The Wise Use Movement is stage-managed by Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb from their base at the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a non-profit ‘educational’ foundation “devoted to protecting the freedom of Americans to enter the marketplace of commerce and the marketplace of ideas without undue government restriction”. Says Arnold, “We provide the Jello mold...The rest of the movement fills it.” He sees himself as the Wise Use Movement’s thinker and philosopher.
Arnold (pictured) is one of the public opinion entrepreneurs who has advised industry about the need for front groups and the manufacture of grassroots coalitions to successfully counter environmentalism. Throughout the 1980s he was advising the timber industry that its arguments would always be seen to be self-interested unless it could get citizen action groups to give the same arguments:
The public is completely convinced that when you speak as an industry, you are speaking out of nothing but self-interest. The pro-industry citizen activist group is the answer to these problems. It can be an effective and convincing advocate for your industry. It can utilize powerful archetypes such as the sanctity of the family, the virtue of the close-knit community, the natural wisdom of the rural dweller... And it can turn the public against your enemies... I think you’ll find it one of your wisest investments over time.Reference: Quoted in Phil Brick, ‘Determined Opposition: The Wise Use Movement Challenges Environmentalism’, Environment, Vol. 37, No. 8 (1995), p. 36.
Long experience has shown that it is the plain, unvarnished truth spoken by plain, unvarnished citizens, not statements by full-time lobbyists or public communicators, that is most persuasive in shaping public opinion.
In 1989 he recommended to Canadian timber executives that they organise grass-roots organisations that could be “an effective and convincing advocate for your industry”.
But Arnold has gone far beyond the front groups and grass roots alliances of ordinary public relations firms. With the help of Alan Gottlieb, a direct mail fund-raising specialist and founder of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Arnold has managed to engineer a whole movement of hundreds of groups in the US with an anti-environmental, pro-development, right-wing agenda.
During the late 1970s and 1980s Ron Arnold, acting as a consultant to industry, was helping to publicise a number of these pro-industry citizen’s groups. He realised that each group was being treated in the media as an isolated phenomenon and that for these groups to have any influence they needed to be linked together in some way so that each group would seem to be part of something larger. He became convinced that if industry was to successfully counter the environmental movement it needed its own activist movement. To do this he needed a label that would connect these groups and imply that they were part of a trend—a movement.
We called it the pro-industry movement for a long time....The major response we got from that was, well that’s just old gut rock to protect his ill gotten gains. So that sunk....And I wanted to use conservation, because that’s really my favorite label. But it had already been coopted by the preservationists that mean preservation, no use. And so it had been corrupted beyond thinking. We couldn’t use it. And one day it hit me...
On that day Arnold noticed a saying on a calendar which said “conservation is the wise use of resources”. The saying came from Gifford Pinchot (pictured), an early 20th Century conservationist and head of the US Forest Service. Pinchot argued for the ‘wise use’ of natural resources and promoted principles of multiple use, scientific management and sustained yield. For him natural resources, like time and money, were limited and therefore should be used wisely. This was in contrast to his friend, preservationist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club. Muir didn’t view nature as something to be used, rather he held nature as sacred, having inherent value outside of its commercial potential. The two men parted ways over plans to flood the scenic Hetch Hetchy Valley to supply water and electricity to San Francisco. For Pinchot the scheme was a wise use, for Muir it was sacrilege.
Arnold liked ‘Wise Use’ as a name because it was short and would fit neatly into newspaper headlines and because it was ambiguous: “It was symbolic, it has no exact definition, anymore than environmentalism or the environment...It can mean anything”.
In 1988 Arnold and Gottlieb organised a conference of 250 groups for the purpose of starting a movement that would oppose the environmental movement. Groups attending the conference included the American Mining Congress, the National Rifle Association, the American Motorcyclists Association and the National Cattlemen’s Association, as well as corporations such as Exxon, DuPont, Macmillan Bloedel, Louisiana-Pacific, Georgia Pacific and Weyerhauser. At the time Congress was about to consider renewal of the Endangered Species Act, renewal of the Clean Waters Act, and repeal of the 1872 Mining Law which enables mining companies to buy public land very cheaply and the organisers felt it was time to flex their collective muscle. The possibility of environmental reforms galvanised all those who believed they would be worse off into a liaison against environmentalism and marked the beginning of the Wise Use Movement and its Canadian equivalent the Share Movement.