Arnold and Gottlieb Publish Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With their publication of The Wise Use Agenda: The Citizen’s Policy Guide to Environmental Resource Issues, Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb created the beginnings of the “wise-use movement,” a coalition of antienvironmentalist interests.

Summary of Event

In August, 1988, more than two hundred organizations and individuals attended or supported the Multiple-Use Strategy Conference, which was held in Reno, Nevada. The goal of the conference was to bring together a wide variety of organizations interested in fighting environmentally protective goals and regulations. The organizations participating included large timber companies such as Boise-Cascade and Louisiana-Pacific, trade associations such as the National Cattlemen’s Association and the Nevada Miners and Prospectors Association, off-road vehicle advocacy groups such as the Blue Ribbon Coalition, and various right-wing lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association and the National Center for Constitutional Studies. According to the organizer of the conference, Ron Arnold, the goal of the meeting was to create a “new balance” in American environmental policy, “a middle way between extreme environmentalism and extreme industrialism.” Antienvironmentalism Wise-use movement[Wise use movement] Environmental awareness;backlash [kw]Arnold and Gottlieb Publish The Wise Use Agenda (1989) [kw]Gottlieb Publish The Wise Use Agenda, Arnold and (1989) [kw]Publish The Wise Use Agenda, Arnold and Gottlieb (1989) [kw]Wise Use Agenda, Arnold and Gottlieb Publish The (1989) Wise Use Agenda, The (Gottlieb) Antienvironmentalism Wise-use movement[Wise use movement] Environmental awareness;backlash [g]North America;1989: Arnold and Gottlieb Publish The Wise Use Agenda[07090] [g]United States;1989: Arnold and Gottlieb Publish The Wise Use Agenda[07090] [c]Publishing and journalism;1989: Arnold and Gottlieb Publish The Wise Use Agenda[07090] [c]Environmental issues;1989: Arnold and Gottlieb Publish The Wise Use Agenda[07090] Arnold, Ron Gottlieb, Alan Cushman, Chuck Epstein, Richard

The conference mandated the publication of a policy agenda for what Arnold described as a new social movement, the wise-use movement. In 1989, Arnold’s own publishing house released The Wise Use Agenda: The Citizen’s Policy Guide to Environmental Resource Issues, edited by Alan Gottlieb. The book outlined twenty-five of the movement’s most important goals. These included clear-cutting the nation’s last stands of ancient forests; rewriting the Endangered Species Act to remove protection for “nonadaptive species” such as the California condor; opening all wilderness areas, national parks, and other public lands to mineral and energy exploration; drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and civil penalties against anyone who challenged economic development on federal lands.

Arnold appropriated the term “wise use” from the moderate conservation tradition of Gifford Pinchot, Pinchot, Gifford the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, who in 1910 advocated forest practices based on the wise use of the nation’s trees and minerals. This triggered a battle between Pinchot and the founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, Muir, John who wanted to see the nation’s wild lands preserved for their own sake and for future generations. Far from embracing Pinchot’s ethics of conservation and “environmental balance,” however, the Multiple-Use Strategy Conference was an attempt to forge an alliance among a previously disconnected array of antienvironmentalist interest groups that included right-wing activists (opponents of all federal or state regulations, especially gun control laws and anything that affected the use of private property), natural resource industry interests (timber, mining, ranching, and farming), and a variety of special interests, such as four-wheel-drive and motorcycle clubs that wanted to use public lands without restriction.

The term “wise use” was used to conceal from an increasingly environmentally minded public the environmental destructiveness of certain practices. In 1991, Arnold told Outside magazine that he chose the term “wise use” because it was open to multiple interpretations yet fit neatly into newspaper headlines. He also disclosed the true nature of the wise-use agenda: “We’re out to destroy the environmental movement once and for all.”

The wise-use movement pursued its antienvironmentalist objectives through two separate but related strategies. West of the Mississippi, where the federal government managed a vast estate of public lands, wise-use activists worked to prevent the reform of long-standing laws that had been designed to benefit resource-extraction industries such as logging, mining, and ranching. These laws included an 1872 mining law that gave public mineral rights to private mining companies for as little as $2.50 an acre and fee structures designed to encourage ranching through which ranchers were charged only one-fifth of the market rate to allow their herds to graze on public lands.

The wise-use movement tried to thwart the reform of these laws—a key objective of major environmental organizations—by creating “grassroots citizen action groups” funded by resource industries to act as advocates for industry. According to Arnold, these groups could promote industry’s agenda more effectively than industry could: A populist message would always sell better to the American public than a corporate message. The timber industry, for example, began to fund organizations such as the Oregon Lands Coalition Oregon Lands Coalition to convince loggers that environmental regulations would eventually threaten their jobs; in fact, most jobs lost in the industry were eliminated as a result of equipment modernization. These organizations lobbied Congress to prevent legislation that might have limited logging on public lands.

The wise-use movement also attempted to persuade county commissioners in rural counties of the West to adopt “local custom and culture” ordinances. These ordinances, written by Karen Budd Budd, Karen of the National Federal Lands Conference National Federal Lands Conference (a wise-use affiliate organization), were a means to adapt environmental regulations (such as those required by the Endangered Species Act Endangered Species Act (1973) or the Clean Water Act) Clean Water Act (1972) to the local custom and culture of each county. Environmentalists worried that tailoring national legislation to the specific requirements of each and every county could cripple implementation of environmental laws. Environmentalists further charged that such ordinances violated the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land in cases where federal statutes conflict with state and local laws. On the basis of these arguments, environmentalists launched a successful court challenge to an ordinance in Boundary County, Idaho, in 1994.

In the eastern United States, where there is relatively little public land, the wise-use movement focused on expanding and politicizing the concept of private property rights by suggesting that federal and state environmental regulations could constitute a “taking” of private property if they deprived the landowner of the right to exploit fully the property’s economic potential. Although the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Fifth Amendment (U.S. Constitution) requires that property owners receive just compensation for property taken by eminent domain, the suggested “regulatory takings” were an attempt to expand radically the traditional concept of “takings.” Environmentalists worried that, if instituted, regulatory takings could make environmental laws too expensive to implement.

The momentum of the private property rights movement grew quickly in the early 1990’s, but the courts were reluctant to reinterpret the Fifth Amendment as radically as members of the wise-use movement believed they should. In 1994, for example, more than thirty “takings” cases were tested in court, but only two were resolved in the landowners’ favor.


When the wise-use movement first surfaced, many environmentalists dismissed it as merely a revival of the failed Sagebrush Rebellion Sagebrush Rebellion of the early 1980’s, which had been an attempt to transfer ownership of federal lands in the western United States to state or even private hands. The Sagebrush Rebellion died for lack of broad support beyond that of a few western states, and many expected the wise-use movement to fail for similar reasons. The wise-use movement, however, proved to be far better organized than the Sagebrush Rebellion, and it succeeded in creating a general climate of suspicion against environmentalist goals and in organizing opposition to specific environmentalist projects. Multiple-Use Strategy Conference (1988)[Multiple Use Strategy Conference (1988)] Wise Use Agenda, The (Gottlieb)

Perhaps the greatest success of the wise-use movement was in framing key environmental debates, among them the preservation of ancient forests and the protection of endangered species and wetlands, in terms of jobs versus the environment. For example, Arnold stated that “people’s livelihoods should be every bit as sacred as the coffee-table-book preferences of rich Ph.D.’s living at the top of the food chain.” By portraying environmentalists as elitists who were unsympathetic to the concerns of working-class Americans, the wise-use movement was able to change the terms of the debate, particularly in the controversy about the spotted owl Spotted owls Northern spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990’s. Faced with wise-use activism, environmentalists found it difficult to convince the public that it was more important to preserve the spotted owl than to preserve jobs in the timber industry. Similar problems arose when environmentalists attempted to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park and when they fought to protect wetland and coastal areas in the East.

The wise-use movement successfully targeted other environmental projects around the country. In Bozeman, Montana, for example, wise-use activist Chuck Cushman helped organize local ranchers, farmers, and loggers against Yellowstone National Park’s Vision for the Future document, which many feared would lead to the designation of more wilderness areas near the park. Around the Northwest, wise-use groups organized rallies to protest logging restrictions on public lands and turned the debate on ancient forests into a media spectacle. Wise-use groups were also responsible for organizing a boycott that pressured advertisers to withdraw their support for a Turner Broadcasting System documentary about forest issues produced by the Audubon Society. A western Massachusetts group calling itself Friends of the Rivers blocked a National Park Service National Park Service, U.S. plan to designate the upper Farmington River a federally protected wild and scenic river. Private property rights advocates introduced and supported passage of takings legislation in several states, including Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, and Washington.

Wise-use activists became involved in all kinds of environmental issues, but they were not always successful. Despite an intense lobbying campaign, wise-use groups were, for example, unable to stop the California Desert Protection Act California Desert Protection Act (1994) from becoming law in 1994; they were successful, however, in watering down many of the environmental restrictions in the original version of the act.

Since its inception in 1988, the wise-use movement has proved that it is not a temporary backlash against environmentalist goals; rather, it is a well-organized and broad-based coalition of interests with the political muscle to oppose environmental groups. In pursuing its aim of destroying or at least frustrating the goals of environmental activists, the movement has exposed several weaknesses in environmentalists’ strategies, and many environmentalists have noted their hope that this might ultimately result in the strengthening of the environmental movement. Wise-use activism has forced the environmental movement to come to terms with the contradictions of class within its own ranks. No longer can environmentalists afford to lobby for new wilderness designations, wetlands protection, or even health and safety regulations without also considering the broader effects such regulations might have on citizens, especially in rural areas.

The private property rights movement also exposed a problem that threatens to become increasingly important, the fact that complying with environmental regulations is often expensive. This realization forced environmental groups in a period of federal budget cutbacks to devise better explanations for the appropriation of public funds to protect wild areas and species as well as new and innovative ways to pay for such efforts. Wise Use Agenda, The (Gottlieb) Antienvironmentalism Wise-use movement[Wise use movement] Environmental awareness;backlash

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Arnold, Ron, and Alan Gottlieb. Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism Is Wrecking America. 2d ed. Bellevue, Wash.: Free Enterprise Press, 1994. Provides excellent examples of the themes and tactics used by the antienvironmental movement. Includes detailed profiles of more than sixty environmental groups from the perspective of antienvironmentalists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cawley, R. McGreggor. Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993. The best account of the antienvironmental Sagebrush Rebellion, a precursor of the wise-use movement. Scholarly and well documented.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Deal, Carl. The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-environmental Organizations. Berkeley, Calif.: Odonian Press, 1993. Short but useful catalog describes more than fifty antienvironmental organizations nationwide. Each entry includes a description of the organization, a list of its sources of funding, and information on how to contact the organization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Echeverria, John, and Ray Eby, eds. Let the People Judge: Wise Use and the Private Property Rights Movement. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1995. An outstanding collection of essays about the antienvironmental movement from an environmental perspective. Contributors include journalists, academics, conservation activists, and environmental officials.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Epstein, Richard. Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985. Scholarly work presents the legal theory behind regulatory takings, a reinterpretation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees compensation for private property taken by eminent domain. Epstein’s ideas were popular in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gottlieb, Alan M., ed. The Wise Use Agenda: The Citizen’s Policy Guide to Environmental Resource Issues. Bellevue, Wash.: Free Enterprise Press, 1989. This work announced the beginnings of the coalition of antienvironmental interests known as the wise-use movement. Outlines the political agenda of the movement and the rationale behind it. An important resource for understanding the goals of the antienvironmental movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hager, Nick, and Bob Burton. Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-environmental PR Campaign. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000. Presents analysis of the tactics used by antienvironmentalists to infiltrate and discredit environmentalist groups.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Helvarg, David. The War Against the Greens: The “Wise-Use” Movement, the New Right, and the Browning of America. Rev. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Johnson Books, 2004. Account of the intimidation tactics antienvironmentalists have used against environmentalists. Includes comprehensive index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ray, Dixie Lee, with Lou Guzzo. Environmental Overkill: Whatever Happened to Common Sense? Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1993. An extensive examination and criticism of environmentalist claims from a scientific point of view.

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Categories: History