Earth First! Then spread the carnivores |

Earth First! Then spread the carnivores

Dave Foreman says conservation means focusing on "what's not being done." Courtesy photo.

Old monkeywrenchers never die, they just change tools.That’s a successful strategy for Dave Foreman anyway.Foreman, a co-founder of Earth First! once known for his radical eco-terrorist approach, is now relying on science to accomplish his environmental agenda.He will relate his experiences Wednesday night in Aspen in a presentation hosted by Wilderness Workshop and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation.”You change throughout your life,” he said. “What I’ve always looked for in 35 years in conservation is what’s not being done.”In 1979 that meant spiking trees, filling bulldozer fuel tanks with sand and pulling out survey stakes at environmentally unfriendly construction sites – tactics made famous by Edward Abbey’s classic book, “The Monkeywrench Gang.” Foreman lived by the motto, “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth.”

He was busted by the FBI in 1989 for allegedly plotting to sabotage nuclear power plants. A plea bargain kept him out of prison. He left his organization and now treats the experience a bit like someone sheepish about recalling hog-wild partying days in college.When asked if he had any regrets about his actions with Earth First!, Foreman said he didn’t want to talk about it. But without further prompting, he gave a glimpse of what he thinks about those days.Earth First! got attention for sensational antics, he said. While some within the organization eventually tried to make more mainstream statements about conservation issues, others remained caught up in what it took to grab and keep the attention of the fickle media.By the late 1980s, Earth First! was caught in the trap of one-upmanship, where it always had to come up with a bigger and better event to get publicity, he said. Staging a treetop sit-in became passé for the media. Something more startling was required.”We tried to combine too many things and they just didn’t fit together,” he said.So Foreman launched a career as a science-based conservationist. It was a move akin to Hunter Thompson abandoning his gonzo style and writing for Readers’ Digest. Critics panned Foreman for “selling out.”

He doesn’t see it that way. He started the Wildlands Project, an effort designed to use conservation science to make a case that the remaining wilderness areas of North America must be connected by what he calls “mega-linkages” to keep a viable ecosystem.”It just becomes so obvious – to fully have conservation we have to have it on a continental scale,” Foreman said. His particular passion is salvaging a vast, connected habitat for carnivores like wolves and even grizzlies. Reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park has proven how important they are to an ecosystem, and how touchy that ecosystem is, according to Foreman.”It’s not so much that wolves need wilderness than wilderness needs wolves.”Foreman helped create the Rewilding Institute to come up with strategies to implement the Wildlands Project. He is surprisingly pleased by how it’s been accepted and even embraced, to a degree, by public land managers – even at a time when he considers the administration to be hostile to conservation.”Energy exploration is one of the worst things that can happen as far as fragmentation [of habitat],” Foreman said. “There’s no doubt energy production is the priority for the Bush administration.”

Foreman wants President Bush voted out of office because he believes a change at the top could make a huge different for conservation efforts. The administration’s direction has had a chilling effect on many young, professional land managers with ambition. They are “conservationists at heart who want to do the right thing” but they are under pressure from political appointees at the head of the agencies to follow a different course, said Foreman.If Bush wins election, Foreman said he will have to “take more of my medicine” but he won’t give up. Forging ahead with efforts like the Wildlands Project is the only way to assure priorities will change, he said.Ironically, perhaps, the man who wrote “Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching” in 1985 now says that hope is a vital tool for eco-warriors.More information about the spread of carnivores and the concepts behind the Wildlands Projects can be found at’s slide show and lecture will be Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Paepcke Auditorium. Admission is $10 at the door.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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