EarthFirst! co-founder speaks in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

EarthFirst! co-founder speaks in Aspen

John Colson

Dave Foreman was the keynote speaker at Friday's Open Space Alliance conference. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

At nearly 60, Dave Foreman clearly is no longer the fiery eco-warrior whose name became legendary to environmentalists and anathema to law enforcement officials in the U.S. and beyond in the 1980s.But, as his talk in Aspen this week demonstrated, he has not lost his determination to preserve as much as he can of the remaining wild lands in the Western Hemisphere; nor has he lost his ability to inspire similar feelings to those he speaks.And his latest mission, he told a gathering Friday at the St. Regis Hotel, is to fashion a network of “linkages” among the scattered pockets of wilderness around Mexico, the U.S. and Canada that will enable wildlife to move around in territories that at least resemble the vastness of the former wilderness.Foreman, a co-founder of the Earth First! group, which used sabotage to make its eco-political points, was the keynote speaker at the Colorado Open Space Alliance conference, Sept. 21-22 at the Mountain Chalet. The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails department played host to the seminars, which drew more than 200 participants to discuss strategies to preserve open space and to compare notes on successful efforts in different areas.

Speaking at the St. Regis, Foreman said the conference, and the accomplishments of the open space community throughout the state, “gives me some hope, that so much is happening on the local level here in Colorado.” He noted that conservation of wild places and wildlife “needs to be practiced on all scales,” from local to global. But, he said, since the Wilderness Act became law in 1964, “it becomes a little more difficult than we thought.”Foreman said he views the rapid and cascading extinction of species today, which he said is occurring at many times the rate of “the fossil record,” dating back eons, as the sixth period of mass extinctions to hit the planet. But the current one, he said, cannot be blamed on external forces such as meteors.”We can only blame ourselves,” he said, arguing that one-third of all known species have become extinct in the past 40 years, largely because of the growth of the global population (which has reached roughly 6.5 billion people) and development. He said humankind first began pushing other species toward extinction about 50 million years ago, as soon as the first humans began spreading out from Africa. The rate of extinctions has kept pace with the exploding population.”When we come into a country, we wipe out anything with big teeth,” he declared, saying humans throughout history and earlier have had an unreasoning hatred of what he called “critters with a will of their own, that we can’t domesticate or control.”Since 1992, Foreman said, researchers and wildlife advocates have pushed the idea that large carnivores are critical to the viability of ecosystems, an idea that is now gaining increasing acceptance in the broader culture.

He cited a study in San Diego that documented the eradication of coyotes in one area. The study showed that at the same time, local songbirds disappeared as well because of an upsurge in the numbers of foxes, skunks, possums and domestic cats. When the coyotes returned, they acted as controls on the small carnivores, and the songbirds returned, he said. Studies in other areas, involving animals such as the wolves of Yellowstone, have shown similar results.But large carnivores need large ranges to survive, Foreman said. With this realization has come the idea to create “wildlife corridors” that link federal wilderness areas and other relatively unspoiled zones, and to permit wildlife (particularly carnivores such as wolves, cougars and bears) across broader expanses of terrain.Referring again to the work of the organizations and individuals that make up the COSA, he envisioned a network of wild lands and “linkages” along the “spine of the continent” that, in one case, stretches from the Brooks Range in Alaska down through the Rockies to the volcanic mountains of southern Central America. He said the work has begun in concept, pointing to the Sky Islands Wilderness Network. Other such “linkages” and “core areas” are envisioned in northern Canada, along the Pacific Coastal Ranges and even in parts of the Eastern U.S.”We need wild, roadless places,” Foreman argued, so that wolves, pumas and bears can survive and fulfill their role of keeping ecosystems balanced.To achieve that goal, he said, humans “need to try to figure how we can live better with these critters” and not simply slaughter them into extinction.

“The lands that you all protect, and are trying to protect, are key components of all this,” Foreman concluded, adding that lawmakers recently have agitated to eliminate wilderness designations and open up all wild lands for development.”Frankly, we’re living in horrifying times,” he said. “Whatever we’ve saved, we’re going to have to save it again.”He urged those present to check out http://www.rewilding.org, the website of the Rewilding Institute, which he co-founded and to keep working toward creating “linkages” of open spaces in Colorado with those in nearby states.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com