Healing Our World Commentary: Fighting For Your Right - To Pollute

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Fighting For Your Right - To Pollute

"There are those who can live without wild things and sunsets and those who cannot."
-- Aldo Leopold

"I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness."
-- Henry David Thoreau

It is difficult enough to get the government to demand that automakers increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. But that task is even more difficult because of a little known, powerful organization that claims to speak on behalf of millions of Americans.

The American Recreation Coalition (ARC) lobbies Congress and other local, state, and federal agencies regularly. The members don't want protection for our precious public lands or fuel economy for vehicles. The ARC wants everyone to be charged to use nature and believes that the wilderness is best experienced on the back of a Jet Ski, snowmobile or in a high speed boat.


All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) (Photo courtesy Idaho Parks)
The ARC is trying to convince Congress and the American people that the only way automakers will respond to the demands to increase gas mileage on new vehicles will be to lighten cars, making them unsafe. Many other ways exist to increase fuel economy that will not sacrifice vehicle safety.

The ARC joined with the anti-environmental organization Coalition for Vehicle Choice to support these assertions as well as to condemn the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to address global warming.

The American Recreation Coalition (ARC) is a recreation industry supported group that includes over 100 recreation associations and equipment manufacturing corporations. It has been instrumental in influencing Congress to implement many pro-business programs, including the public lands fee program currently in place in many of our national forests. The fee program has been extended through September 2002 and efforts are underway to make it permanent.

Derrick Crandall, president of the ARC and current president of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, an industry trade group that represents nearly 95 percent of all RV sales and service in North America, testified before Congress in February 1999. He told an oversight hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that the fee program is "an important learning opportunity."

Crandall said, "Across the nation, we are experimenting with new fees and fees collected in new ways, with fees that vary by day of the week and which are regional in nature."


National Park Service user fee program (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
The fee program is seen by critics as an effort to get visitors to public lands used to paying for what should be free access. The members of the ARC are hoping that the cash poor state and federal agencies will increasingly turn to business and industry to manage our public lands - for a price.

A look at some of the members of the ARC is quite revealing - and chilling:

Critics of the ARC's recommendations and tactics call them "pay-to-play wreckreation," since many of the recreational activities advocated such as off-road vehicle use, snowmobiling, and hunting wreak havoc with wildlife and ecosystems.

Michael Zierhut of the California based organization Free Our Forests says, "They are into management of recreation, and one of the objectives is to concession out public land management. In the long run Disney could have parks on public lands," Zierhut warns.


ATV (Photo courtesy The Wilderness Society)
"This shift actually began in the early days of the Reagan administration," says the Wild Wilderness website, when, "Interior Secretary James Watt undertook a whirlwind effort to 'privatize' public resources." At the same time Congress began to withhold maintenance funding to all federal land management agencies "in what we believe was a deliberate attempt to further promote the 'privatization' agenda. Without adequate maintenance funding, the 'maintenance crisis' we are now facing was inevitable. And so was the eventual 'rescue' of a decayed public lands recreation system, by private/public joint ventures and partnerships."

Wild Wilderness believes that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and other federal and state agencies are intent on working with recreational industry leaders to craft plans to commercialize, privatize, and motorize recreational opportunities on federal public lands.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, has said that the USFS fee program "has the ominous potential to transform recreational management of our public lands from a public service orientation to a commercial enterprise. Recreation uses that generate the most income like mechanized-lift skiing, off-road vehicle use, resort development and power boating would undoubtedly take precedence over lower impact activities like hiking, camping, backcountry skiing, nature study, and educational outings."


Off-road vehicle tracks (Photo courtesy Oregon Sierra Club)
A memo from the ARC states the coalitiion's intentions clearly. Obtained by the "Denver Post" and discussed in the newspaper's June 19, 2001 column by Penelope Purdy, the memo says, "Have we fully explored our gold mine of recreational opportunities in this country and managed it as if it were consumer-brand products? As we transition from providing outdoor recreation at no cost to the consumer to charging for access and services, we can expect to see many changes in the way we operate. Selling a product, even to an eager consumer, is very different from giving it away."

Could these efforts to privatize our public lands and increase the use of all manner of motorized vehicle use have anything to do with some humans' fear of silence? I wonder sometimes and think about Christopher Manes' description of "desert silence" of the California Mojave Desert in his essay, "A Natural History of Silence. He says "In the syllogism of the Mojave, sound requires motion, motion produces heat, and, therefore, desert creatures prefer to keep quiet. The dead calm forces you to hear the blood surge along your temples, a silence so pure it seems tangible, like a hand gripping your face."

In silence, we are forced to examine our lives, our hopes, and our dreams. To many of us, the wilderness is a place to think, to reflect, and to explore our relationship with the natural world. This is not possible with polluting engines or concession stands in the background. When quiet sets in, you get to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. That answer isn't always pretty. To some, I fear, the roar of an engine is used to intentionally keep away that powerful introspection.


Crowds of snowmobiles and their exhaust in Yellowstone National Park (Photo courtesy SaveYellowstone.org)
Conservationist Dave Foreman said in his essay "Where Man Is A Visitor," that he feared many proponents of the development of wilderness show no "gut passion for wild things." In our world today, many people seem only able to appreciate nature when they can show that they can control it, manipulate it, or destroy it.

Foreman said that wilderness asks us if we can show self-restraint to leave some places alone? It asks us if we can "consciously choose to share the land with those species who do not tolerate us well?" And, finally, it asks if we can "develop the generosity of spirit, the greatness of heart, not to be everywhere?"

Unless you are comfortable with the park ranger being eventually replaced by a mega-mart employee wearing a blue smock and use fees in the double digits, you had better tell your elected representatives today to resist industry efforts to motorize and privatize our public lands.

This is supposed to be the land of the free, not, as the "Washington Post" titled its June 24, 2001 commentary, the land of the fee.


1. Read about the attempts to make everyone pay for the natural world in a past Healing Our World article, "Should You Need A Pass to Visit Nature," at http://www.ens.lycos.com/ens/feb99/1999L-02-28g.html.

2. The American Recreation Coalition's website can be found at http://www.funoutdoors.com/index.html.

3. Visit Dave Foreman's group, The Wildlands Project, at http://www.twp.org.

4. See the organizations who support the anti-environmental organization Coalition for Vehicle Choice at http://www.vehiclechoice.org/climate/climad.html.

5. See a detailed article about the corporate takeover of nature by Wild Wilderness at http://www.wildwilderness.org/docs/profit.htm.

6. See the Sierra Club's position at http://www.wildwilderness.org/docs/carlpope.htm.

7. See a revealing article about how the portrayal of nature and animals in Disney films has forever skewed our understanding of the natural world at http://www.oneworld.org/ni/issue308/nature.html.

8. See the "Washington Post" column on the problems with the USFS fee program at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36045-2001Jun22.html.

9. Check out Corporate Watch for an article about corporate attempts to minimize our environmental problems at http://www.corpwatch.org/greenwash/background/2000/world.html.

10. Dave Foreman's and Christopher Manes' essays appear in "Places of the Wild," edited by David Clarke Burks, Island Press, 1994.

11. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Express your outrage at the blatant attempts to turn nature into the land of brand names and product placement. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html. Tell them it is time to end killings like these.

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found seeking out the last of the wild places with his wife and new son. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his web site at http://www.healingourworld.com}