Voters put 'conserve' back in conservative

Voters put ‘conserve’ back in conservative. By Blaine Harden. The Washington Post.

There has been a lot of this happy talk lately. I hope it’s true, but certainly haven’t seen anything in the agencies or on the ground to indicate that anything has changed except that the Western outdoors is being destroyed at an increasing rate by the energy companies, sub-divisions, overgrazing, lawless all terrain vehicles.

They are still feeding wintering elk in Wyoming, and as a result, chronic wasting disease keeps marching across the landscape. Montana won’t let bison leave Yellowstone. Despite blistering editorials to tear down the dams, the salmon killing, pork-barrel dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State still keep decimating the salmon that struggle back to Idaho. The national parks are underfunded, the national forests are unfunded, and every where you turn there are fees now.
The grizzly bear is being delisted and the states are talking about new ways to kill the great bear. Snowmobiles will be let back into the range of the endangered woodland caribou (pop. 20) of northern Idaho. The desert aquifers of Nevada, 2/3 the way to the Idaho border, are being mined to fuel endless growth of Las Vegas.

A few really awful new things, like privatizing the public lands in its most blatant form, have been killed.

There is a lot of talk about the new “consensus groups,” which so far have resulted in proposals for a little bit of wilderness designation of lands here and there, but these lands are already wilderness in fact, if not by law. In return the “consensus” will spawn new development, lucrative buyouts of ranchers, and photos for politicians.






  1. Alan Gregory Avatar

    A good, concise overview of all that’s bad out there right now, Ralph. I don’t know if I’d call Las Vegas’s sprawl a case of “endless growth.” More like “insane growth” — so-called progress fed by the gaping maws of private automobiles fueled by a make-believe, endless chocolate nougat of petro deep within the Earth.
    The current crop of wildernes bills, especially the Owyhees legislation, strike me as sell-outs of a sort. I have no problem with buying out grazing permittees, but to fork over cold cash like this bill calls for and then let the cows go on plundering the landscape is just wrong. Conservationists have got to reclaim the high ground and stop pussy-footing around with these consensus-building traps. There remains, arguably, much de facto wilderness on the public lands. Let’s don’t water it down with wishy-washy schemes that only lead one way — downhill.

  2. kt Avatar

    Happy talk about the Western Way of doing things, indeed.

    Happy talk at times re-inforced by Collaborative cabals of one sort or another where the meekest and mildest of go-along conservationists are the “green” collaborators.

    The end result: Rebel against anything Federal or that may be for the common good.

    Wells, some of us think it is time for straight talk. (And time for a Bernard DeVoto revival, too)!

    Today’s Western BIg Talkers, who don the mantle of the rugged individualist/it’s my manifest destiny to do whatever the Hell I want/Butt out Feds, etc … often to me seem to have the most severe ego problems, wanting to be BIg Fish in a small pond, so they adopt the mantras and mindsets of the Pillagers of public lands — their captors!

    The only way to put an end to some of these outrageous attempts to deal away public land, and the pompous strutting about that accompanies it, is to both call them out on it, publicly, as well as MOVE the debate beyond the Happy Talk — to the real issues like streams drying up.

    And isn’t that what the Internet opens the door to do?

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    Now that the conservation movement has become an industry, with all the faults of an industry, sharing the same values as industry it is perfectly easy for a developer to find someone, these days a lot of people, in “conservation” and “environmental” groups willing to make a deal and sell wildlife and wildlands down the river.

    Speaking truth to power is important, but it’s also important to rethink, and refeel, conservation from the ground up. This phalanx of non-profit conservation and environmental corporations are not serving wildlife, wildlands, and communitie well.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I agree with a lot of the comments in this thread. However, as a corrective, it should be noted that if you study the “political ecology” of non-profit conservation organizations, there is a great variety of techniques being used, differing ways of raising money, and some groups have a grassroots membership base and others have “checkbook only” memberships.

    One of the most important distinctions is how the group raises money? For those that rely a lot on grants from foundations, the goal of the foundation as expressed in the grant, makes a huge difference.

  5. TPageCO Avatar

    While I agree that the trend is heading downwards, in respect to land conservation, I think there is grounds for guarded optimism on the private land conservation front. Look at the mammoth timberland deals that have happened in the last year or something like the Blackfoot Challenge in w-central MT. These kinds of projects would never have been possible 20 years ago. In my CO home county (often used a poster child for bad development practices) things are far better than they were ten years ago. Open space bonds are getting passed in lots of places around the west.

    Could it be better? Yes, lots. But many of the problems you cite are fixable, particularly if we get off our collective butts and start now. 35 years ago, there weren’t enough griz around to even think about delisting, and I’d bet that very few professionals anticipated that wolves would actually return to the Northern Rockies in their lifetimes. Elk numbers are staggering just about everywhere – I suspect that the increased concentrations of elk are part of a CWD problem that has existed for decades and is only now becoming more widespread due to the elk boom since 1990.
    Much has been learned about proper grazing techniques and stream restoration – many private ranches have phenomenal range and quality water. These kinds of places (Turner’s SW Montana properties, the Malpais group down in NM are two examples out of many) are the linchpins of future conservation – not a bunch of high-elevation timberlands that have lousy soil and lots of rock. So, let’s have some perspective.

    Wilderness bills, compromises or not, are just a small part of a big picture. In my view, the effects of widespread oil and gas leasing along with massive semi-urban growth are the big bad dudes out there that don’t have straighforward answers in most places. A good political start would be to fund the LWCF to its full allocation, and get a bi-partisan committee going to hold the O&G companies responsible. My personal belief is that such an investigation will reveal widespread corruption, coercion of federal employees, and rule-breaking. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see some changes in BLM practices…

    As for the comments regarding non-profit conservation “corporations” sharing the same values as industry – I’m sorry if you live in a town where this is the case. In my neighborhood, a very few dedicated and very bright (but severely underpaid folks) have cleaned heavy metals out of our streams, fought successfully to purchase several thousand acres of prime riparian land, fought successfully to keep state lands from being sold for development, and I could go on. Blanket statements about selling out to industry are not applicable everywhere.

  6. Alan Gregory Avatar

    I agree regarding private conservation efforts. Even here in Pennsylvania, municipalities, even a handful of counties, are coming up with substantial, but still drop-in-the-bucket-level, “open-space” preservation bond issues and the like. Still, though, developers wield the big bucks and the consequent political clout.

    The least protected habitat type here, and arguably in the many other states, is the riparian forest. Let’s face it, beautiful as they all are, most federal wildernesses encompass more high-elevation rock-and-ice habitat than other types of habitat.

  7. Howard Avatar

    The “rock and ice habitat” comment above is dead on. Mountain peaks are gorgeous, no doubt about it, but they are not good wildlife habitat. We really do need more wilderness that encompasses riparian areas, as well as other vital and productive habitats like valley/lowlands and any semblance of grassland that remains (Otero Mesa in New Mexico comes to mind). Unfortunately, the best wildlife habitat is also where people like to graze their cows, build their vacation homes, and mine for fossil fuels and minerals. Consequently, protecting truly productive wildlife habitat is often difficult.
    The easiest land to protect, and the only “habitat” that brown politicians will sometimes protect to add some environmetal “balance” to their records are frozen spires of rock or waterless, featureless patches of the most barren desert regions. It’s vital that conservationists really fight for vital habitat and not be contented that some amount of acreage somewhere has been approved for some measure of protection.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan