November 1, 2012
The principle architect of the Wildlands Project is former Earth First! leader Dave Foreman. Foreman, along with Howie Wolke, and Bart Koehler had actually laid the concepts of the Wildlands Project in the early 1980’s. This Earth First! Wilderness Preserve System, was published in the June 1983 issue of Earth First! Foreman again captured the spirit of that earlier article in his 1991 book, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior.
“The only hope of the Earth is to withdraw huge areas as inviolate natural sanctuaries from the depredations of modern industry and technology. Move out the people and cars. Reclaim the roads and the plowed lands.” (Foreman, 1991 Confessions of an Eco-Warrior)
It is impossible to understand the evolution of the Wildlands Project without understanding the history of the Earth First! movement. While the two are no longer closely connected, it is fair to say that had it not been for Earth First!, there would be no Wildlands Project.
Both groups agreed that humanity is the source of the sorry state of nature. However, there was considerable disagreement over what to do about it. By the late 1980’s, a rift was emerging among the members of Earth First! that was part generational and part philosophical. The challenge to Foreman’s leadership was coming from a younger generation of forest activist, mostly Californians.
The Californians, led by Mike Roselle, the youngest Earth First! founder, and later strongly influenced by social activist Judi Bari, took the position that the earth could not be saved until there was greater social justice for all peoples. Environmental destruction occurred because of economic inequality, and the injustice of poverty. Poor people, struggling for survival, lacked the basic economic security to be concerned about the environment, even if they chose to be.
However, humanity could be transformed. Once these basic issues of social justice and inequality were addressed, people who had forgotten the ancient ways of balance and harmony, could be taught them again. By staging acts of civil disobedience that garnered widespread media attention for their cause, Earth Firsters! felt they could best bring about the social transformation they desired. Their approach then, became a somewhat extreme version of what some call “shallow ecology”, or saving nature for mankind’s sake, not for the sake of nature alone.
Convinced of impending ecological disaster, Foreman was decidedly more skeptical about humanity’s role in a biocentric future. He doubted nature could co-exist with modern society in any form what so ever. Foreman lay this disaster squarely at the feet of humanity, and the view that human beings were separate from, and superior to, the rest of nature.
Never one for understatement, Foreman wrote:
“We are currently embroiled in the greatest crisis in four billion years of life on Earth. Never before–not even 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous when dinosaurs became extinct–has their been an extinction rate comparable to today’s.” (Foreman, 1991, “Around The Campfire”, Wild Earth)
“RIGHT NOW, TODAY, LIFE FACES THE SIXTH GREAT EXTINCTION EVENT IN EARTH HISTORY…The cause is just as disturbing: eating, manufacturing, traveling, warring, and breeding by five and a half billion human beings.” (Foreman, Winter 1995/1996 “Around The Campfire” Wild Earth)
Foreman had little interest in trying reform humanity. He felt compelled to stress the intrinsic value and biodiversity theme time and again in his “Around The Campfire” section of the Earth First! Journal. Ultimately the Journal itself began to be a source of division, with one group calling for more reporting on Direct Action Campaigns, and the other side insisting that issues pertaining to biological diversity remain the priority. It became, as Martha F. Lee in her book, Earth First! Environmental Apocalypse, a battle of millennials versus apocalyptics.
Eventually, in 1989, Foreman and his followers left Earth First!, and started what is today the Wildlands Project. John Davis, who had been Editor of the Earth First! Journal, became Editor of Wild Earth, the literary vehicle of the Wildlands Project. His mother, Mary Byrd Davis, who had written for the Journal on nuclear energy issues, became the Publisher. Reed Noss, who had been a contributor to the Earth First! Journal, became the Science Editor of Wild Earth, and science director for the Wildlands Project. Many of Foreman’s friends and associates showed up as either authors, advisors, or both in the new organization.
One longtime supporter, Margaret Hays Young, tried once more in the “Letters To The Editors” section of the very first Wild Earth to separate the social justice issue from the biodiversity issue:
“Actually ‘Saving the Planet’ is an expensive proposition, culturally, socially, and financially. And it is a whole new concept… It might mean having to share the world with other species on an equal basis. That is a new idea. And it is a very threatening idea to many people.”
“The Earth needs this kind of defense. It needs defense from us, from our species. And it needs defenders; it needs defenders who realize that we must make no further ‘compromise’ in our favor.” (Young, 1991, “Letters To The Editors”, Wild Earth)
Foreman, in an article written for the second issue of Wild Earth, revealed that he had always conceived of Earth First! as a transitional operation whose work was largely finished by the late 1980’s. Some might argue to the contrary. Earth First! remains a viable organization with a larger membership and greater name recognition than its younger sibling. Perhaps Foreman made those comments in 1991 to give credibility to the fledgling Wildlands Project, however in 1997 he has turned out to be right in many respects. In his book, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Foreman summed up the legacy of Earth First!.
“Earth First! has led the effort to reframe the question of wilderness preservation from an aesthetic and utilitarian one to an ecological one, from a focus on scenery and recreation to a focus on biological diversity”
“Similarly, we have gone beyond the limited agenda of mainstream conservation groups to protect a portion of the remaining wilderness by calling for the reintroduction of extirpated species and the restoration of vast wilderness tracts. We have brought the discussion of biocentric philosophy–Deep Ecology–out of dusty academic journals. We have effectively introduced nonviolent civil disobedience into the repertoire of wild land preservation activism. We have also helped to jolt the conservation movement out of its middle-aged lethargy and re-inspired it with passion, joy, and humor. In doing all of this, Earth First! has restructured the conservation spectrum and redefined the parameters of debate on ecological matters.” (Foreman, 1991,”The New Conservation Movement”, Wild Earth)
According to this, Foreman intends for the Wildlands Project to take preservation of biological diversity to a new level. To evolve into a more sophisticated version of Earth First!, without the civil disobedience, the eco-terrorism, and the flagrant disregard for authority. The Wildlands Project is Earth First! all grown up.