Grasping for the "Mainstream"

Audubon Denies Its Statements on Northeast Land Takeover Campaign

This article was originally published in The Land Rights Letter
Copyright © 1993, Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved

It seems that environmentalists' exhortations among themselves to take over private property prove to be embarrassing when publicly exposed. In line with the preservationist leadership's strategy to appear "mainstream" in public, Audubon Vice President Brock Evans [Evans is now head of the National Endangered Species Coalition] is denying his widely quoted statements promoting a Federal takeover of 26 million acres of mostly private property in northern New England and New York. A recently obtained tape recording of a Boston radio talk show aired last June [1993] reveals Evans claiming that tape recorded statements attributed to him are a "mis-quote" from a "doctored transcript".

Evans' made the controversial statements he now denies while at a Tufts University conference where he urged preservationists to "be unreasonable" and "take it all". Evans was part of a panel discussion in which he and other speakers exhorted the audience to follow up on the U.S. Forest Service's Greenline recommendations for most of Maine and parts of three other northeastern states. Most of the panelists, also including Michael Kellet, then Regional Director of the Wilderness Society, urged that all the private property in the region be put in the public domain.

Their exhortations for a massive Federal takeover in the northeast have been widely quoted since the Maine Conservation Rights Institute transcribed a recording of the session, word-for-word, and released it in full to the press. [The New England Environmental Network, which had sponsored the conference, published a fabricated version of Evans' speech several months later.]

Evans' denials of the Tufts statements were in response to excerpts from the transcript read on the air by Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Arnold, widely known for coining the term "wise use movement," was being interviewed on the topic "have environmentalists gone too far" following publication of his new book on environmentalism, Trashing the Economy. The book includes the Tufts story and excerpts from the transcript.

In his Tufts speech Evans likened the northeastern campaign to the preservationist political victory in the Pacific Northwest, urging the audience: "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."

Evans also sympathesized with another panelist who urged turning the targeted 26 million acres into an "ecological museum", responding, "that doesn't mean they all have to be museum pieces, I like that idea myself, but they can be mixtures."

He ended the prepared speech with an emotional appeal: "I think you have much going for you here. You have favorable politicians, which you don't have in the northwest. You have a long tradition of activism here in the northeast. You have lots of strong urban centers where support comes from. So I would say let's take it back. Let's take it all back. Let's take it back now and let's give it back to all the people."

In answer to a question he urged, "Let's go after a bill 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."

In denying his earlier statements Evans said on the radio show, which was broadcast to an urban population with little knowledge of Federal land acquistion policies, "I've seen that mis-quote several times around the country here. And I understand why they want to doctor it up and say it means what it doesn't mean, but the whole context was buying it from willing sellers because this is how it's always done and what I favor. My policy and ... the policy of the National Audubon Society has always been wherever private land is acquired, it's acquired from willing sellers."

The frequent use of coercion in Federal land acquisition for preservation long supported by Audubon, however, has been commonplace for decades. And contrary to Evans' claim of a "willing seller" context in the Tufts panel discussion, neither he nor any of the other panelists mentioned the words "willing sellers" or any term which would have indicated they did not have in mind the traditional coercion against recalcitrant landowners who do not want to sell or who use their property in ways unacceptable to the preservationists.

Audubon has also lobbied vigorously for a $1 billion dollar a year entitlement for Federal land acquisition with no protection against condemnation, and has been conspicuously absent from helping any private landowners threatened by eminent domain under existing Federal programs. The annual list of proposed targets for Federal acquisition published by Audubon and other organizations in conjunction with the Wilderness Society also includes unwilling sellers.

Audubon has strongly advocated regulatory property takings without compensation, and unsuccessfully opposed David Lucas before the Supreme Court. Audubon is nationally renowned for its advocacy of preservation of private land without compensation to the owners under broad new definitions of "wetlands" that include what most people regard as ordinary land.

Since the threat of condemnation of private land for Federal acquisition became more controversial in the northeast in recent years, preservationists developed a strategy of using the phrase "willing sellers", apparently counting on naive ignorance of intrinsically coercive Federal land policy, while believing that residents and businesses would be willing to tolerate a socialized resource economy and loss of the land base to Federal preservation if only condemnation is not used in the early stages of an acquisition program.

On the radio show Evans acknowledged that "sometimes we oppose the logging practices, sometimes we don't [in existing National Forests in Vermont and New Hampshire], but I would like to see a large part of the northern lands not logged."

He also claimed that "most of [the targeted 26 million acres] are up for sale by big timber companies, and the whole point of that whole [Tufts] meeting was now that the timber companies are offering them for sale, mostly to real estate subdividers and others, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to return these lands to the public domain..." and said to "re-create a northern lands national forest, that's a good idea."

According to the government's own Northern Forest Lands Study, however, over a million people live in the region and less than 38% of the 26 million acres is classified as "industrial" (51% of 15 million acres in Maine). Logging and manufacture of paper are the backbone of the region's economy. Most of the timber company (and other) land is not, contrary to Evans, for sale.

A recent report by the Northern Forest Lands Council (NFLC) acknowledged, contrary to preservationist claims, that the vast majority of forest land sales in the region have been for other timber uses, not "subdividers." Another report prepared for the NFLC found that over the last century the trend in land ownership in the region has been mostly to consolidate small ownerships into larger ones, and that recent land sales have not yet led to the historical diversity of land ownership that was once the norm.

Contrary to Audubon's push to "re-create" a National Forest, the 26 million acres targeted has never been in the Federal domain. It was controlled by the state in the early 1800's before being homesteaded or privately logged.

Full verbatim text of Evans' original speech
Full text of his radio interview denial