For the Birds Radio Program: "Wise Use" movement

Original Air Date: Nov. 22, 1999

A group of people focused on tearing apart sensible environmental and conservation regulations is meeting in Duluth tonight to attack people like Laura. They seem to be adherents of the Religion of Short-Sighted Greed.

Duration: 4′46″


Tonight a group of anti-conservationists are convening in Duluth for a banquet. A group of frustrated taxpayers called FIGHT have invited in a speaker who will be talking about an anti­-ecological concept he ironically calls “Wise-use.” Proponents of this philosophy believe that every natural resource is here for human consumption, and that it is wrong to reserve any public land for wilderness or close it off to logging, recreational vehicles, or other heavy human use when people could profit from it.

I read an article about them in the Duluth News-Tribune yesterday, and have been wondering how exactly one uses a hummingbird, or a chickadee. Their meat tastes wonderful, if you can trust in the gustatory pleasures of Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins, but I don’t care to try it myself. Both these species do well in most kinds of forest types at most stages of succession, particularly when people offer supplemental food, so both would endure even if we clearcut more of our forests than we already are. But some kinds of birds require large stands of mature forests, and so far environmentalists have been successfully protecting them, too.

The Minnesota DNR has done a tremendous job of balancing the demands of environmentalists on the one hand and people who harvest forests for their livelihood on the other hand. Neither side is ever completely content, but overall I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the northland of providing wilderness AND forests for harvest. But now fanatical anti-environmentalists are going way beyond ridiculing as tree huggers those of us who would preserve some natural places in a wild, unmanaged and natural state. They now claim we’re followers of some ecological religion. Over the years I’ve heard so many proponents of more liberal logging and hunting quoting the Biblical line about taking dominion over all the earth that I wonder where religion really fits in here.

The truth is, the DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have done their best overall to protect state and federal lands for the long-term, based on the best available research. On every side they are pressured to protect one special interest or another, and they are limited by what is known about ecology at any given time. Hunters say they will never shoot another game species to extinction the way they did the Passenger Pigeon, but then hunters in three southern states unilaterally change their hunting season in order to take an ever larger share of waterfowl­. Wetlands are still dwindling and many are contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers, but I can’t help but believe that we humans are the first and foremost limiting factor for just about every species of duck. Don’t we have an obligation to preserve every species for our children and grandchildren?

It was common knowledge less than two decades ago that yew plants were a useless weed that could be chopped down and burned with impunity. Now people know that a product of yews called taxol is one of the only effective means of fighting ovarian cancer. Our knowledge is always limited, and we’ve already proven ourselves to be capable, even within the technological constraints of the nineteenth century, of destroying the most abundant bird species on the planet. So it is prudent, not selfish or religious, to protect some large pockets of nature from management and harvesting. There are so many little cogs in the natural mechanism, things like Blackburnian Warblers and Sedge Wrens and American Bitterns and LeConte’s Sparrows that I’ll bet most so-called wise-use proponents have never even heard of, and would dismiss as useless and undeserving of protection if they want to chop down or trample their habitat.

More and more I get frustrated with narrow groups refusing to see that the United States is made up of close to 300 million people now. That is probably just too many. We’re starting to exhibit some of the pathologies that wild species do when they get overcrowded. But I haven’t heard anyone volunteering to leave to make room for the others. At the same time that we are putting more and more pressure on natural resources to provide enough food and paper and wood for this burgeoning population, we need to ensure that there will be enough of these resources for our children and grandchildren, and for their children and grandchildren. Groups like FIGHT, who close their minds to the realities of nature and the needs of the many, will try to grab as much as they can from what rightly belongs to all of us. We have to see this philosophy for what it really is: the religion of shortsighted greed.