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The Disneyfication of Nature – Beware Corporate Predators In The Woods by Alasdair Coyne

The Disneyfication of Nature - Beware Corporate Predators In The Woods by Alasdair Coyne

(The Disneyfication of Nature . . . p3)

Wait a minute! Let’s think that last bit through. What “common interests” are being dreamt up between the Disney corporation and federal agencies charged with the management of our public lands? Taking them in reverse order: Consumer products? (Forest franchise stores marketing Disney toys? Don’t think so.) Film entertainment? (There’s a limit to how many movies Disney can shoot in pristine public lands locations.) That leaves theme parks and resorts. Yes, Disney could certainly go to town with that one!

We know a little about the first stage of Disney’s hidden plans for the commercialization of our public lands for their profit. Here are two examples:

  • Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground in Florida. To quote from their website—“Discover camping Disney-style! More than 700 acres of cypress and pine woods surround 784 campsites,” offering “unsurpassed facilities, gated security, privacy and endless recreation. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campsites are bordered by lush wilderness...” Available are beach, golf, restaurants, heated pool, tennis, shops and waterskiing. Does this sound like roughing it in the wilderness to you? Designed for RV users, the price is $64 per site per night. Is this the sort of development you want to see adjacent to your nearest wilderness area?
  • Disney’s Lewis & Clark Bicentennial plans. Disney is in the process of acquiring rights to construct and operate a series of mini theme parks along the Lewis & Clark trail in Montana, in time for the expedition’s bicentennial, around 2005. Disney’s Kym Murphy took a trip through Montana as a guest of the BLM in the summer of 1997 to discuss this project along with other recreation and tourism issues. The mini theme parks would be developed in tandem with a larger Lewis & Clark theme park in Florida.

These examples are only the tip of the Disney iceberg. A common thread in Disney’s other planned commercial ventures on America’s public lands will be the replacement of real wilderness with an idealized, safe and ersatz wilderness, a prepackaged corporate image erected at the edge of a wild place.

But ersatz wilderness isn’t the real thing. Can you imagine Disney’s response to a proposal by wildlife agencies to reintroduce wolves or grizzlies anywhere near one of their “wilderness resorts?”

Disney has no place in America’s great outdoors!

Federal agency studies (at least what gets to print) only describe Fee Demo in rosy terms, though admitting the need to tweak the rules here and there. For example, encourage regional fees to eliminate the checkerboard of different fees that rightly bothers the “customer” (that’s the new Forest Service term for us, the American public, the owners and users of our National Forests).

Resentment toward Fee Demo has gotten many Western Forest users stirred up to the point of becoming first-time activists, generating protest mail to Congress requesting an end to Fee Demo and the restoration of the tax dollar funding for recreation which has been slashed in recent years. Having to drive around to locate the vendor of a Forest Service pass takes the spontaneity out of a drive up to the mountains to watch the sunset or to play in the snow. What’s more, it’s infuriating to find our government putting a price tag on access to wild Nature.

Mickey Mouse Becomes a Predator Dick Nunis, now chairman of the Walt Disney Company, addressing a meeting of federal agency officials and corporate bigwigs (held at Disney World, Jan. 1999) “emphasized an important lesson drawn from his Disney experience; price your product in a way that allows your customers to rate the product highly AND feel that they have received good value for their money.”

Notice again how we have now become “customers” using a “product” when we visit a Forest!

The major problem with this close-knit association between big business and public lands agencies is that there is currently no representation for low-impact public lands users. There is no voice for those of us who oppose the expansion of commercial opportunities on our public lands.

This intransigent unwillingness to take into account the interests of the Forest visiting majority may prove the undoing of Fee Demo. Low impact Forest visitors—those represented by the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Audubon Society, hunters, fishermen, backpackers, mountain bikers and others—were never invited to the secret discussions which spawned Fee Demo. Most of them plainly don’t wish for America’s public lands to become Disneyfied. And they’re making their views known to their Congresspeople. To date, at least six Congressional Representatives from Southern California have spoken out against Fee Demo. For conservatives, the new tax represented by Forest fees is anathema. For liberals, it’s clear that public funding must be restored to stem the ongoing commercialization of our public lands. The risk for Disney is that their carefully-laid plans will unravel—or worse, backfire—leaving a nasty, permanent stain on Disney’s squeaky clean image.

The time is now ripe to act to preserve our public lands from corporate predators. At stake is fully one third of the continental United States—public lands that will all require fees if the Recreation Fee Demo Program—which has never been debated by Congress—is made permanent next summer. What a disastrous start to the millennium that would be!

Born and raised in the UK, Alasdair Coyne is an organic gardener by profession, living in Ojai, California. He was a co-founder of Keep Sespe Wild Committee, an organization dedicated to the watershed of Sespe Creek in Los Padres National Forest and now active also in opposing Forest fees.


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