Rocky Barker: Earth First! dead last in wolf advocacy

Idaho StatesmanAugust 19, 2013 

A wolf in Montana.


Earth First! is attempting to re-create its literary and cultural past with a press release announcing a new online guide for disrupting wolf hunting.

The press release has all the flavor of Earth First! in the 1980s. It has the tongue-in-cheek flavor of a Popular Mechanics guide for building an outdoor grill out of a steel barrel.

It claims its “unknown” authors are “hunters and proud of it,” and members of “the Redneck Wolf Lovin’ Brigade,” an homage to Earth First! founders Dave Foreman and Howie Wolke, who really were kind of rednecks.

They would like their readers to think about the merry band of ecological tricksters created by Edward Abbey in his 1975 novel “The Monkeywrench Gang.” Led by Vietnam veteran George Hayduke, this colorful, fictional group went around the West destroying equipment and sawing down billboards on their way to their ultimate monkey wrench, the bombing of the Glen Canyon Dam.

Abbey joined Foreman, Wolke and 75 others in Earth First!’s best act of guerrilla theater, unfurling 300 feet of black plastic down the side of the dam in 1981 to create the impression of a crack. Abbey told the crowd to oppose the forces of development that had built the dam, “and if opposition is not enough, we must resist. And if resistance is not enough, then subvert.”

Throughout the 1980s and into the early ’90s, Earth First! grew, a movement that in many ways was the final act of the 1960s. And like the protest movements of the ’60s, it veered into radicalism its founders really hadn’t envisioned.

Foreman, who edited the Earth First! Journal that was widely read throughout the environmental movement of the time, became its most influential voice. His speeches were a powerful performance that would have a room full of weekend activists howling at the moon, ready to take action against money-losing timber sales into roadless areas and new developments inside Yellowstone National Park, and supporting wilderness for places like the Owyhee Canyonlands.

He published “Ecodefense, The Field Guide to Monkeywrenching,” along with satirically named co-author Bill Haywood, the mining union official who was accused of bombing former Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenberg in 1905. The guide matter-of-factly explained how to “spike” old-growth trees with big nails so timber companies would avoid them because of the danger it would present to sawyers in a mill.

Idaho Sen. James McClure sponsored a law to make such an act a federal crime as spiking became common in Idaho’s roadless lands. Foreman always was careful not to advocate any of the monkey wrenching the book described.

But as Earth First! grew, a new generation — more radical, more ready to subvert — took his words seriously. He and his boomer compatriots’ efforts to create a radical left, to make the rest of the movement look moderate, careened out of their control.

Meanwhile, the FBI was taking Earth First! seriously and had infiltrated the group with an agent who encouraged sabotaging a power line. Foreman was charged with conspiracy, but ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor thanks to the defense of Wyoming lawyer Gerry Spence.

I’ve known Foreman since the 1980s and covered his exploits. I went to Africa with him in 1998 as part of a Thoreau Institute trip that looked at village-based conservation programs. He continues to speak and write.

After its heyday, Earth First! struggled to stay relevant as members, including Foreman, returned to traditional environmental activism or left. Today, ecoterror groups such as the Animal Liberation Front have a worldwide footprint.

The Earth First! Wolf Hunting Sabotage Manual tells how to find and destroy wolf traps, handle live-trapped wolves, and use horns and smoke bombs to disrupt hunts. It is certain to anger many Idaho hunters who already feel under siege from activists.

But I doubt it will stop anyone from hunting wolves. The guide might even encourage a few rednecks to join the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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