Wise-Use Movement

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Wise-Use Movement

The wise-use movement is a general term relating to an approach to the management of federal lands in the United States that encompasses many themes, but emphasizes a preference for extractive (e.g., mining, oil drilling) or utilitarian (e.g., grazing) uses over ecological, scenic, wildlife, or aesthetic values. The movement was founded in 1988 by Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb, who run the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise based in Seattle, Washington. The movement is a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that initially advocated increased access to and development of federal lands and resources. Although the movement has enlisted some support nationwide, its appeal has existed primarily in the West, where the percentage of land owned by the federal government is the highest. The federal government owns approximately one-third of U.S. lands, but the percentage is much higher in many western states, a fact that has engendered considerable resentment among corporations and individuals who want to use or develop the resources on those lands. The movement had its ideological origins in the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s and 1980s that focused on eliminating federal ownership of many lands in the West. However, the wise-use movement focuses less on ownership issues and more on changing public and corporate access to and uses of federal lands, and encompasses other issues as well.

"Wise use" was a phrase originally used by Gifford Pinchot, an early conservationist and the first head of the Forest Service in the early 1900s, who advocated the use of federally owned natural resources for the greatest good of the greatest number. However, the phrase is used by the wise-use movement to encompass a wide range of issues, from eliminating environmental controls, to defense of private property rights with compensation for all environmental regulation, to local control of federal lands in order to permit unrestricted logging, grazing, drilling, and mineral developmenteven in national parks and wilderness areas. The movement is largely sustained by corporate funding and contributions from other organizations. The movement deliberately adopted the grassroots techniques and terminology of the environmental movement to create a proworker and community image for policies that actually furthered corporate and industrial goals (i.e., mining).

Many of the positions advocated by the wise-use movement continue to be influential. Antibig-government policies in general, greater nonfederal control of federal lands, self-audits by corporations to determine environmental compliance, increased emphasis on commodity development, and the weakening of environmental laws are but a few examples. Some of the laws the movement seeks to reverse or eliminate include the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the Endangered Species Act. Many wise-use movement organizations have adopted names that camouflage the organization's prodevelopment, antienvironmentalist stance, such as the National Wetlands Coalition, the Public Lands Council, Citizens for the Environment, Environmental Conservation Organization, and Defenders of Property Rights. Some aspects of movement positions also reflect the policies of other organizations. For example, the American Enterprise Institute and Political Economy Research Center advocate the privatization of natural resources through "free market environmentalism"policies that overlap with some of those of the wise-use movement. On the other end of the spectrum, the movement has ties to more extreme organizations, such as militia groups. Its writings range from constitutional interpretations supporting its viewpoint to vitriolic attacks on "pagan" and "communist" environmentalists whose alleged goal is a "totalitarian one-world government."


arnold, ron, and gottlieb, alan m. (1998). trashing the economy: how runaway environmentalism is wrecking america. bellevue, wa: free enterprise press.

helvarg, david. (1994). the war against the greens: the wise use movement, the new right, and anti-environmental violence. san francisco: sierra club books.

pendley, perry. (1995). war on the west: government tyranny on america's great frontier. washington, d.c.: regnery.

internet resources

arnold, ron. "overcoming ideology." available from center for the defense of free enterprise web site, http://www.cdfe.org/wiseuse.htm.

environmental working group clearinghouse on environmental advocacy and research (clear). "the wise use movement: strategic analysis and fifty-state review." available from http://www.ewg.org/pub.

Pamela Baldwin