The red-and-white “Stop Extreme Environmentalists, Vote No!” signs that a political action committee has put up all over the county leave me wondering just what the definition of an “Extreme Environmentalist” is.
The second part is pretty easy to understand, since anyone who cares about having clean air, clean water and unpolluted soil qualifies as an environmentalist. Polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans support those environmental concerns.
So, it comes to the question of what constitutes environmental extremism, and the answer to that seems to depend on who you ask.
I’ve never met anyone who would describe themselves as an extremist of any stripe, whether environmental, industrial or political. So, it seems to be a matter of someone else’s judgment, more like name-calling than a term that is actually useful in talking about environmental matters in general and of forest management in particular.
The majority of our local environmental activists, if asked, will describe themselves as moderates. Some of them manage their own stands as small woodland owners and nearly all favor what is known as “sustainable forestry” while opposing the use of “sustained yield forestry.” For these self-described moderates, it is not a matter of opposing logging but of opposing some forms of management and favoring other ways of harvesting trees.
In 32 years of following and writing about the forest management debate here in Douglas County, I’ve never heard any of our local timber industry advocates use the term “moderate” in relation to environmentalists. My impression is that they either have never considered the matter or they simply regard anyone who disagrees with them as extremists.
Our local industrialists and our county commissioners have, over the decades, used classifications such as “preservationist,” “tree-hugger” and “eco-terrorist,” which, along with the current “extreme environmentalist” designation, seem to be the extent of their understanding. I did, however, once interview a local mill owner who described his fellow timber operators as “hard-nosed” and “uncompromising.”
Earth First! (another group that is fond of exclamation points) with their motto of “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth!” frankly admit their extremism, but there has never been any local Earth First! group here in our county. What little presence that group has had around here has always been brief and has come in from outside the county.
The unwillingness to compromise is a hallmark of extremism. When President Bill Clinton’s Northwest Forest Summit took place in Portland, Earth First! was not invited to take part in the discussion. The Douglas Timber Operators were also not invited to that summit for what I suspect was the same reason. When the time comes for compromise, the uncompromising don’t get a seat at the table. Douglas County was, however, represented by two local environmental activists.
The theory behind the signs appears to be that “Environmental Extremists!” are attempting to shut down logging by promoting a Home Rule Charter form of government. The linkage there seems sketchy at best, and I’m left to wonder whether the signs are just a cynical ploy or if they represent a genuinely held belief among those who have shelled out their tens of thousands of dollars to defeat the measure.
The group who put up the exclamatory signs did conduct an opinion poll earlier this year, so it is likely that they chose their wording, at least in part, based on those results. On the other hand, Commissioner Tim Freeman has said that he believes the Home Rule initiative is aimed at harming the timber industry by placing his job in jeopardy. Given that the donation list for the anti-initiative political action committee reads like a membership list for the Douglas Timber Operators, I suspect that both a “win at any cost” attitude and a large dose of fear are reflected in the signs.