More on Psychological Warfare, Litigation, and Morale

Check out this op-ed by Ray Ring in last month’s High Country News. It sounds like something I would have written, were I a better writer. I italicized the quote below- that quote pretty much creeps me out. If it is accurate, I need some kind of ritual to dissipate the negative energies (perhaps a burning of the quote in a bonfire at Solstice?).

Op-Ed – From the May 30, 2011 issue by Ray Ring

I have a friend named Gina who is a great marriage counselor. Gina is roly-poly and effervescent — her mere presence disarms uptight people. With a Ph.D., an M.D. and decades of experience, she’s an empathetic listener, expressing just enough of her own opinions to create a genuine conversation and strive for breakthroughs. She’s very effective in advising people on how to get along.

Contrast Gina’s interpersonal strategy with that of KierĂ¡n Suckling, the director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which endlessly cranks out lawsuits to enforce the Endangered Species Act:

“(Lawsuits) are one tool in a larger campaign, but we use lawsuits to help shift the balance of power from industry and government agencies, toward protecting endangered species,” Suckling told HCN in 2009. “By obtaining an injunction to shut down logging or prevent the filling of a dam … we are in the position of being able to powerfully negotiate the terms. …”

Suckling’s group often wins in court. But instead of helping various parties come to an agreement, as Gina does, Suckling wants to steamroll opponents: “New species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale. When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners … feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed — and they are. So they become much more willing to play by our rules. … Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.”

Suckling’s warlike strategy doesn’t characterize the environmental movement as a whole, but it’s shared by enough groups to shape the general public misperception that all environmentalists are determined to get their way regardless of the costs to other people’s livelihoods and lifestyles.

Our cover story by seasoned wildlife writer Hal Herring explores the drawbacks of the lawsuit strategy, through the example of wolves in the Northern Rockies. Many groups pushed lawsuits for two decades to help wolves get re-established in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, but they caused a new surge in anti-wolf — and anti-environmentalist — anger. So politicians of both parties united to strip Endangered Species Act protections from most Northern Rockies wolves, effective May 5.

Meanwhile, one Western group that has filed lawsuits on behalf of hundreds of species — WildEarth Guardians — reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 10: That group offered to limit further ESA legal actions for six years, to allow the agency time to decide the fate of 251 wait-listed species. Predictably, Suckling’s group has challenged the compromise.

Does the future of wolves seem iffier than ever? Hunters in Montana and Idaho will probably reduce the wolf population initially. I’m betting that, as the locals feel they have more control, the anger will recede and more people will accept wolves as natural wonders, creating a community spirit that can preserve them. Gina would approve.

UPDATE: further research shows that the quote was from an interview with HCN here. Don’t know how I missed this originally, must have been observing Winter Festival. More on other aspects of the interview later.

Also I ran across this interesting piece by Ted Williams.

And here’s a letter in response to the HCN interview.

Letter – From the January 11, 2010 issue by Mike Ford

After reading the recent interview with Kieran Suckling, it occurs to me the one reason we’re having so much trouble advancing meaningful conservation opportunities is we’re spending too much time, energy and money fighting each other (HCN, 12/21/09 & 1/4/10).

The litigation and lawsuits advanced by the Center for Biological Diversity are having the exact opposite effect from that suggested by Mr. Suckling. They have cost taxpayers countless millions and not a single dime of that money is making its way to the ground where it is needed most to protect forests, wetlands and other wildlife habitat. The CBD may think it is forcing agencies to be responsive while achieving results not possible in the absence of litigation, but the vast majority of concerned conservationists may disagree. Many of us feel the money would be better spent on the ground rather than responding to multiple lawsuits and countless petitions.

Agency personnel are paralyzed by the lawsuit frenzy and they are no longer willing or able to exercise any level of risk or innovation, even when it will serve important environmental and conservation objectives. Agency personnel have traditionally seen themselves as entrepreneurial but the vast majority have grown so wary of potential litigation they are unable to take risks. Sadly, balancing reasonable economic and environmental objectives has become virtually impossible without threat of litigation.

Not that long ago we tried to work out our differences face-to-face instead of through lawyers. Our continued desire to protect land, plants and animals should be driven by the desire to cooperate — not because we might get sued.

Mike Ford
Las Vegas, Nevada

One Comment

  1. They feel that the “unintended consequences” of their activities (dead, dying and burning forests, evacuations, health alerts, lost business. sick people, accelerated erosion, incinerated homes) are “acceptable losses” in their war of attrition against forest resource management. Their lawyer buddies in Congress aren’t about to propose litigation reform, in case they get thrown out on their own @sses. Those in power won’t give up that power, willingly. Anyone want to bet that they don’t file suit against the new Planning Rule?!?? (Because I will take your money if you don’t)

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