Say It Ain’t So, Senator Daschle - Shame on the Big Green Environmentalists by John Borowski
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” —Robert F. Kennedy
Quislings, losers, quitters, and cowards: these words have a despicable ring to them. Americans have always relished those who stand behind their principles and struggle to achieve them.
Despite having the best interest of children at hand, equipped with irrefutable science and the moral high ground, the “Big Green” team (national environmental groups) knowingly plays a game of pragmatic defeatism. Why are they afraid to ask for what they want, battle to the bitter end, and let the chips fall where they may? The collective silence from National Audubon, Sierra Club and other mighty greens in the face of Senator Tom Daschle’s recent frontal assault on our nation’s forests will only embolden the despoilers of nature to more aggressively pursue their profits. And our grandchildren will not look fondly upon us.
Daschle (D, South Dakota), the Senate Majority Leader and proclaimed “friend” to the Sierra Club and other eco-groups, has slipped a “special exemption” into a defense supplemental bill, allowing cutting in the forests of the Black Hills. This means that the biggest threat to the forests of South Dakota’s Black Hills isn’t fire, it’s the mismanagement dictated by those who view forests as nothing more than paper and pulp. Any tricky maneuver to achieve their conquest is used. Daschle’s deceit opens Pandora’s box with Republican leaders now suggesting that his model be used nationwide. Forests will fall, environmentalists will wring their hands, and our protective environmental laws will be eviscerated.
Instead of speaking out about clear cut logging, the replacement of native forests with overcrowded rows of mono-cultured trees, and the outright liquidation of the precious and small acreages of virgin forests left in this nation, Senator Daschle has added his voice to the Republican chorus that says “let’s act like Medieval barbers and cut the forests back into health”. And those who now run the bureaucratic Big Green eco-groups remain silent, claiming that they are seeking consensus, the “middle ground”. They make excuses for Senator Daschle, saying he is usually a friend. Yet the “middle ground” position has left the national forests strewn with clear cuts—“stump graveyards” my wife Trish calls them.
I fear friends like Daschle far more than the publicly declared enemies of environmental laws. While the environmental community heaps scorn on any Republican who threatens the health of nature, this Democratic Judas is left with no rebuke or public demand to atone. What does that say about the situational ethics of the Big Greens? They don’t demand, or even ask for what they say they really want. Thus they sell out the needs of the natural world and deceive their contributors.
A Sordid History Giving away the moral ground on forest issues is not a new phenomenon for environmentalists. Back in 1989, then Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon orchestrated the Section 318 rider (“The rider from Hell”), also known as “sufficiency language”, in which federal environmental laws were neutralized for one year, and millionaire timber barons got richer. (Could you imagine “sufficiency language” enacted for one year to neutralize the First Amendment? Maybe that will come next under Mr. Bush’s new world disorder, but whoever thought his co-conspirators targeting the environment would be liberal democrats?)
The Sierra Club and Audubon Society actually supported that 1989 decision in the name of political pragmatism, with devastating results. Over 8 billion board feet of timber were cut, the habitat of endangered species sacrificed, and native forests—known for their ability to withstand wildfires because of their thick bark shields—were sheered into oblivion and replaced with sterile rows of identical young trees, known as—“plantations”.
The time is well past for timber companies to provide the nation’s wood and paper supply from their privately managed tree farms, and let the national forests stand as untouched ecosystems fulfilling the nation’s need for clean water, wildlife corridors and bastions of biological evolution and diversity.
Even with victories in hand, the inept Green Team fears asking for what is right. Early in the 1990’s Judge William Dwyer (a Ronald Reagan appointee on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) found the Forest Service had violated national environmental laws and was ignoring the fate of hundreds of sensitive species. Millions of acres of public forests were put off limits by a scathing injunction: mind you, this occurred during a Republican president’s tenure: President George Bush (senior). Then pseudo-friend of the environment, President Bill Clinton, took office, begging his green colleagues to back off some of the blocked timber sales. As a new “centrist” democrat, he didn’t want to rock the corporate boat. Clinton even threatened to use sufficiency language to overturn environmental laws, claiming the environmental community had to “give back a little” so that his administration could forge a “forest plan”. And forge they did, a deal with the devil, and nature paid a terrible price for it. Ancient forests began to fall, with as much as 40% of the existing old growth forests on the chopping block. Incredibly, many leaders in the environmental community claimed victory! For them, victory is having “a place at the table”, the illusion of influence within the administration. Despite a call from many “grassroots greens” to fight and not give in, the Washington greens now claimed they were “FOBs” or “friends of Bill”. The once powerful protectors of the earth groveled, and tough grassroots leaders were marginalized as radical. Clinton’s dedication to forests only came to life in his waning days, and even then, environmentalists acted like an abused spouse in a troubled marriage.
Cutting Deals When Muhammad Ali stated, “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision”, he obviously wasn’t referring to the green beltway boys. Sierra Club visionaries like John Muir and David Brower must be in heaven looking down sadly as nature is dismantled, aided and abetted by its own proclaimed stewards.
The public looked to the environmental organizations for leadership, and what they got was a scare-of-the-month appeal for money in the mail, as if the subscription to a glossy magazine will save nature from fools and wealth addicts. Audubon will claim that they are centrists, but are there any birds to see in a forest minus the trees? Sierra Club leadership will say they don’t want to alienate their “Democratic friends” in the Senate, but that raises the bigger question: is there a single champion of the environment in the Senate, Democratic or Republican? Fighting Republicans like Senators Orrin Hatch or Frank Murkowski is easy, they are neanderthals on environmental issues. But the likes of Senator Daschle are supposedly friends to nature, not deceivers dropping out of a Trojan horse.
This strategy of “cutting deals” with those who despoil the environment has shaken the public’s confidence in environmental groups. How can an organization know what is right, know the immediacy of the problems we face, yet be content with such compromised results? Compromise is often not possible when the consequences of inaction are so dire, for so many.
Senator Daschle should be ashamed and should face public censure. Tossing environmental laws into the fires of forest mismanagement will solve nothing in the long run. And politicians should have the foresight to think about the future, not just about the money.
Americans revile a team that “fixes” the score of a game, or shaves points. We like a straight match, with no excuses, no rationalization for losing. And if the environmental community wants to lead, they must have the decency and fortitude to stand on principles and ask their supporters to do the same. Win or lose, their opponents will pause and take heed the next time a critical issue is on the national stage. As the best environmental president, Theodore Roosevelt stated, “the credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” If being an environmentalist means being a timid soul, afraid of winning and even more fearful of losing, don’t call me an environmentalist.
John F. Borowski, Philomath, Oregon. Teacher of environmental and marine science, [email protected]