Reaction: Letters regarding Dave Foreman's essay

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Saturday, June 1, 1996
PERC Reports Archive: VOLUME 14 NUMBER 2

Editor's note.  
PERC has received many comments about the essay in the March 1996 issue of PERC Reports by Dave Foreman, "Am I a Free Market Environmentalist?" While a few readers have thanked us enthusiastically, many of the comments have been negative. Some object to our publishing anything by Dave Foreman. In their view, giving a platform to Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!, is "beyond the pale" because of his history of promoting violence against people and property.

Let us be clear. PERC does not condone violence against people or property. Indeed, we are the original free market environmentalists.

We want to encourage public debate about the role of the market in protecting the environment. Dave Foreman's essay shows that even someone with a long history of opposition to market ideas can recognize the power of the market in achieving his goals. The reactions appearing [below] show that we have spurred debate. (Letters have been edited due to space limitations.) For those who feel strongly that we were wrong to publish the essay, we understand and respect your feelings. Several letters that follow express them eloquently.

Grandfather taught me that an individual's honesty is best determined by his actions. I have to wonder if Dave Foreman is being honest with himself, let alone others.

Few environmental projects have taken a more antagonistic position towards property rights and the free market system than Dave Foreman's Wildlands Project. This project has been the source of hundreds of lawsuits, endangered species petitions and land acquisitions, whose sole purposes have been the elimination of free market enterprise and human activity from private, state and federal lands which the project has had the audacity to deem as wildlands.

After comparing the writings of Dave Foreman the head of the Wildlands Project and Dave Foreman the free market environmentalist, I have to question whether we are talking about the same individual.
Tom McDonnell
American Sheep Industry Assn.

What ever gave you reason to give Dave Foreman space in your publication? Why give a platform to an eco-terrorist?

Foreman is an "environmentalist" which by simple definition is "nature worshiper." His theology of earth sacredness prevents multiple use, natural resource use and any other use by people. Consequently, starvation and population reduction are fruits of his religion.

Conservation is "the wise and prudent use of all natural resources" (dictionary definition). It implies management by man. Conservation is not preservation, a tenet of Foreman's theology.
Troy R. Mader
Abundant Wildlife Society of North America

Thank you, thank you for the courage to print Dave Foreman's article. This is the openness I have been looking for at PERC. I support wholeheartedly your aim but have been disappointed in the past with what appeared to be an unwillingness to call private landowners to personal responsibility that takes into account the findings of modern environmental science. Unfortunately, many of us today are having to suffer for the sins of our fathers—even to the point of sometimes appearing to be" victimized" by new, but fully justified, environmental regulation.
Dean Ohlman
Grand Rapids, MI

For some time now it has been my growing opinion that your organization is serving as a platform for the uncompromising, militant environmental movement in this country to chip away at the values upon which our country became great. You are lending the appearance of respectability to ideas which would erode property rights, while claiming to be trying to preserve them. Please remove my name from your mailing list.
Roger R. Viets
Jackson, WY

I found Dave Foreman's essay interesting because his perspective does not fit neatly into one of the usual categoriesenvironmentalist, conventional economist, libertarian, pro-industry, etc. Although this means that there are arguments that do not appear to be mutually consistent from the perspectives of any of these categories, it also means that the essay is a very nice one for stimulating real thought about the issues.

By the way, I also enjoyed the two articles on salvage timber sales. Indeed, I believe that I found this issue of PERC Reports to be the best one I've seen in years. The reason—the common thread—is that there's some disagreement presented within the coverage. In both the case of the Foreman article/your "reaction," and the Platts' article/Leal" view," two somewhat distinct perspectives on topics are provided. That is much more likely to draw readers like me into the substance.
Robert Stavins
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

While I disagree with some of what Mr. Foreman had to say in his recent piece, I also found much to commend in it. There were two points in the article that seem fundamentally mistaken. First, Mr. Foreman's use of the word "conservation" is somewhat Orwellian. He attempts to co-opt the label conservationism for the purpose of making some of his more extreme positions seem moderate.

Gifford Pinchot described his progressive philosophy of nature resource management as conservationism—and he stated, "Conservation means use." For the past 100 years the guiding philosophy behind natural resource management on public lands has been the "conservation ethic" or the wise use of re-sources over time to produce the greatest good for the greatest number of humans.

Second, I know few if any libertarians who believe in limited government because they hold some rosy view of either the basic goodness of human beings or of the perfectibility of mankind. Libertarians reject big government for the same reasons as "old moss-backed conservative(s):" they fundamentally mistrust people who wield unbounded power. It may be true that human beings need government because they aren't angels (even if they aren't devils either). Libertarians point out the flip-side of this claim. It is also because humans aren't angels that, if they must have government at all, it must be a government of strictly delimited powers.
H. Sterling Burnett
National Center for Policy Analysis, Dallas, TX

It is beyond comprehension that an erudite, respectable publication like PERC Reports would lend credence to the attempted apotheosis of eco-terrorist, Dave Foreman. It would be one thing if he were to publicly denounce Earth First! and aid authorities in tracking down his buddies who have been responsible for millions of dollars of destruction.

The least PERC can do is to distance itself as far as possible from the ilk of Dave Foreman if it wants to keep its loyal readership.
Alton Windsor
The New American, Appleton, WI

Foreman makes some rather startling claims, which he never attempts to support with logic or reason. "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Quite a fantastic claim, wouldn't you say? Can he substantiate this view? Would it be okay, for instance, to turn homeowners out of their houses if it enabled one to create a wildlife preserve? Also," A person who abuses land should be as ashamed as someone who abuses a child or a horse." Is he saying that I should regard an acid spill on my driveway as equivalent to an acid spill on my three-year-old's face? That seems rather far-fetched. I have no problem with him placing what-ever value he chooses on land; however, I am utterly opposed to him forcing his values on me.

It is also clear that he does not understand the libertarian philosophy in any meaningful way, as evidenced by the fact that he considers it utopian. Liberty is not a guarantee of a perfect world, only an optimal one. Statists are the ones who ignore man's nature when they conclude that imperfect men can be trusted to rule over others. His trust of government to preserve anything, especially lands, is naive at best.
Michael Pierone
Belvidere, NJ

Thank you for publishing Dave Foreman's essay in the most recent newsletter. I am teaching an environmental economics class at Case Western in Cleveland, and the newsletter arrived just as I was searching for a topic for a class essay. I copied it and asked the students to write a 3-5 page response. Of the three essays I assigned in the course, this one drew the best responses. Students were really engaged by the challenges to market environmentalism Foreman posed and we had an excellent discussion of the issue of what it means for the market to have "first crack" at solving problems. Although I'm sure that Foreman and I would not agree on that question, it is thought-provoking pieces like Foreman's which really spark intellectual debate. That's what teaching is all about.
Andy Morriss
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland OH

Your article rubs a raw wound and it is painful to see that my old pal Dave is up to his tricks again. His favorite trick is to confuse some moral crusade which he pursues in his quirky, cantankerous but lovable way. Dave likes peoples to think that he has been in-explicably drawn into the public eye, rather than that is his primary objective as a public figure.

As long as I have known Dave he has been a shifting ideological cannon, listing from right to left and now back again. His ideological poses are the suits he changes as salesman for his true business: Dave Foreman, Inc. (a not-for-profit organization).

A clear example of Dave's eclectic ability to fuse left and right positions was his transformation of the term "America First" to "Earth First."

I was not surprised greatly when the liberal media first began to celebrate David Foreman for "Earth First," his self-described "right-wing wilderness group." Foreman advocated booby-trapping equipment and trees and what was worse, rhetoric infused with hatred against working-class men. His west Texas accent and apparent proletarian lifestyle allowed him to get away with tongue-lashing western working people with the sort of elitist contempt normally reserved to Harvard Yard, Greenwich Village or Capitol Hill.

The fact is Foreman shows no remorse for his past wrongs. He is not a "friendly agnostic." Please do not legitimize this man.
Timothy N. Hunter
Fairfax, VA

Before joining PERC, Jane Shaw was a journalist who had developed an uneasy feeling that much of the commentary about environmental policy that she read--and even some that she wrote--was tilted in the wrong direction. The usual solution to an environmental problem was to turn it over to the government. She had become uncomfortable with this...
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