Thursday, June 18, 2009

Four guiding precepts for environmentalists

Dave Foreman's recent "Around the Campfire" post starts a bit melancholy: He laments the passing of several noted environmental activists, including Congressman John Seiberling, deep ecologist Arne Naess, biologists Dave Maehr, river conservationist Pete Lavigne, and others.

Foreman saves his greatest eulogy, though, for Clif Merritt. "Clif is likely not well known to conservationists these days," Foreman says, "but I wouldn’t shy from putting him on the list of the top half-dozen wilderness heroes of the twentieth century."

Merritt, who passed at 89, was director of The Wilderness Society’s western regional office in Denver in the 1960s and through the 1970s, and was a formidable Wilderness advocate.

And Merritt was the one who taught Foreman four rules for environmentalists that Foreman says changed his life and his activism for ever. And stand as excellent guidelines for all of us who care about wildness and wilderness to be reminded of today.

Those four precepts, according to Foreman, are:
First is that the real work of conservation is to shield wild places with clear boundaries, solid rules, and enforcement. In the United States at least, Wilderness Area designation is the best way to do that.

Second is that the heart of conservation is made up of citizen conservationists. Conservation is a family of Nature lovers, not an assortment of institutions. Clif always told us Wilderness Society reps to strengthen independent local and state wilderness groups, to give credit to citizen volunteers and local groups, and to not elbow them out of the way to claim accomplishments for The Wilderness Society or any other big national group. We could lead but were not to hog the limelight.

Third is to ask for and work for what we want, what is needed, what is right, and not to accept what is offered us or what we are told is “reasonable” or “practical.” We are advocates for wild things; we are not politicians juggling interest groups with an eye to the next election. In the 1970s, Clif led against watered-down alternatives to Wilderness Areas such as “backcountry” and a lesser kind of wilderness for Eastern national forests.

Fourth is to have a vision. Since the days when he worked for passage of the Wilderness Act, Clif was carried along by vision. By looking ahead for the big picture, he was ready to head off on new paths that beckoned—for example, he jumped onto the idea of wildlife linkages between Wilderness Areas in 1993, just after The Wildlands Project began to push them. From a practical standpoint, we gain far more when we strive for a vision.
It's pretty easy to see, I think, how these compass bearings guided Foreman in his long career from Earth First!, to the Wildlands Project, and now with the Rewilding Project.

How might they live past Clif Merritt -- and even the Dave Foreman's of the world -- to guide the next guardians of the wild?

"The best way for us to honor this wise, dedicated, and charmingly odd man," concludes Foreman, "is to think about his four lessons, guide our work by them, and insist that conservation groups big and small get back to following them."

And to give those vision life in our own individual actions. And lives.


Read about Clif Merritt here.

Visit the Rewilding Project here.

Read and subscribe to Dave Foreman's "Around the Campfire" here.

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