By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Our thought is to have one group step away from the brush fire and start to think about the future a bit," Foreman says.
Foreman first unveiled the Wildlands Project in late 1992 with a special issue of his journal Wild Earth. The preamble featured classic Foreman rhetoric:
"You hold in your hands, I sincerely believe, one of the most important documents in conservation history; indeed one of the most important documents in the last five hundred years," he wrote. "Our vision is simple: we live for the day when Grizzlies in Chihuahua have an unbroken connection to Grizzlies in Alaska; when Gray Wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland; when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations of plants and animals; when humans dwell with respect, harmony, and affection for the land; when we live no longer as strangers and aliens on this continent."
Whew! Foreman laughs with good-natured frustration when he is told that he comes across a lot more strident in print than he does in person. "I have to live with that every day," he says. Stridency was a misperception that dogged Earth First!, which Foreman intended to be a lighter side to an environmental community increasingly dominated by besuited D.C. lawyers and dour enviro-dweebs wearing socks and sandals. "If you go back and look at the old Earth First! Journal and ignore the high-flown rhetoric, the civil disobedience, the monkeywrenching and all that," he says, "you can trace the development of conservation biology. The first thing we did in 1980, when we founded Earth First!, was to develop a grandiose wilderness proposal for the United States."
It was unsophisticated, he admits, but it attracted attention.
So, too, is the Wildlands Project turning heads. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt is said to have read it. Congress is currently considering a bill titled the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act that intends to establish core wildernesses in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, connected by wildlife corridors. Whether it passes or not, the concept is out there in front of legislators.
Foreman does not expect to develop his own lobby for the Wildlands Project. Instead, he has waged a low-key campaign for the hearts and minds of scientists and land-management agencies. Last June, the Society for Conservation Biology held a Wildlands Project symposium during its annual meeting. Foreman counts among his ardent supporters and advisers such eminent conservation biologists as Michael Soul‚ of the University of California at Santa Cruz and Reed Noss, editor of the journal Conservation Biology. He has been collaborating with Round River Conservation Studies, a Santa Fe-based educational organization that sends students into the field not only to study habitat, but also to educate the local populace in the areas where they have field projects.
But all is not agreement and harmony in the realm of land management. As might be expected, before his proposal has even been completed, Foreman has already drawn flak and skepticism. "It's a whole new socialist way of doing business," scoffs Dennis Parker, a contract biologist for southern Arizona cattle interests. "Mr. Foreman is not a resource manager or a biologist. I find it amazing that someone who is not a professional is afforded this much attention. More importantly, who makes the resource decisions, environmentalists or resource managers?"
Other biologists like the concept, but characterize it as pie-in-the-sky idealism, not Earth-saving necessity. Dr. L. David Mech of the new National Biological Survey, the world's foremost wolf biologist, says, "As an ideal construct, it's wonderful, but I don't think it's practical. To the extent we can reach for it, I'm for it."
He goes on to say that wolves can subsist almost anywhere. In the absence of wild prey, they will eat livestock, backyard garbage or your family cat. And that's when people reach for the shotgun. What Mech really thinks wolves need more than natural habitat is legal protection.
If conservation biologists are conversant with the theory of the Wildlands Project, the agency people are not. Perhaps this is a public relations gaffe on Foreman's part, perhaps an arrogant oversight. Or perhaps the agency folks don't read the literature. The Fish and Wildlife program head and the field workers with Arizona Game and Fish had only heard about it. And though they didn't bother to track it down, most are not resistant.
David Belitsky of Arizona Game and Fish sums it up by saying, "It would be a foolish wildlife-agency person to say that this or that particular interest group could not provide us support."
@body:The Phoenix Zoo's two resident Mexican wolves sit as patiently as fireplace dogs, stretched out in the shade of their compound, noses between paws. They resemble Siberian huskies, only in Technicolor. The female is tawny gold, with grizzled, gray patches on her fur; the male is wildly speckled in gray and white. They seem unconcerned by the milling zoo crowds, and about the only hint of wildness in their demeanor is a palpable edginess and a glow of yellow eyes. The grass around them is scarred with the footpath they've paced into it, like an instinctual memory of the wolf runs their ancestors beat into the forests.