “conservation challenge of the 1990's” and proposed 8 massive new national parks in the northern forests region.

In 1982 the National Park Service had already targeted 27 huge “landscapes” in the four Northern Forest Campaign states as part of a list of 66 potential Greenline parks in 14 eastern states. It circulated the list among preservationists along with an NPCA report on Greenlining. The “landscapes” included such regions as the “Catskills” in NY, the “Northeast Kingdom” in New Hampshire and Vermont, the “North Woods” in Maine (extending into Canada) and the “Washington County Coast” in Maine.

The massive 1988 NPCA new park plan targeted the “Connecticut River Valley” (NH, VT, MA, CT), the “Northeast Kingdom” (VT and NH), the “Adirondacks” (upstate NY), the “Catskills” (upstate NY), “Central Maine” (around Mt. Kahtadin), “Cobscook and Cutler Coast” (Maine) adjoining the “Machias River” (its entire watershed and lakes region, Maine), “St. John River” (Maine), and “Allagash” (Maine). These areas also correpond to the “special” areas later targeted by the Northern Forest Alliance funded under the Environmental Grantmakers Association strategy.

Michael Kellet, who was New England Director of the Wilderness Society at the time (later to become head of RESTORE: The North Woods), told the Tufts audience in 1990, “I think it's likely this [26 million acres] will all end up, most of this will end up being public land, not by taking away, but that will probably be really the only alternative.”

Another participant, Sandra Lewis of the Tufts University Environmental Studies Program, said,

“I sat down at a meeting about 2 years ago at the Wilderness Society and at that time most of the conservation organizations didn't have a very big vision... that Brock Evans [does]. Earth Firsters wanted to save 10 million, the Wilderness Society was content with 2.5 million acres just outside of Baxter State Park, the Nature Conservancy wanted the rest of the least and the best of the rest.”

“Most of the conservation organizations weren't thinking big, so I'm pleased to hear that they're at a new place, and I think it's important, we're going to have to think big because we've got some very big global things happening, some effects that people feel may change the way we live very, very dramatically... I don't think it unreasonable to think about 26 million acres as a possible reserve and furthermore, I think it may be an absolute necessity to think in those terms for survival and for preservation of biodiversity...”

“I've heard foresters say something to the effect, well we don't want to turn it into a museum, as if museums were bad. I think maybe that's exactly what we should turn it into. I think there's a lot to be said for museums and I think that more and more we're gonna want to preserve our past and our culture in the form of our ecological culture.”

Audubon's Brock Evans responded, “that doesn't mean they all have to be museum pieces, I like that idea myself, but they can be mixtures.”

Nancy Anderson, Director of the New England Environmental Network, which sponsors the annual conference, said to Evans,

“I would like to ask Brock if he could tell me how we go about going to the Congress of the United States with – we go through Senator [Massachusettes Democrats] Kennedy and Senator Kerry I guess – how we prepare a bill that would bring about the ownership, public ownership of the Dept. of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, of these 26 million acres of land. And would you be of assistance to us from the National Audubon Society since we've been assisting you with the Ancient Forests?”

Evans replied, “I'd do it anyhow because I care too about these forests. But the second part is easy. Of course, I and colleagues will.”

“Let's go after a bill,” he added “to purchase these forests let's say, or whatever it would be, or to purchase half and study the other half... We won't worry about whether the legislation has a chance of passing now or not. I would agree with Stephen [Harper, author of the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Forest Lands Study], the first time people see it they're gonna say this is impossible... but we change those impossibilities, that's all. Our whole business is changing impossibility. But that's how you do it. You get your own act together and then you've won.”

Environmentalist writer Phyllis Austin, who is close to preservationist leaders, later wrote in the Albany Times Union (7/28/91):

“The [New England] wildlands that remain are under such clear and present danger ... that nothing short of an emergency effort is going to save the best of it. National environmental groups have rushed to the rescue, issuing a coast–to–coast call to arms to protect the Northern Forest for all time.”

“The Wilderness Society and Audubon, the campaign leaders,” she reported, “propose federal acquisition on a large scale because it offers the best protection. Their vision is a new national park, national forest or refuge covering a substantial amount of the northern forest, with other kinds of conservation agreements [sic] to protect the remainder.”

But while preservationists are cloning their Northwest tactics in the eastern campaign, they recognize that the characteristically private ownership in the east is a barrier they haven't had to face in the mostly Federal lands of the west. They see the Northern Forest Lands Campaign as setting new precedents for the rest of the country: “There is little doubt,” wrote Austin, “that the outcome of this campaign may establish a national model for forest use and protection where private ownership [still] predominates.”

A month later, Austin disingenuously wrote in the Boston Globe (9/2/91) that landowners are imagining the threat. Using the words of Charles Nieberling, director of the New Hampshire Timberlands Association, she said, “‘The extremists (among their opponents) have a deeply rooted, almost religious conviction’ that a plan to protect the mostly private forest is a federal land grab.”

The supposedly unfounded “religious conviction” is now echoed by Francis Hatch, son of former Republican Governor of Massachusetts Francis Hatch, as the “outlandish, untrue claims of imagined federal intervention [that] are spread regularly by property rights groups.” .

The campaign to pretend that there is no Federal acquisition campaign coincides with the public rejection of the proposed Northern Forest Lands Act (defeated in 1991) intended to begin planning a Greenline, the ongoing controversy over the Northern Forest Lands Council, and a widespread rejection of national environmentalist groups as “too radical.”

The “campaign leaders,” as Austin referred to the Wilderness Society and Audubon, have locally taken a less publicly visible role while regional organizations such as the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Audubon, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the (New Hampshire) Merrimack River Watershed Council and others have been brought to the forefront, all attempting to appeal to the public as more “reasonable” and “local” – as if they had nothing to do with the campaign being coordinated by the Northern Forest Alliance referred to by EGA strategist Chuck Clusen. (The Sierra Club has said that the state groups share the same Federal acquisition/Greenline goals, but aren't talking about it to keep their local followers in line.)

Preservationists now agitate for Greenline (without using the word) controls and Federal programs in terms of scenic euphemisms and romantic–sounding “vision statements”, attempting to build political momentum without having to specifically state the actual nature of the laws and regulatory prohibitions they seek to impose. They try to avoid maps or other descriptions showing whose property is targeted.

They target isolated regions and paper companies, incrementally building towards the more encompassing goals for the entire area in a piecemeal fashion, but acting at the moment like each piece is all that will ever matter.

Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, the Trust for Public Land and other wealthy real estate organizations who deal with the Federal and State governments are jockeying for position and buying up all the land they can get their hands on.

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

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