When Environmentalists Collaborate

Spring is in the air in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Crocus and daffodil add a splash of late winter color. Trees are budding. Days grow longer, the sun makes a cameo appearance…and, like swallows to Capistrano, the usual suspects cadre of eco-wonks/lawyers return to Eugene and the University of Oregon for the 30th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference   (E-LAW) March 1 – 4, 2012.

“Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function.” — David Brower, first Executive Director of the Sierra Club. This year PIELC officially celebrates the 100thAnniversary of Brower’s birth.

E-LAW is part employment bazaar for newly-minted attorneys seeking jobs in the ever-expanding (much thanks to E-LAW) field of Environmental Law. It is also part gathering of actual non-paid, in the trenches eco-activists who are the ones who generate the resistance that leads to all those legal jobs. What matters to the job seekers and the already employed panelists who draw a paycheck derived from a cornucopia of foundation-funded groups and what motivates the volunteer or underpaid activists sometimes coincide and sometimes the activists are featured panelists; but, most of the time the disconnect is palpable. Invariably, PIELC becomes living proof of the Upton Sinclair dictum.

“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something  when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” —Upton Sinclair

Many environmental topics – local, national and international are featured among the many panels and plenary sessions.  Excellent panels on Civil Liberties and Activism always are on the agenda, as are ones addressing threatened Species. Many prominent issues are left unaddressed. And, as Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle (now in Appalachia fighting the good fight against the abomination of Mountaintop Removal coal extraction) always notes, “The real work at any of these gatherings is done in the hallways and bars.”

So, here’s a summary of the local and national ones that I see are the hot points issues right now; the ones getting the mountain lion’s share of the funding and attention:

Hair-of-the-Dog Logging

“Forests precede civilization; deserts follow.  In between scientists and priests and environmentalists give their blessings to the destruction of the trees and aid in convincing the public to pay no attention to the ever shittier forests in exchange for a cut of the loot.”— Jeff Gibbs

The buzz this year among the professionals is “Collaboration” with the Agencies and industries in the business of cutting trees for profit under the rubric of “forest health.” This was started back in early Clintontime with the Big Foundations’ Community-Based Solutions’ Quincy Library Group in the Sierra. This 50-foundation effort has metastasized and is now the preferred model for the eco-wonks and their giant non-profits funders. From the point of view of forest activists without any financial horse in the race, the evidence is in: “Collaboration” is decimating forests and harming the planet.

“Collaboration” always results in agreements that allow for more logging with a bone or two of promised protections. It green-lights previously untouched lands to be logged and lands already recovering from one to several rounds of logging, air pollution or insect attacks and saturated with logging roads and tracks to be decimated once more.

Much of it is in the name of fire reduction and forest health.  But few will admit the “unhealthy” forests of today are sick because humans have already seriously diminished them by past logging. Recent data unveiled by courageous, non-industry-funded scientists show that these elaborate ecosystems take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to heal from even one round of extraction; time we certainly are not giving them.

The land and trees can only take so much of this.  Even worse, standing forests may well be our last best chance for co2 sequestration and biodiversity.

The most common “Collaboration” has to do with professional  enviros self-selecting themselves to represent environmental interests in Collaborative Groups (usually called “Watershed Councils” or “Stewardship Councils”) around logging of our Public Lands. These “representatives” are approved by the relevant Agency and  join with Big Timber and their usual pack of supportive public officials (all “stake-holders” in bureaucratic  jargon) to hammer out agreements that always allow for more logging while  that never-realized bone or two of promised protections is dangled in front of the public. As evidenced by recent appropriations for “fire-reduction logging,” the timber part of the deal always gets done. Yet, not a single acre ever gets set aside inviolate.

For example, the Colville National Forest in NE Washington state has seen such collaboration go on for years now. We were told it would lead to 1/3 of the forest gaining full Wilderness status; a third to be a timber extraction sacrifice zone and a third would see a “one-time” “restoration” logging (chainsaw surgery) effort – though “fire-reduction” logging quickly became the rationale. As expected, just a month ago, the chainsaw part of it got its first heaping helping of tax dollar funding and the all clear to fire up the saws. Also as expected, not a single acre was protected.

Every state with public forests has such (many) a collaborative group going. And, the result has been the same across the board. As noted, fear-mongering around fire is the rubric. Industry will disingenuously argue that the Agencies forced their past logging to leave the forests “over-stocked” with small fire-prone trees and therefore it’s contingent upon Big Timber themselves to be the “healers” wielding the saws.  ALL logging is now called “Restoration Thinning,” including heavy commercial thinning schemes that remove 85% of 135 to 180-year-old naturally-regenerating stands.

This is fully embraced by the establishment “greens.” As stated by Andy Kerr, “senior counselor” of the ossified statewide eco-group Oregon Wild, “Today, I want the remaining sawmills in Elgin, Gilchrist, John Day, Klamath Falls, Lakeview, Pendleton and Pilot Rock to remain operating — because society needs their help to restore and protect those very same resources.” 

In this vein, a panel headed up by Doug Bevington, author of “Rebirth of Environmentalism” has been formed to discuss “Climate Camouflage for Logging.” The blurb for the panel states “New projects are increasingly under the pretext of addressing climate change – including carbon credits for clearcutting, forest biomass removal for energy production, and landscape-wide thinning projects claiming to prevent mega-fires.”

What the blurb does not tell you is that one panelist is from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a group that itself has planned the largest such Climate Camo logging plan ever, the Southwest’s Four Forests Initiative. CBD, a top potential employer for new eco-attorneys, is so proud of this effort that you can find – exactly nothing – about it in their annual reports. I once questioned CBD’s Executive Director about it and got nothing but hostile projections in return.

In his book, Bevington cites CBD as a model for “grassroots” advocacy. In reality, it is a closely-held legal non-profit corporation; quite successful, the best, in securing Endangered Species Listings – though settling for Listings alone without inviolate Critical Habitat set aside leaves the job incomplete. Despite their absurd foray into Climate Camo timber sale planning, CBD employs a battalion of eco-attorneys doing very worthy work. CBD representatives can be found on a myriad of E-LAW panels. Included is an important panel on Population and Consumption levels, a topic often self-censored at such conferences. 

How the Big Greens define “Success”

Just this week, The Wilderness Society (TWS) and the Montana Wilderness Association filed a brief in favor of a 2,038-acre Climate Camo logging plan on the Lolo National Forest. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the WildWest Institute and two other real grassroots conservation groups had filed a lawsuit against the Colt Summit Timber Sale alleging that the logging would do grave harm to lynx, grizzly bears and bull trout. 

TWS and the Forest Service combined hold 43% of the votes in this Southwestern Crown of the Continent (SWCC) “collaborative” group. The Lolo Forest Supervisor has served as co-chair of the group. The other co-chair? A TWS rep. With “greens” oiling the chainsaws like this, Big Timber doesn’t even need to work up a sweat. According to the Associated Press, “TWS’ Megan Brizell said in regards to the sale that whenever possible, taking a collaborative approach to forest management is more successful.”

Matt Koehler of the Wildwest Institute will be on a panel opposing this Montana-style Collaboration. He won’t be there in person. It will be the first E-LAW panel that is conducted using Skype; foregoing the usual big carbon footprint of most E-LAW panels, not to mention saving a scarce few hundred dollars the Institute will wisely use elsewhere.

The Science is In

Add to the mix a recent study by one of those courageous, immediately under attack from industry and its sycophants, scientists  – Dr. William Baker, a professor in the Program in Ecology at the University of Wyoming

This study of such “fire-prone” forests debunks every single rationale the collaborators always cite about the need to thin out the forests…reducing to self-serving myth Andy Kerr’s main justification that “we must address the fact that many of our dry forests are unnaturally dense due to decades of poor logging practices and fire suppression. To restore these lands, we need an expanded program of ecological restoration thinning that can make way for the return of more natural conditions…”

This fable was never embraced by and indeed has been fiercely opposed by the real, under-funded grassroots, like those at The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, WildWest, the Native Forest Council, etc. who have been under attack from the professional “greens” over it since “restoration logging” first appeared on the scene and locals first cried foul. The reality is: hair-of-the-dog logging works about as well for the impacts of past over-logging as the drinking version does for over-imbibing.

Bridge Fuel

Another recent big story out of Green Central (and unaddressed this E-LAW) is that the 120-year-old Sierra Club – after a 2009 alliance (read: greenwash campaign) with Clorox yielded a $470,000 boost to the Club’s coffers – went big time. The Club has now been revealed to have secretly taken and spent $26 million from the Natural Gas industry (Chesapeake Energy) to promote gas as the “Bridge Fuel” to a supposedly fossil fuel-free future. Looking at being exposed, the Club then gave back an additional $30 million, instead of redeeming themselves by passing in to the many local grassroots groups who’ve been fighting off the ever–expanding Natural Gas Fracking industry on their own dime.

As Fracking (the process of injecting a stew of toxic chemicals under pressure deep into the ground designed to free up trapped gasses) exploded across the land with serious deleterious impacts to aquifers – enraging local activists – the Club went into damage control mode; first repeatedly responding evasively to any questions about it and then only admitting their collusion with Big Gas and issuing a very weak apology after a whistle-blower leaked the info to TIME.

Other Big Greens who still ally with the Gas Industry, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, haven’t backed off a bit. EDF’s Fred Krupp goes so far as to promote “How to Frack Responsibly.” 

The Club then took $50 million from the personal vault of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; ostensibly for their Beyond Coal Campaign, meaning that now the Club has shifted gears from pimping gas to pimping “clean, efficient solar, wind and geothermal” – which, of course, are neither clean nor efficient (one E-LAW panel addresses the many pitfalls of Big Wind). Some of those millions should immediately go to the local Appalachian grassroots anti-mountain-top-removal coal extraction (MTR) groups who have nationalized the issue on great heart and shoestring budgets.

As ever, the real “Bridge Fuel” for Big Greens is Grant Funding, which comes primarily from…Big Oil Foundations – Pew (Sunoco), Rockefeller Brothers, et al…and, as shown by the Club, directly from the offending parent industries and billionaires themselves.


Another E-LAW topic this year is the removal of trees from the forests which are then burned for energy production. It is being promoted as a way to utilize the output from those “ecological restoration thinning” projects. Oregon Wild has also signed on to a huge Climate Camo logging plan that would log off the small trees from over 9 million acres of Eastern Oregon’s dry public forests , with the resultant “biomass” being burned; fueling “baseload” steam generators without which the grid cannot operate. In Oregon just this past spring, there was so much hydroelectric production from snowmelt that the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) refused to take any more power into the grid from Big Wind’s industrial installations that blight 100s of miles of Columbia River ridgelines. However, the grid operators still had to run the Boardman Coal Plant at 40% capacity in order to provide the balancing baseload – even hydro is too fluctuating.

As the Boardman – Oregon’s largest single polluter – plant’s operators have agreed to get off coal by 2020, any guesses where all that biomass will be burned? And burning wood is 1.5x more polluting than burning coal and it’s only ¼ as efficient! Wood is the dirtiest fuel of all.

E-LAW addresses (barely) the biomassacre scourge.  The main Biomass panel is populated by people who have spent a couple years in-fighting to see who can be the top Biomass dog – scheming to ally with Big Greens and mine foundation grants – actual Biomass resistance is an after-thought. These people have gone so far as to censor people (myself included) from a listserve ostensibly set up to garner widespread grassroots support for fighting biomass. All one has to do is question the efficacy of the endeavor or the internal dynamics of the effort – especially the involvement of Big Green pro-biomass apologists – to bring on the red e-pencil.

“Renewable” Energy = Biomass and Nukes.

What no one will say is that if you keep talking the Big Green/Democrat “clean, renewable energy,” ultimately you are talking about biomass and nukes. The facts are that solar, wind, geothermal…cannot run the grid and never will (that sticky baseload thing again) and Al Gore’s “solution” – the so-called “smart grid” would cost about $100 trillion. The land base needed for the amount of solar installations w/output equal to the current US grid demand is the size of Arizona and Southern California – combined! As none of them is calling for decentralization (rooftop solar, etc.) and the end of the grid, the steam generators will have to be run by wood or nukes, if no longer by fossil fuels. Your “electric” car is really a coal-powered (or dead-salmon-powered here in the NW) vehicle and, the way things are going, may one day be an atom or tree-powered one.

It won’t be long before some “green” trots out “How to do Biomass Responsibly.” In fact, already something called The Apollo Alliance is the vehicle the biomass industry and the usual funders have trotted out to greenwash Biomass. Other anti-fossil fuel greens also blindly embrace biomass.

So far the grassroots opposition has been mixed.  As noted, almost immediately that nationwide listserv set up to connect anti-Biomass advocates foundered as proven-effective grassroots activists were ousted for questioning the inclusion of pro-biomass Big Greens. But, local activists have won against some ghastly Biomass schemes when they have held the line; staring down the Apollo Alliance’s hired guns. It’s likely to get way worse, as “green” groups continue to tout Biomass and Nukes as “clean and renewable” while an effective nationwide anti-Biomass coalition remains unattainable.

Pipeline to the White House

For a couple decades now, every time one of these gatherings was held, shrill cries rang out about “Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” (ANWR) in Alaska. The shadow play would act out nationally every year (and often more frequently). Both sides would use it to rally their base and raise funds; yet, nothing would ever changed on the ground – still hasn’t. In 1996, Bill Clinton opened up to drilling the former Naval Petroleum Reserve in Alaska – right next door to ANWR – twice as big and just as ecologically sensitive – with nary a peep from Big Green at the same time they were decrying yet another going nowhere attempt on ANWR.

This year, ANWR is nowhere to be found at E-LAW. It’s been fully replaced by the Keystone Pipeline election-year feint as fund-raiser/potential eco-job du jour. 

We’ve been told repeatedly that if the Keystone Pipeline from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Texas is built it will be “game over” for Climate Change. Yet, no one on the foundation dole will tell you that the Tar Sands crud is already here, coming in thru multiple existing pipelines and being refined at over 30 refineries; complete with recent devastating “spills” in Kalamazoo and in the Yellowstone River. Most of the refined Tar Sands bitumen goes into aviation fuel. One of the great ironies of the decade was the anti-Keystone rally at the White House earlier this year. Hundreds of people flew into DC to get arrested; apply a painless greenwash coat to the Obama reelection campaign and then fly out again – on jets fueled with Tar Sands product!

The Tar Sands can only be stopped at the source. Yet, that issue is nowhere to be found. That’s left to Canadian First Nations defending their ever-more devastated lands to fight against by themselves and their, as usual, underfunded allies.


Obviouslyone of the issues with huge Climate Change impact that is never addressed by this nor any other eco-confab is the huge Eco-cost of Jet Flying in this age of Skype. Assembling a large face-to-face gathering such as this with people from all over the country and planet, cannot be done (at least not the way it is done) without there being huge transportation-related environmental costs. And, E-LAW is but one of dozens of such annual eco-gatherings. Boards and staffs of groups like the Sierra Club, TWS, CBD, et al., jet to one fabulous destination after another for multi-meetings per year, when they aren’t flying to and from DC. Paid enviros likely rack up more frequent flyer miles than any profession other than politicians.

Jet flying contributes some 3.5% of all greenhouse gasses to the air. That’s a low-ball estimate and its Global Warming impact has to be multiplied by a factor of at least 155% as the damage is greater when the carbon is released high in the atmosphere. It may “only” be 3.5%, but it is the fastest growing contributor to Climate Change. And, it is THE single top personal, unnecessary contribution to Climate Change; killing the planet more in a few hours than all one could save in a year of recycling, bicycling, driving a Pius, E-LAW refusing to serve imported java in throw-away cups, etc. combined!  One trip across the country and back spews as much carbon per person as driving an SUV for two years. Every one of the E-LAW panelists, as do most Americans, consumes more carbon in a year than the average human will in her lifetime. Talk about your 1%!

I’ll predict right now that in ten years E-LAW will feature panels on Abolition of Jet Flying to save the planet. The sad fact is; not even self-declared Greens will give up Darth Cheney’s “Non-negotiable American Way of Life.” As a fellow activist recently noted; “That those who claim to care about fossil fuel abuse and climate will not give flying up, tells you all you need to know about why the other side doesn’t believe us and why we will never win. The right does what they want without shame; we do what we want with shame, and then kick dirt on it like a kitty that just went in its own backyard. It stinks and is destroying the world either way.”

Chief Broom Awakens

To its credit, PIELC always makes an effort to involve Native people. In addition to an annual gathering with elders at the Student Longhouse, there is usually a panel or two focusing on a major Native issue. (One year actually saw Oregon Wild and others opposing the dam-busting/salmon-saving Klamath River deal the local tribes worked relentlessly for years to gain.) This year the issue is Celilo Falls, the great historical Native salmon-fishing/bartering site. The Columbia River falls were inundated and the culture greatly diminished with the construction of The Dalles Dam back in 1957.

The loss of Celilo was the underlying motif of Ken Kesey’s brilliant novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; though you’d never know it from the movie – the main reason Ken refused to ever see the film. (What Hollywood did to Kesey’s magnificent novel of Northwest logging, Sometimes a Great Notion, was even worse!)

Where are the Youth?

“They may already have destroyed the planet. But, don’t let ‘em get yer day, too.”

As E-LAW panels get ever greyer and the same tired, worse-than-useless, foundation-inspired strategies get regurgitated, one can always count on some relief from the annual OutLAW Bash. A decidedly younger gathering takes place one night nearby; with music, libations and ever-popular bonfires of mock-ups of eco-destruction –  a bulldozer here; an oil derrick there.

Hundreds of local youth activists and many not-so-young attend. Relationships are formed and/or solidified among the people who will be on the front lines fighting the usual Oregon eco-affronts – from the Big Green-darling Democrat Gov. John Kitzhaber’s absurd plan to double the cut on the Elliott State Forest to raise money for schools; to Big Green/pseudo-left-darling Democrat Rep. Peter DeFazio and careerist “green” Andy Stahl’s insane plan to give half of the Bureau of Land Management’s southern Oregon forest lands (over 1 million acres) to a “Trust” for logging as a way to fund Counties that even after ten years and over $1 billion in direct Federal Tax money are bankrupt due to Big Timber’s minimal taxation on their own vast holdings in these counties Big Timber controls politically; to, in the local case, a series of Forest Service timber sales up in Eugene’s watershed – along the nearby McKenzie River. These are logging projects that the collaborators kept to themselves; failed to inform the general public about; failed to stop and now the Appeals clock has run out. In this case, the self-anointed “Collaborators” even went so far as to demand that representatives of other local eco-groups be removed from the Forest Service-led discussions on the watershed.

OutLAW is all about camaraderie and successful resistance or, at least, going down fighting. As Wavy Gravy has noted regarding effective collective efforts – “It’s all done with people.”

One veteran activist had this to say about the curious lack of youth involvement: “I see the fresh-faced young activists (women, mostly–where are the guys these days?), all eager to throw themselves into this cesspool, and I frequently find myself being asked what they should do, given how awful our situation is. I tell them to be creative, be independent, don’t take at face value anything anyone says no matter whose side you THINK they’re on.  Watch your back. Stand up for yourself and for your beliefs.  Trust your hunches, your intuition.  If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  Get out quick.  Find people you feel you can trust, and assume you’re a lucky girl if five or ten years later only half of them are still around.”

Another veteran activist, Tim Hermach, tireless eco-defender from the Native Forest Council, gets the last word on E-LAW: “Twenty-six years ago 95% of the environmental law students were there to become lawyers to use the laws to save nature.  After Oregon’s pro-business Republican Attorney General – the University’s biggest fund-raiser – Dave Frohnmayer became the Dean of the Law School and later President of the entire University, that slowly but steadily changed.  So that today, it appears that 90% of environmental law students are there to assist corporations in working their way thru all those pesky and obstructive environmental protection laws – where they can receive much more lucrative incomes. This helps to explain the nature, content and panelists of many of the panels that are allowed to present at ELAW; when and where they are scheduled.”

MICHAEL DONNELLY is a grassroots forest activist. He’s been to 27 E-LAWs. He can be reached at Pahtoo@aol.com


MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com