31 Wise Use: What Do
We Believe? (1996)

It was 1964, the year of the Wilderness Act. Historian Leo Marx began his classic, The Machine in the Garden. with the assertion that "the pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination. "1 A little more than thirty years after, we have the present volume, A Wolf in the Garden, echoing Marx less than tolling a sea change in American notions of exactly what is meant by the pastoral ideal Marx saw it as a cultivated rural "middle landscape," not urban. not wild, but embodying what Arthur 0. Lovejoy calls "semi-primitivism"; it is located in a middle ground somewhere between the opposing forces of civilization and nature." ...


Since 1964, the rise of environmentalist ideology has pushed the pastoral ideal increasingly toward nature, striving to redefine the meaning of America in fully primitivist terms of the wild. Eco-ideologists have thrust their metaphoric raging Wolf into every rank and row of our civilized Garden to rogue out both the domesticated and the domesticators. The Wolf howls "wild land, wild water, wild air." Whether Wild People might have a proper place in Wolf World remains a subject of dispute among eco-Ideologists." Public-policy debate over the environment and the meaning of America has been clamorous these thirty years. Its terms were succinctly put by Edith Stein:

The environmental movement challenges the dominant Western worldview and its three assumptions:

  • Unlimited economic growth is possible and beneficial.
  • Most serious problems can be solved by technology.
  • Environmental and social problems can be mitigated by a mar ket economy with some state intervention.

Since the 1970s we've heard increasingly about the competing paradigm, wherein:

  • Growth must be limited.
  • Science and technology must be restrained.
  • Nature has finite resources and a delicate balance that humans must observe."

That fairly delineates the public debate. However, in order to critique an ideology, one needs an accurate statement of that ideology. The environmentalist ideology striving to redefine the meaning of America was expounded most realistically by author Victor B. Scheffer in a Northwest Environmental Journal article, "Environmentalism's Articles of Faith." The five tenets Scheffer proposed appear to be the core of shared beliefs actually held most widely by environmentalists:

1. All things are connected. "[Nlever will we understand completely the spin-off effects of the environmental changes that we create, nor will we measure our own, independent influence in their creation," ...


  1. Earthly goods are limited. "As applied to people, carrying capacity is the number of individuals that the earth can support before a limit is reached beyond which the quality of life must worsen and Homo, the human animal, becomes less human," ...
  2. Nature's way is best. "Woven into the fabric of environmentalism is the belief that natural methods and materials should be favored over artificial and synthetic ones, when there's a clear choice," ...
  3. The survival ofhumankind depends on natural diversity. "Although species by the billions have vanished through natural extinction or transformation, the present rate of extinction is thought to be at least 400 times faster than at the beginning of the Industrial Age,"...
  4. Environmentalism is radical "in the sense of demanding fundamental change. It calls for changes in present political systems, in the reach of the law, in the methods of agriculture and industry, in the structure of capitalism (the profit system), in international dealings, and in education."

One can see the Wolf skulking in each of Scheffer's five tenets of ceo-ideology. Actual organizations and individuals comprising the environmental movement stress different clusters of these tenets. Although the environmental movement's structure is complex and amply textured, three distinctive axes of influence dominate environmental politics in America:

  1. Establishment interVentionists-acting to hamper property rights and markets sufficiently to centralize control of many transactions for the benefit of environmentalists and their funders in the foundation community, while leaving the market economy itselfoperational, they tend to emphasize the need for natural diversity and in some cases to own and manage wildlife preserves. Notable organizations in this sector are the Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, and National Audubon Society.
  2. Eco-socialists-acting to dislodge the market system with public ownership of all resources and production, commanded by environmentalists in an ecological welfare state, they tend to emphasize the limits of earthly goods. Greenpeace, Native Forest Council, and Maine Audubon Society are representative groups.
  3. Deep ecologists-acting to reduce or eliminate industrial civilization and human population in varying degrees, they tend to emphasize that nature's way is best and environmentalism is radical. Earth First!, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Native Forest Network are in this category.6

The Wolf in these varieties of sheep's clothing is rapacious, not simply protecting nature but also annihilating the livelihoods ofdwellers in the middle landscape. Today the Wolf is firmly entrenched in Washington, D.C., where important environmental groups have established headquarters or major operating bases. Eco-ideologists have written many laws, tested them in the courts, and pressured many administrative agencies into compliance with their ideology. They have, in brief, become the Establishment. ...

As the environmental debate developed during the late 1980s, the "dominant Western worldview" gained an organized constituency and advocacy leadership: the wise use movement. Incipient and gestating more than a decade in the bosom of those who had been most wounded by environmental ideology, the new movement congealed at a conference in Reno, Nevada, in 1988. It was centered around a hodge-podge of property-rights groups, antiregulation legal foundations, trade groups of large industries, motorized recreation-vehicle clubs, federal-land users, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, trappers, small forest holders, mineral prospectors, and others who live and work in the middle landscape.7

It came as a shock to environmentalists. The "competing paradigm" unhappily found itself confronted with a competing paradigm. The free ride was over. A substantial cluster of nonprofit grassroots organizations now advocated unlimited economic growth, technological progress, and a market economy. They opposed the eco-ideologists' proposals using the tactics of social-change movements, such as mobilizing grassroots constituencies, staging media events including protest demonstrations, and orchestrating letter-writing campaigns to pressure Congress.

It was a pivotal shift in the debate. No longer were eco-ideologists able to face off against business and industry, pitting greedy for-profit corporations against environmentalism's nonprofit moral high ground. Now it was urban environmentalists defending their vision of the pastoral ideal against those who actually lived the pastoral ideal in the middle landscape.

This simple structural rearrangement of the debate went virtually unnoticed, but was crucial: it was nonprofit against nonprofit, one side promoting economic growth, technological progress, and a market economy, the other opposing.

The emergent wise use movement held up a mirror to the embarrassing questions posed by the "competing paradigm": Just who will limit our economic growth? Who will restrain America's science and technology? Who will decide what "delicate balance humans must observe"? The answer was clear: only environmental ideologists, and not those who create economic growth, science, technology, or the market economy....

Although it would be rash to propose wise use's articles offaithit is a diverse movement-some of the following principles would probably find wide agreement among those who provide the material goods to all of humanity:

1. Humans, like all organisms, must use natural resources to survive. This fundamental verity is never addressed by environmental ideology. The simple fact that humans must get their food, clothing, and shelter from the environment is either ignored or obliquely deplored in quasi-suicidal plaints such as, "I would rather see a blank space where I am-at least I wouldn't be harming anything."

If environmentalism were to acknowledge our necessary use of the earth, the ideology would lose its meaning. To grant legitimacy to the human use of the environment would be to accept the unavoidable environmental damage that is the price of our survival. Once that price is acceptable, the moral framework of environmental ideology becomes irrelevant and the issues become technical and economic.

2. The earth and its hie are tough and resilient, not fragile and delicate. Environmentalists tend to be catastrophists, seeing any human use of the earth as damage and massive human use of the earth as a catastrophe. An environmentalist motto is "We all live downstream," the viewpoint of hapless victims.

Wise users, on the other hand, tend to be cornucopians, seeing themselves as stewarding and nurturing the bountiful earth as it stewards and nurtures them. A wise use motto is "We all live upstream," the viewpoint of responsible individuals.

The difference in sense of life is striking. Environmentalism by its very nature promotes feelings of guilt for existing, which naturally degenerate into pessimism, self-loathing, and depression. Wise use by its very nature promotes feelings of competence to live in the world, generating curiosity, learning, and optimism toward improving the earth for the massive use of future generations.

The glory of the "dominant Western worldview" so scorned by environmental ideologists is its metaphor of progress: the starburst, an insatiable and interminable outreach after a perpetually flying goal. Environmentalists call humanity a cancer on the earth; wise users call us a joy.

Ifthere is a single, tight expression of the wise use sense of life, it has to be the final stanza of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound [18191. Wise users, I think, will recognize themselves in these lines:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope itself creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good. great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and

3. We onlylearn about the world through trial and error. The universe did not come with a set of instructions, nor did our minds. We cannot see the future. Thus, the only way we humans can learn about our surroundings is through trial and error. Even the most sophisticated science is systematized trial and error. Environmental ideology fetishizes nature to the point that we cannot permit ourselves errors with the environment, ending in no trials and no learning.

There will always be abusers who do not learn. People of goodwill tend to deal with abuse by education, incentive, clear rules, and administering appropriate penalties for incorrigibles.

  1. Our limitless imaginations can break through natural limits to make earthly goods and carrying capacity virtually infinite. Just as settled agriculture increased earthly goods and carrying capacity vastly beyond hunting and gathering, so our imaginations can find ways to increase total productivity by superseding one level of technology after another. Taught by the lessons learned from systematic trial and error, we can close the loops in our productive systems and find innumerable ways to do more with less.
  2. People's reworking of the earth is revolutionary. problematic, and ultimately benevolent. Of the tenets of wise use, this is the most oracular. Humanity is itself revolutionary and problematic. Danger is our symbiote. Yet even the timid are part of the human adventure, which has barely begun.

Humanity may ultimately prove to be a force of nature forwarding some cosmic teleology of which we are yet unaware. Or not. Humanity may be the universe awakening and becoming conscious of itself. Or not. Our reworking of the earth may be of the utmost evolutionary benevolence and importance. Or not. We don't know. The only way to see the future is to be there.

As the environmental debate advances to maturity, the environmental movement must accept and incorporate many of these wise use precepts if it is to survive as a social and political force. Establishment interventionism, as represented by the large foundations and their grant-driven client organizations, must find practical ways to accommodate private property rights and entrepreneurial economic growth. Eco-socialism's collectivist program must find practical ways to accommodate individual economic liberties in its bureaucratic command-and-control approach. Deep ecology's biocentrism must find practical ways to accommodate anthropocentrism and technological progress.

To accomplish this necessary reform, environmentalists of all persuasions will have to face their ideological blind spots and see their own belief systems as wise users see them, that is, in a critical and practical light. This is a most difficult change for ideological environmentalists. Failure to reform environmentalism from within will invite regulation from without or doom the movement to irrelevancy as the wise use movement lives the pastoral ideal in the middle landscape, defining the meaning of America.


1. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 3.

  1. Arthur O. Lovejoy et al., A Documentary History of Primitivism and Related Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1935), 369.
  2. Bill Devall and George Sessions, eds., Deep Ecology: Living as ifNature Mattered (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985).
  3. Edith C. Stein, The Environmental Sourcebook (New York: Lyons & Burford, 1992),6.
  4. Victor B. Scheffer, "Environmentalism's Articles of Faith," Northwest Environmental [ourtuil S, no. 1 (1989): 99-108.
  5. Rona Arnold and Alan Gottlieb, Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism Is Wrecking America, 2nd ed, (Bellevue, Wash.: Free Enterprise Press, 1994), 57-67 et passim. This analysis of the environmental movement's structure is part of the larger analytical treatment throughout the text.
  6. Alan M. Gottlieb, ed., The Wise Use Agenda (Bellevue, Wash.: Free Enterprise Press, 1989). This document was the result of the 1988 Wise Use Strategy Conference and consists of recommendations for natural resource use from 125 of the 250 conference participants.
  7. Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound," in The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Roslyn, N.Y.: Black's Reader Service, 1951), 180.
  8. From


by Chris Magoc