The Wise Use Movement was a broad ranging, loose knit coalition of hundreds of groups in the United States which promote a conservative agenda. Many groups within the movement received substantial industry funding and support but the movement prefered to portray itself as a mainstream citizens movement. Indeed its extended membership included farmers, miners, loggers, hunters and land-owners as well as corporate front groups. There was no formal structure for the coalition and cohesion came from shared enemies (environmentalists) and a few key leaders.
Local versions of the wise use movement emerged in countries such as Canada and Australia, but they didn't have the same impact as the wise use movement had in the US.
The Wise Use Movement began in 1988 when two hundred and twenty four groups and individuals from the US and Canada met at a conference in Reno, Nevada. The conference was co-sponsored by groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the United 4-Wheel Drive Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the National Forest Products Association, the American Sheep Industry, Exxon USA and the American Pulpwood Association. Canadian groups attending included the Council of Forest Industries, MacMillan Bloedel, Carriboo Lumber Manufacturers Association, and the Mining Association of British Colombia.
By 1992 the Wise Use Movement was able to claim millions of members through the association of large organisations within its domain such as the American Farm Bureau which represented 4 million farmers, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition which represented 500,000 off-road vehicle enthusiasts backed by Yamaha and Kawasaki. However whether all these indirect members endorsed the Wise Use Movement’s agenda is questionable.
David Helvarg, who wrote a book about the movement suggested that there were probably fewer than 100,000 active members in the early 1990s whilst law professor Charles Wilkinson from the University of Colorado estimated a few hundred thousand active supporters. Indeed less than one hundred people attended the 1994 Wise Use conference.
Nevertheless the wise use movement became an influential political force in the American landscape. It’s ability to turn out a couple of hundred vocal protesters for key meetings and hearings has a significant impact on decision-makers.
The movement has been credited with getting the Interior Secretary “to reconvene a special endangered-species committee to reconsider the protection of the spotted owl” and the Vice President’s Council on Competitiveness was seen as having the power to achieve many Wise Use goals in blocking Federal regulations. Other achievements include rewriting the Endangered Species Act to give more weight to economic considerations, and an extended moratorium on new federal environmental laws. Arnold has claimed that Bush didn’t sign the Biodiversity treaty at the Earth Summit in Rio because of pressure from the Wise Use Movement (although others have attributed this to pressure from the biotechnology industry). More recently, the Republican dominated congress has set in train anti-environmental legislation that is in line with the agenda of Wise Use groups.