Why Are Some Federal Lands Users Assumed to be No-Goodniks and Others Given the Benefit of the Doubt?

For those interested in the etymology of “no-goodnik”, here’s a link.

I attended a Western Governors’ Association meeting a while back and Lesli Allison of the Western Landowners Alliance said something like “partnering with people can get us farther down the road than enemizing each other.”  If this sounds a bit like Michael Webber on decarbonization. As I said in that post:

As in Webber’s essay in Mechanical Engineering, he talks about how this is an “all hands on deck” moment for climate, and we are “better rowing together in the same boat in the same direction.” We need everybody, but it’s hard to take leadership towards a future vision that does not include you.

This might remind you of the timber or grazing workers/industry (“Oil consumption is as much about demand as supply”), or the “vision that does not include you” might resonate with OHV or MB folks.

When do we work with people, and when do we try to get rid of them? Who is behind the decision to enemize or not? Why do we assume the best about wind developers changing practices to reduce bird mortality, but assume the worst about ranchers? It’s almost as if there are “our people and industries” whom we trust to try to do the right thing, and “their people and industries” who need to be heavily regulated because they are not, what? Moral? This seems like an underpinning of many of our discussions nowadays. It comes up in federal land most frequently, but is also found with regards to private land.

Federal lands grazing is not new to me. I remember when some of the ranchers from our tiny community of Lakeview, Oregon, were invited to Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981. I drove my FS rig over my share of cow patties, in fact when easing my way through a cattle drive I was called a “piss fir.” I still consider them sometimes annoying but legitimate. And who isn’t sometimes annoying?

Fast forward to a conference in 2010 at the University of Colorado Law School Center for Natural Resources on the 40th Anniversary of the Public Land Law Review Commissions’ Report, and our Regional Forester (Rick Cables) was speaking on forest planning with some help from me. Anyway, a fellow named Joe Feller spoke about grazing. He is now deceased, but you can check out his bio here. His attitude was different from anything I had ever seen or experienced.. snarky, as if ranchers were some lower life form (in fact, many speakers at the conference had an air of superiority coupled with some snarkitude). I know many environmental and natural resource law folks are readers of TSW and your contributions are greatly appreciated. I’m just saying that culturally the atmosphere was very different than those at conferences more focused on practices, say, what you might find at a land grant school. It was almost as if ranchers were some kind of inferior life form. Why they might be is a question. And none were actually there at the conference, as far as I could tell.

So through time, we’ve seen the Sierra Club’s “no commercial logging” (1997), the “Cattle free by 93” movement and President Biden’s questionably legal promise of shutting down oil and gas on federal lands. And today that continues via the MOG effort and perhaps the new BLM conservation leasing rule. As to the Sierra Club and Cattle Free, I wonder whether a more collaborative view around improving practices would have been more successful. After all, thirty or so years later, we still have commercial logging and grazing. For those groups, why does “stop it” win over “improve practices”? Could it be because these groups are full of lawyers, and the details of practices are not their forte? If all you have is a hammer.. These efforts also decrease the decision space of local communities..feature or bug?

I have puzzled about this for a long time. I’ve developed different hypotheses but only one seems to fit the facts. We have traditional potentially environmentally destructive commercial uses like timber harvesting, grazing, mining, and fluid mineral production. Then we have good potentially environmentally destructive commercial uses like ski areas, solar and wind farms and strategic minerals (but not uranium). I’m interested in your hypotheses, because as much as I don’t like it, this is the best one I have found that explains this pattern. The people whose environmental practices are assumed to be good donate have tended to donate to one political party, while the others have donated to the other one. Concern for the environment, which naturally draws people together, rather than becoming a concern to bring people on board and unite us, has become divided (by some entities) into good guys and bad guys. But we don’t have to accept those views. We can, and many TSW-ites do, assume the best about other users of federal lands and try to tolerate them, even when some of them can be annoying. Because who among us isn’t? While sometimes I say “stone-casting seems to have become the national pastime”, it doesn’t have to be.

12 thoughts on “Why Are Some Federal Lands Users Assumed to be No-Goodniks and Others Given the Benefit of the Doubt?”

  1. The general issue here is that long ago our ancestors were surrounded by wilderness and there were many places that were too rugged to travel to easily. These places were also avoided because they were the territory of predators much larger and more powerful than humans.

    Back in those days anything you could do to clear the land and expand a more tame human landscape was seen as a virtue and a mutually beneficial ambition all humans could agree on.

    But as time went by there were less and less wild places and the small islands made safe for humans became the dominant land use activity so often that the still wild, dangerous and hard to travel to places became small islands surrounded by tamed land for humans.

    The point being that at some point each human in their own time realizes when too much taming of the land is wrong and that’s when they want limits on how much of the remaining wild places can be destroyed.

    And you can be certain that the people who’s bank accounts are entirely dependent on destroying and taming wild places will never want to stop and the ones who have seen enough destruction and who’s paycheck is based on understanding the actual science of the ecological functions being jeapordized by human activities will want that destruction to stop.

    It’s quite simply two different sides of the same no-goodnicks coin.

    • “And you can be certain that the people who’s bank accounts are entirely dependent on destroying and taming wild places will never want to stop and the ones who have seen enough destruction and who’s paycheck is based on understanding the actual science of the ecological functions being jeapordized by human activities will want that destruction to stop. ”

      1) I’m not sure any place in the NFs around me is “wild”, depending on your definition. There was Native American burning, cutting trees for railroad ties and mines, grazing, mining and so on. Now there is lots of recreation. I can walk in the woods and see imprints of all kinds of past and current human activity.

      2) I don’t get a paycheck from anyone but the feds, and I know more about ecological functions than most, and I think people use things and that needs to be balanced with protection of key ecological things.

      3) I do think “wildness” “intactness” and all those ideas are different concepts than sustainability.. but how much we need and what determines that is not at all scientific as far as I can tell. That’s why we have to work it out with each other- including what’s OK within “protected” areas and what’s not. Which ultimately has political implications in terms of the roles of folks in deciding. That’s what our international working friends are very careful about… domestically, not so much.

  2. I’ll be annoying. Legal marijuana is Sierra Club’s BFF. Drug cartels, whether generational hippy dippy or ruthless Northern Mexico origin multinational drug cartels, have laid waste to the “sanctity” and “absent the hand of man” goal for Big W Wilderness, proposed wilderness, roadless and even private corporate REIT timberlands, even National Parks. Illegal drug grow operations kill animal threats to the dope crop with broadcast rodenticides and illegal “cascade” pesticides to protect personal food supplies and the marijuana plants.

    Northern Spotted Owl recovery has been dismantled by consumption of poisoned, internally bleeding prey that are easy pickings for one gulp feeding and digestion of the prey’s load of anticoagulant rodenticides. 3500 Barred Owls were scheduled for the firing squad for research and final solution to determine if NSO would reoccupy former habitat. A dozen found dead NSO got forensic autopsies. +/- 80% had anticoagulant residue in their tissue. The forensic autopsies of the large Barred owl takings reveals 42% are packing rodenticide residue. Nobody offers an estimate of how many owls die each year, poisoned by illicit tenders of several thousand annual grow sites that are abandoned at harvest and only the high value part of each plant packed out. The tenders get paid only for what they grow, and only when the weed is in the hauling vehicle. Nor is there information for any other rodent predators, carrion scavengers, and secondary deaths from feeding on poisoned carrion that internally bleeds to death. But by damn, no logging makes it all worthwhile. Or so it would seem by the media and regulatory agency inattention to the ongoing damage to ESA listed and candidate species. NGOs are silent. No outrage.
    Raptors migrating over now abandoned grow sites laced with broadcast baits still poisoning critters likely die elsewhere, unnoticed. Wolves finding opportunity carrion laced with poison are likely dying. Blame it on red necks. Ranchers.

    Can you hear a tree fall in the forest? Only if you are there when it falls. So how many species are being impacted by black market weed furnished by illegal grows on private and public lands? If nobody is looking, I guess there is no threat and the ENGO money machines can gin up more false numbers based on nothing but a forest ecosystem that was once drug trade free. Yesterday. Reality is ugly. Yesterday was beautiful. Who is looking for tomorrow?

    Papers and an array of federal, county law enforcement, report raids on remote hike-in grow sites all have an abundance of empty and abandoned pesticide containers with a diverse palette of rodenticides, many with Mexican labels, on containers of pesticide illegal to use or possess in the US.

    Dr Mourad Gabriel of UC Davis, a researcher with UC Davis School of Vet Medicine published papers by 2012 reporting on the mass poisoning of Pacific fishers, a Sierra Nevada range predator, which were the subjects of his study and an ESA listing candidate. He has written a plethora of papers on the subject. He was never able to have a forensic autopsy on 52 dead fishers he found. No money. Only when a know Den was visited and he witnessed a baby fisher dying, foaming at the mouth, liter mate dead, was money found to find out how and why the death. Then all the others were examined. All were poisoned.

    Legal marijuana created a thriving black market for low cost, high powered, marijuana. No state permit and license fees. No payroll or income taxes. No business activity taxes. No data base personnel lists. Since federal law denies legal marijuana or any other illegal drug banking it is a cash business. Progressive politics legalized the trade but did not fund adequately for law enforcement. Legal operators are mostly bankrupt or will be. They are undercut by the black market. Are being undercut. It almost seems as if “Asleep at the Wheel” is running government land management agencies, state drug regulators, and there will never be official concern until the drug trade revenue drops or whomever is being bribed to “look the other way” is discovered. Maybe.

    • This seems like a great story for some enterprising volunteer reporter. My guess is that USG activities are easier to get a handle on than illegal activities by dangerous people.

  3. Don’t both sides, the “extractors” and “preservationists” look upon the other as “No-Goodniks”? The extractors look upon the preservationists as hypocrites that benefit from extracted resources but somehow claim that they should never be extracted. The preservationists look upon the extractors as making money off of degrading our natural environment.

    It’s a battle of good people against evil people and of course, who is evil depends on your perspective. Social psychology calls it common enemy identity politics. Is there actually common ground between these groups, well yes, there is. I never met a logger that said, “I hate the forest and take joy in tearing it up”. They believe they are managing the forest for good. I have never met a preservationist that said, “I want to make sure that we set the stage for a catastrophic wildfire and what’s left will resemble a moonscape”. That’s not what they think they are doing.

    Because the other side is seen as evil and either greedy or naive, it makes it much easier to not see the common ground. Kind of just a microcosm of our current society.

    • Good point, Dave! I do think there’s a bit of a difference.
      1) For one thing, preservationists aren’t one clump who all agree. For example, national groups like NRDC seem to want lots of wind turbines. In a neighboring county, there are grassroots organizations against new powerlines and wind turbines. Then there are the mainstream groups vs. folks like WEG and CBD. Who knows what their philosophies are?

      But ranchers and oil and gas workers are easily identifiable, and easily demeanable. Because they are directly interacting with the environment and producing products.

      2) Perhaps there are meetings in which environmental folks are demeaned. Maybe at an industry function. But the conference I’m talking about was at CU Law was perhaps supposed to present different points of view (at least I guess it was) so that people might understand better? But maybe that isn’t the point of such conferences.

      • I see your point. I have been in Germany, south of Berlin, and there is literally a forest of wind turbines there. I think it is ugly, but the Germans see it as noble. I suppose it comes down to perceived intent.

        The extractors do have somewhat of an uphill climb as far as being seen as a good deed doer. No one sees an open cut mine and thinks it is a thing of beauty. Same with clearcuts (although I have seen plenty of thinnings that that look much better post than they did prior). No one likes to come across a mountain stream that has been mucked up by cows.

        I have watched a number of congressional hearings lately, and the most maligned groups are those who file lawsuits. I am sure that hardly any of these politicians actually look into the merits of these lawsuits. The assumption is that they are frivolous and impeding good work. That is not always true. Sometimes these lawsuits bring up valid points and they win on the merits.

        • Some Germans don’t..

          “Disturbing protected ecosystems
          But the energy entrepreneur knows how difficult this is in reality. His own project is currently on hold while a court tries to determine whether constructing wind turbines in the Reinhardswald poses too great of a risk to the forest’s dormouse population.

          In a nearby corner of the Reinhardswald, where one of Paschold’s turbines is meant to be built, is Annette Müller-Zietzke, an occupational therapist and member of the campaign “Save the Reinhardswald.” The group aims to keep wind turbines out of the forest. At the site, she points out how new beech trees have started springing up between the tree stumps. Among the stumps and shrubs is where the dormouse likes to hide, she tells DW.

          “Legally, this area is forest as long as all of this is here,” she said. In a protected forest like this, you aren’t even allowed to pitch a tent because of the risk it poses to the habitat of the animals living there, she points out.

          No human would willingly choose to live directly under a wind turbine, adds Müller-Zietzke.

          “And then, for these species that are even more sensitive than we are, we just say, ‘It probably doesn’t matter.’ In times of probably the greatest loss of biodiversity since the extinction of the dinosaurs, this is a terrible, fatal development.””

          I don’t think we often hear about the resistance because the articles tend to be in German.

          If you watch House Congressional hearings they probably malign those groups. If you watch Senate ones, they malign others.. it’s political theater.

      • I’m with Dave on a variety of sides (I think there are more than two sides) look at others as “No-Goodniks.”

        Concerning your second point, Sharon, maybe it depends on the size of meeting, as I have attended many Forest Service meetings where environmental folks were demeaned. There have also been some instances where industry folks were demeaned. I look at it as people being people when things aren’t aligning with their desires/values.

        One other point is I believe where one lives or, in some cases, used to live, impacts perceptions. I find that many strong preservationists who look down on those working in extractive industries come from urban and suburban areas. They seem to think that rural people are uneducated, backwards idiots. And I have heard more than a few rural loggers, ranchers, farmers and sportsmen make comments about ignorant elitists from the cities who not only don’t know where things come from, but also have to call AAA to change a flat tire.

        Many years ago, the late Ed Marston wrote an excellent opinion piece in High Country News about the cultural differences between rural residents and those from more densely populated areas. Having spent my entire life living in rural areas but having many friends and acquaintances from urban areas, I have to agree.

  4. Right on Dave, however, I would point out not only a microcosm of society, but certainly politics in this country!

    “Because the other side is seen as evil and either greedy or naive, it makes it much easier to not see the common ground. Kind of just a microcosm of our current society.”

  5. I guess I would question your premise of, “Then we have good potentially environmentally destructive commercial uses like ski areas, solar and wind farms and strategic minerals (but not uranium).” All of those things have opponents when they are in the wrong place, and public lands tend to be viewed as the wrong place (especially if there are other options).

    Also, “It’s almost as if there are “our people and industries” whom we trust to try to do the right thing, and “their people and industries” who need to be heavily regulated because they are not, what? Moral?” If they are seen as needing to be heavily regulated, it could have something to do with their track record. With renewable energy resources, they have less of a negative record to run on than traditional “extractive resources.”


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