Jesse Lasky 06.30.17




Jesse Lasky discusses the details and failings of barrier construction on the United States-Mexico border, including impacts on wildlife communities and genetic diversity.




(Sound of coyotes)

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Jesse Lasky. He’s currently assistant professor at Penn State University. His work explores how the environment and human modifications of the environment affect biodiversity at the level of genetics and ecological communities.  Today we talk about how a wall between the US and Mexico would harm wildlife and natural communities. Here is a link to some of his work on this subject:

So first, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

JL: It’s my pleasure.

DJ: So, I guess the first question is, you’ve done work on walls and fences, and just – can you talk about, on the most basic level; how do walls and fences affect the natural world? What do they do to individuals and communities?

JL: Fences and walls can have a few different impacts. And these impacts differ depending on the kind of organism we’re talking about, and also depending on the time scale we’re talking about. And I can give you a little overview.

DJ: That sounds great.

JL: For a shorter time scale, one of the things we’re concerned about is the day-to-day movements of large organisms that often move pretty far across the landscape. So large animals, things like pumas, jaguars, bighorn sheep, black bears. These are animals that – they’re pretty charismatic and they usually, often move far distances to find food, to find water, and mates. So any individual needs to move over a large area, and if that movement is stopped across a large portion of where they live, then they might not be able to find enough food, they might not be able to find enough water. So they might have a hard time making a living and so you might see those populations decline relatively rapidly.

So that’s sort of a short-term impact because their day-to-day livelihoods are impeded for those kinds of organisms. That’s something that we’re concerned about in the region of the border where there’s been a lot of construction of walls and fences, and they’ve certainly talked about doing more of that.

And then, moving to a sort of longer-term view, one of the things we’re concerned about is if there’s a lack of movement of organisms across the landscape, that might lead to extinction of those organisms. And one of the reasons we’re concerned about that is that many species, especially things that are often fairly rare already – some of these species often live in fairly isolated populations. And so any given population might be vulnerable to disturbances. Things like storms, a variety of things might come in and wipe out an individual population. But if there’s dispersal across a landscape, those populations can be refounded by new colonists from other populations. And that sort of continual renewal process is key to the survival of many species.

So if you really reduce the dispersal of organisms across the landscapes, that can be a major problem for their longterm persistence.

In addition to that demographic issue there, that’s sort of related to this refounding of populations, we also have concerns that are genetic in nature. So that sort of looks like the situation where you’ve got populations that are isolated and they start to lose genetic diversity. This is because genetic diversity is really one of the, or dispersal across the landscape is one the major sources of genetic diversity for populations. And so if they lose that source of diversity, you might imagine that they could have a harder time adapting to changes in the environment over time, like climate change, if there’s no genetic diversity in the population.

Also over time these isolated populations can have issues with inbreeding depression, where you have close relatives mating with each other. And one of the sort of poster childs in conservation of that in the United States is the Florida Panther, which is an isolated, pretty small population in South Florida, of the puma, and their diseases that became prevalent because of inbreeding, and so one of the things they did was brought in pumas from Texas to mate with them, to provide some genetic diversity and that helped cover up some of those genetic diseases.

So that movement of organisms across the landscape can be really essential for that long-term persistence, for those genetic reasons as well. Those are sort of the issues that we have with animal movement, where we have concern about impeding movement.

We’re also concerned with direct impacts barriers have, because in constructing the barrier – whoever’s constructing a barrier, a wall – a fence especially – these kinds of big barriers require a lot of construction equipment, and they also often, in places where you have steep terrain, mountainous areas, and many areas along the border are like that – those kind of areas; the construction itself requires you to build roads and really disturbs a fairly large swath of the landscape directly, so the native vegetation is removed, or sometimes you have things like what happened in the California coastal mountains where an entire canyon was filled in with dirt so that they could build a fence across the canyon.

So those kind of direct impacts of fences and walls and the construction of them is the other part of it. And that’s not actually just the construction. Once they’re constructed, the Border Patrol often likes to have a road maintained along the fence, and sometimes they put up stadium lighting, and keep vegetation away from the barriers. So those disturbances we’re also very concerned about.

DJ: So just to be clear, when you’re saying “the wall,” you’re talking specifically about the border between the United States and Mexico. But you’re also talking about the effects of walls in general. Correct?

JL: Yeah. So everything I’ve really been talking about here is general, but we’ve studied this specifically in the southwest, along the US-Mexico border. But these are general issues with barriers that stop human movement, or these large construction projects.

DJ: So, a few directions to go. One of them is that, I don’t remember the name of him, he’s a very famous biologist in the 1990’s wrote a book about island, basically island conservation and how if you fragment habitat – was it Michael Soule? I don’t remember who it was. If you fragment habitat then you can basically – if you’re going to model the population behavior, it may be kind of like they’re on an island, and they can’t intermix. So it sounds like at least on one level, the demographic level, it sounds kind of like that’s what you’re talking about too. The walls create these barriers that could be the same thing as 20 miles of ocean.

JL: Yeah, that’s a common perspective to take on trying to understand what’s going to happen to the populations that are in different parts of the landscape where humans have made the sort of intervening part, what we call the matrix, really hard to move through. A common way we study it is sort of making that analogy with islands, because movement is so difficult.

DJ: So before we focus on the border between the United States and Mexico, can you talk about – are there – I’m very ignorant on this. Are there other major walls around the world that have had devastating effects? I mean, I’m presuming the Great Wall of China had big effects on migratory creatures. Are there other ones that have been studied? I’ve read about a big wall in Namibia that caused lots and lots of animals to starve, or die of thirst, because they could no longer get to their water holes. Are there other examples that we know of?

JL: This is something that’s not actually very well studied. There’s some work on some fences that were put in some of the Balkan states fairly recently, and their impacts on some of the large mammals that are sort of being restored and conserved in those regions. A lot of the large mammals that are in Europe have pretty low populations from all the human use of the landscape. So in that Balkan region, some of the border fences that have been put up have been an issue for stopping movement of those animals.

There’s a lot of border fences and walls that have been constructed around the world. One of the things that is hard to assess, though – these impacts are hard to assess across large scales, just because of the logistical challenges, and also there’s often a gap in knowledge about what those barriers look like across the very large distances that we’re talking about. So really we don’t know a lot. There’s individual studies here and there, but there’s not been a lot of large-scale work.

The Great Wall of China is this example that’s brought up a lot, and I don’t think we have a good understanding of that either. One thing I will say about that though is that that’s one that at various times has had many openings in it, or sort of come down and then been restored. But what’s being proposed currently, to go on the US-Mexico border, would be something that would be impenetrable for wildlife.

And another important context to put all these issues in, is that of what’s happening outside of barrier building, to these wildlife, to these species. And that’s that we have other issues going on, like habitat destruction and climate change. All things that influence populations, that humans are doing. And so if we’re trying to understand how humans are impacting something, we need to think of them in that context. So if you go back to the, you know, time of the Great Wall of China, human impacts were of lesser magnitude, so that something like that, it’s probably less likely it would have as many impacts or as many, sort of, as dramatic impacts in terms of putting species at risk of extinction, because a lot of species, for example. along the US-Mexico border, are already at risk of extinction because of other things that people have been doing. And so this sort of piles on to that, these new barriers and walls that they’re putting up, that sort of adds to that. And the unfortunate situation is that it’s doing that in a way that we don’t know what the impacts are, because of the legislation.

DJ: I’ve written about previous mass extinctions, and how one of the things that’s even worse about this one than previous ones is that it is much more multifactorial than simply climate change. That in addition to dealing with climate change, they also have to deal with endocrine disruptors, they have to deal with pollution, they have to deal with the previous degradation or destruction of their habitat. And also they can’t simply flee. At least the dinosaurs, or whomever, could try to move north as quickly as possible. And nowadays, they’re going to run into Chicago, or run into a highway or run into a wall.

So I’m just validating what you said, or just agreeing with you.

JL: Yeah, that’s one of the things we didn’t really address so much in the study that we did a few years ago. But one thing that’s definitely on our minds now is the possible fallout, which is we have seen in recent decades a lot of changes in the distribution of organisms as climate shifts. And presumably species that are currently on one side of the US-Mexico border, or any other large border walls, you could imagine that species that are on one side, if we were to track their preferred climates through time, they would need to migrate to the other side of borders. And if you make borders impermeable, as the policy proposal is currently, then you’d really prevent that. You could imagine these species getting squeezed at borders.

DJ: So before we talk – I want to talk about one more thing before we move to the Mexico-US border. And that’s just fences in general. I grew up in the west, and like most people who grew up in the rural west, I have in my life seen deer or elk or coyotes who got caught up on barbed wire fences and died. Is this – are little fences – before we get to the big fence down there, which I’m going to talk about – has there been much study done of smaller fences, just the sort of fencing that we see every day, and their effects on both populations and the larger communities?

JL: Yeah, I’m not too familiar with a lot of work on that. I think that, although those barbed wire fences do sometimes catch organisms, mammals or whatnot, in them; I think that’s probably of much lesser magnitude impact than we’re thinking about currently. That’s not to say that it’s not potentially important. I’m just less familiar with that as a major threat. I don’t think it’s something that is currently considered a major conservation threat in areas where you have a lot of barbed wire fencing.

DJ: That’s pretty much what I thought too, is it’s more – I mean it’s certainly a tragedy for the individual animal. But I’ve also seen any number of deer just hop fences easily.

JL: That’s right.

DJ: So let’s move to the border. And let’s talk for a moment about the current wall and the proposed extensions. So what sort of scale are we talking about, what physically would we be describing?

JL: Currently what exists is a real mix of designs. In some places they took old steel helicopter landing mats and propped them up to make fencing. Some of the newer things that were made following the Secure Fence Act of 2006 had two different designs. One where they put in what’s called vehicle – they refer to some barriers as vehicle barriers and others as pedestrian barriers. Some of the vehicle barriers look like little posts in the ground. Also what they call Normandy barriers, which are these metal fences that are fairly short, about waist-high or so, that prevent vehicles from driving over them.

DJ: And from a wildlife perspective, we don’t much care about those, do we?

JL: Yeah, the impacts of those should be pretty small compared to other things.

DJ: Except the building and maintenance, of course.

JL: Yeah. That’s one aspect of it, but you know generally we think those, at least in terms of their impediments to movement, shouldn’t be much.

And then so the category of pedestrian fences, that includes things that are – concrete walls that are already constructed, mostly along the Rio Grande. In some places they essentially took the opportunity to make fences that also are levees. So they’re maybe fifteen feet of concrete wall with a fence on top of that, with metal fencing on top of that, to prevent people from getting over that initial distance.

And then some of them are what they call bollard fences, these metal posts that are put very close together, that prevent people from walking through. They’re maybe fifteen feet high or so, twenty feet high, I’m not sure, the actual heights may vary.

The mix of things that are out there right now – Trump, during the campaign, and subsequently, has talked about how he wants to make something that’s impenetrable, something that sounds like it would be concrete and thirty feet tall. That’s something that would stop pretty much any animal that can’t fly, and even a lot of flying animals don’t like to go up high, because the smaller ones are very vulnerable to predation from hawks and owls and things. So that kind of a barrier or wall that they would put in would be a lot more – would have a lot stronger impacts on wildlife even beyond what’s out there even now. That would stop everything.

DJ: And currently … whatever you can sort of estimate as roughly as you want, what percentage of – and we’re talking from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, right?

JL: Yup.

DJ: And so what percentage of that would you say is currently covered by a wall that would have a somewhat significant impact on wildlife movement. One percent? Ten percent? Three percent? Ninety percent? I dunno.

JL: So currently, from what was already put in, I’d estimate something like twenty percent maybe, has barriers that would be major impediments to wildlife.

You know those numbers are a little hard to put your finger on because a lot of mileage along the border is made up of the Rio Grande river, which is just sort of meandering back and forth. So you chalk up a lot of miles, kind of, in that meander. But, you know, there are several hundred miles of that pedestrian fence that were put in. Mostly along the coastal regions and also in southern Arizona.

DJ: And is the proposal – if Trump got everything he wanted, would we then be talking about a hundred percent?

JL: Yeah, that’s what he’s calling for. That’s really unrealistic even if they were given carte blanche to do this. A lot of these areas have pretty steep mountains and the costs would become really sky high. In addition, the Texas border is mostly owned by private landowners. And so a lot of them have already started suing and a lot of them did sue after the Bush administration started trying to build down there.

So in terms of what’s realistic, what he’s likely to get, it’s really hard to pin down right now. But one thing that’s probably indicative of the challenge that’s faced is that there’s not a single congress person from the border region, that represents the border districts or border state, who supports the construction of these barriers. That’s from both parties. So that’s a pretty important lesson for trying to guess what’s likely to happen, despite the campaign pledges.

DJ: So does the – and I’m sorry that this is such an ignorant question, but does the Rio Grande already present a significant barrier to wildlife movement? If we drop humans out of this equation for a moment, or at least drop industrial humans. So we go back 600 years. Was the Rio Grande a significant barrier to migration at that point? Or is the barrier the problem there? The point is; adding a wall to that, does that significantly then – I’m just wondering because so often coastal areas and lowlands are the prime habitat for many creatures, but then also rivers make barriers. So how did that play out?

JL: In a lot of places, the Rio Grande is a pretty narrow river, actually. So I don’t think there’s much evidence that it’s had a major impact on the types of organisms that are on either side, because of their ability to move back and forth.

If you go to bigger rivers, you do see those kinds of patterns. Like if you go to the Amazon, for example, which can be very wide in some places, in many places. But in a lot of places, the Rio Grande is less than ten yards across. That’s sort of getting out into West Texas, it’s very narrow like that. Down in the Rio Grande Valley maybe a few hundred yards at most. So it’s really not a very wide river in a lot of these places.

DJ: So let’s now talk a little about – you’ve mentioned jaguars. Can you talk about who is already affected by the current wall and who would be affected by a larger wall? Talk about some specifics, if you don’t mind.

JL: Sure. So we think that currently there should already be some negative impact on for example jaguar. Because that’s a species that formerly ranged across the southwest United States and bred across the southwest, including even into Louisiana, for example. Those populations were hunted out almost a hundred years ago. But there are still populations in northern Mexico, in the western part of northern Mexico.

So you have a few individual jaguars that have been coming back across the border, across the years. And those individuals definitely rely on breeding populations in northern Mexico. So that would stop if you put those barriers across, and there are already a fair number of pedestrian barriers in southern Arizona. And those are barriers that, even if they have small openings in them, that’s the kind of thing that if it stops a person, it’s going to stop a jaguar.

You also have things like ocelot in South Texas. You’ve got some small populations of endangered ocelot, which is another tropical cat. These populations are isolated and that’s a pretty intensely agricultural landscape already. So there’s probably pretty rare movement of those individuals through the agricultural landscape back with populations in Mexico, although there are people working on enhancing natural vegetation to promote that kind of ocelot movement. But that’s a region where they’ve already installed, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, they’ve already installed a fair number of pedestrian fences and walls in the first round of this. And if they were to go forward, that would definitely stop many of the … further movement.

In the California Coast, for example, this is a region again where you already had a lot of urbanization. But it’s also a really biologically important region because we have a lot of species that are endemic to the California coast. Once you get up over the California coastal mountains and go inland, you get some very dry deserts. So you have a lot of species that are specialized and endemic to that California coastal region. And a lot of them are already at risk of extinction or threatened with extinction, and that’s a region where they put up a lot of pedestrian fences, essentially pedestrian fence most of the way across the California coastal ecoregion, in the first round of construction.

DJ: This is all great. This is very informative for people.

What about, with the actual concrete barrier – I know that you probably have your hands full with studying the more charismatic megafauna, but it seems to me that in addition this would be devastating to all sorts of smaller creatures who might migrate too. I’m thinking of salamander or frog migrations, and even insect migrations. Once again, I recognize that there is only so much money to be able to study so many types of creatures, but do you know anything about that, too?

JL: Yes. In our study, we were very interested in taking a look at all vertebrate species, because that’s what we really have good information on, and we thought they would be most likely to be impacted in terms of their movement. And a lot of those long-term impacts that I talked about earlier in our conversation, where allowing organisms to disperse across the landscape can be critical to maintaining a species because if the population goes extinct, individuals from other populations can refound that population. That’s the kind of process that we think is really important for a lot of species that are often pretty small-bodied. Things like amphibians or reptiles. In the southwest of the US and along the Mexican border, we have a lot of species like that, that are restricted to very small regions that are often already threatened, for example on the California coast you have things like arroyo toad, which is a threatened species that now – previous threats may have largely been from habitat destruction, but now we’re talking about also, over the long term, stopping movement back and forth across the border. Which, over the long term, we think would be potentially a major impact, or major threat to survival of the species. So for those smaller species where there’s often really not large populations and they’re only in a sort of small region, we think those are most vulnerable to actual extinction.

We talk about the megafauna because it’s easy for people to think about the impacts that an individual puma might face by not being able to cross the border to find food, but that’s an impact that’s relatively immediate. But puma and jaguar, these are species that range across very large, they’re distributed across very large areas. So puma’s not going to go extinct because of this, and jaguar’s not going to go extinct. Those things are – because of these barriers. Because they’re found across such large areas. But these endemic species that are usually pretty small-bodied things like amphibians and small mammals and reptiles, those are ones that, over the long term, we think are actually at bigger risk for extinction because of the lack of movement across the landscape, especially along the border.

DJ: We haven’t yet talked about the effects of this sort of massive construction project. You mentioned it, but do you want to talk about that more? Have you studied that too?

JL: Sure. We haven’t specifically, but the main thing I’ll say about that, I think, is that we typically have environmental review processes that go into effect. Studies that are carried out any time you have major construction projects, or major infrastructure projects. These kind of reviews and studies are in keeping with environmental regulatory law that we built up as a society, as a country over decades, and we did those things for good reasons. And the very distinct characteristic of border fences and border walls is that the Secretary of Homeland Security can ignore all of that law. So the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Antiquities Act, any regulatory law whatsoever can be ignored by the Secretary of Homeland Security in the construction of these border barriers. That’s part of the Real ID Act of 2005. And so what that means is that, usually with any big construction project you would first take a look and say “Well, what are we going to be disturbing here? And how can we mitigate that, or how important are these disturbances?”

That doesn’t have to happen at all here, and it didn’t happen with the Bush administration’s construction.

DJ: And that means not only is there no administrative appeal, there’s no judicial appeal?

JL: Well, there’s a lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity filed just recently in conjunction with some members of the House of Representatives from the region. But there were not any successful legal challenges that happened under the Bush administration. And I’m skeptical that there’s a judicial route to stopping this either, just based on the blanket, the very broad authority that’s given under the Real ID Act.

DJ: So let’s pretend that Trump gets his fantasy and he’s going to build a big concrete/metal barrier that does run from sea to shining sea. And this would seem to be a construction project that would be pretty big. And do we have any idea – would this – I’m guessing this would take orders of magnitude more than, say, the Grand Coulee Dam, or Hoover Dam? The point is, it seems like an – are there any comparisons for how large this construction project would be? It seems like it would be comparable to parts of the interstate highway system, or something.

JL: Yeah, that’s the only thing that I can think of as a sort of similar parallel. Where it goes across so many different jurisdictions and so many different landholders, and it involves a substantial amount of work. I think that would be the closest parallel, sure, for what we’re talking about here.

One interesting facet of this that explains why there’s a lot of resistance in Texas is that actually once you go west of Texas, into New Mexico, Arizona and California; the federal government owns a strip of land along the border, what’s called the Roosevelt Reservation. It’s, I don’t know, maybe a hundred yards wide maybe, I can’t remember its exact width. But it’s very narrow. It’s just enough, in most of the places, to allow the federal government to do this without having to get condemnations of private landowners’ land to do it. But in Texas the great majority of it is in private hands. And so it becomes a much more challenging battle. I’m not really too familiar with what went on during the construction of interstate highways along those lines, but probably there’s a useful comparison.

DJ: So I know that your emphasis is on environmental stuff, as opposed to sociopolitical stuff, but do you happen to know why they’ve not got – why this is so unpopular among even representatives along the border? You would think that at least in some town in Arizona there would be a representative who was in favor of this because some of his constituency is very opposed to immigration.

JL: I think that there’s a few things involved. One is that people who don’t live on the border are often overestimate the level of violence that occurs in border communities, at least on the US side. A lot of these US border communities are some of the safest in the country. So that’s one side of it. El Paso is actually a very safe city, despite the fact that Ciudad Juarez across the border has seen a lot of violence.

So that’s one part of it. I think another part of it is that the barriers are really very ineffective. People are very ingenious. There’s a reason why we are, why we’ve been able to do so much as a species, that wild animals have not been able to do, to get through this barrier. Once they started building metal fences, they very quickly have to – Homeland Security has had to invest a lot in maintaining those, because people come out there with torches to cut holes in them, and people build tunnels. The experience with, that’s been seen in the Middle East along the Israel-Palestine border with tunnel-building really highlights how easy it is to build undetected tunnels. If you’re talking about the US-Mexico border, we’ve got hundreds of miles of desert where it’s not really very well monitored, so it’s very easy to build tunnels out there, or to build ladders to go up over. Catapults, people build. People learn to climb the fences. They’re really very ineffective.

DJ: Two things. One of them is I saw a picture the other day about – it had, like “Problem” and it showed a wall, and then “Solution” and it had a ladder that cost thirty bucks at Home Depot. And the other one is we all have heard these stories about these tunnels that are very – that are used, and actually quite sophisticated, to bring in cocaine, or marijuana. So it just seems like – I am again agreeing with you on how everything I’ve heard is it’s not tremendously – even if they want to, even if we argue that stopping immigration from Mexico is a good idea, that this is just not a very effective means to do so.

JL: Yeah, I think it’s pretty widely recognized in those communities, you know, what are effective strategies and what are not effective strategies and it’s very clear that these kind of barriers that look good in photo ops are really very ineffective.

DJ: Well, it should be a really great barrier to keep all the illegal jaguars out.

JL: Right, yeah (laughs). I mean, that’s the sad part of it is that it’s very easy for people to defeat these things, but the jaguar’s not, even if they could dig, they wouldn’t think to dig ten feet underground. That’s really the only option for something like that. There’s nothing really that something like that could do. Or smaller animals, for that matter.

DJ: As long as we’re talking about this, is there – you mentioned earlier, the lights. And I know your specialty is not light pollution, but do you happen to know what effects that might have on wildlife as well, to have those extremely – what did you call them? The floodlights?

JL: Yeah, stadium lighting.

DJ: The stadium lighting. That seems to me that it would really have some extremely harmful effects on whoever is out there at night.

JL: Yeah, I mean it’s pretty widely recognized in studying wildlife movement that lots of animals like to move in dark and under the cover of vegetation. So that they’re not seen by predators, or if they’re predators, act so that their prey don’t see them. So there’s a reason that a lot of animals are active at night. So if you put up bright lights, that really scares them away. If you destroy the natural vegetation, that also really limits the movement of those animals out into the open.

DJ: We have about ten minutes left, so I’d like to start winding down. And I don’t know that it’s quite time for this yet. What can people do for – if somebody cares about jaguars or arroyo toads, what can they do, both on this larger issue, and then – that’s the first question, and then the second question is going to be about smaller barriers. But we’ll talk about that in a moment. So first, on this issue, what can people do?

JL: I think policy-wise the key consideration here that would really solve a lot of these issues, or would dramatically improve a lot of these issues would be if the Real ID Act provision that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all regulatory law, if that were to be repealed. That, I think, would place these kinds of projects back into the normal sphere of anything we do, either governmental or non-governmental, so that we can properly study impacts of our actions. So that, I think, is the number one policy change that I think would help alleviate a lot of these biodiversity threats.

DJ: So far as the – let me know if this is wrong, but it sounds to me like what you’re suggesting, or your perspective is that Trump is actually not likely to get his wish on this, and it might not be as – it is as big a threat if it actually occurs, but it might not actually occur. Is that reasonably accurate? Or do you think he’ll be able to get great parts of it built?

JL: Well, this is complicated. What he was promising was really extreme. He was promising an impenetrable wall across the entire border. Now that’s far, far far beyond what’s there currently, but even if he wasn’t to get that – they’ve already had some success. That’s actually been misreported a lot, at least from my perspective, in terms of wildlife movement.

So in the budget deal that was recently agreed to, to fund the rest of 2017 fiscal year, it was widely reported that there is no money for the border wall. And it’s true that there’s no money for a wall to be constructed in places where there was nothing before. But there was – I’m trying to pull up the number, but I don’t have it in front of me. I want to say something like $150 million. There was something like that much money to convert vehicle fence into pedestrian fence. So pedestrian fencing, that can include things that are essentially impenetrable walls, in going from a vehicle fence, which is something that we’re not too concerned about in terms of animal movement.

So that was a compromise, presuming that a lot of representatives wouldn’t necessarily have supported, but did, I’m guessing, in the interest of the compromise that’s required to pass the budget agreement.

So I can see that – this is even sort of something that I imagine could have been possible under the Obama administration, which is – that’s current, it’s often been talked about in negotiations for immigration overhauls, that one part of immigration overhaul would be strengthening of the border. And that could happen in different ways. But you could imagine some deal that gives a path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants that are currently in the country, and also puts money into building some more of these walls. And I could see that kind of thing happening, so it’s not clear, you know, what kind of scope we’re talking about there, it’s unclear what kind of money would be involved. It’s a pretty complicated political question. But I definitely – as we’ve seen with this fiscal year 2017 budget, there is still movement happening on this, even though it’s likely to be at a much smaller scale than Trump promised. But the promises that he made were really ridiculous in terms of their feasibility.

DJ: You know, you and I haven’t talked about the sort of metaphysical aspect, or the philosophical aspect of this. The insanity of building artificial barriers along completely human-made lines that have nothing to do with the natural world. In some ways, the whole wall – the building of an impenetrable wall is, I don’t know, it’s almost like the central metaphor of this culture. Of building this completely artificial thing that’s actually not even going to accomplish the purposes that they state it will accomplish, and in so doing, you’re devastating – you’re inhibiting the ability of nonhumans to survive. It seems like there’s a metaphor in there.

JL: Yeah. I often think of this because people have talked about “Well, couldn’t we put little openings in the wall to allow animals to move through? Could we put some natural vegetation along the wall?” Or something. Those kind of things are really counter to a lot of what the border patrol is trying to do. They want to be able to see things. They want to have lighting. They want to have no vegetation there. And so it kind of gets at the fact that both people who are crossing and also animals who are crossing want to move undetected in the dark, and under cover of vegetation or whatever. So those two things are fundamentally at odds. It’s really hard to sort of pull those two apart. And it seems to me that there are other ways to approach the policy questions here, y’know like things people can do to remove pressure on the human side of people crossing undocumented. That seems to me a much more sound strategy than this one, which is technically more challenging and results in this fundamental conflict between humans and wildlife.

DJ: And you know we’re running out of time, but we also have not talked about the effects of continuously spraying herbicides along a swath of land, too. That can’t be a good thing.

JL: Yeah, that could be – and again, that’s one of the many detailed aspects of these kinds of projects that normally you would want subject to some regulatory law, so that if there were negative impacts you could say your drinking water is getting contaminated or something. You could sue in court, normally. You can’t for this, though, at least under things like the Clean Water Act. The only rules that apply, if the Secretary of Homeland Security chooses – the only rules that apply are those of the Constitution. Beyond that, they can waive the rest of the legislation that we’ve built up over the decades.

DJ: So the last question I want to ask is, to take this – what can you say to people that will help them to understand the importance not only of animal movement having to do with this particular border wall, but I’m thinking about highways, I’m thinking about roads. I’m thinking about the time 25 years ago when I saw an entire salamander migration wiped out on a busy road. I’m thinking about how can we look at animal migrations differently, having to do with the barriers that humans create? Is there anything you want to say about that?

JL: I think it’s just maybe useful if you’re sort of thinking, looking at the landscape around you, useful sort of to think about how would an animal move through this landscape? And do you see animals moving through this landscape? You can try to just imagine things a bit from animal perspective. And a lot of people I think can intuitively understand things that would or would not favor animal movement.

These animals that we’re conserving already, things that are threatened perhaps; these often play important roles in ecosystems, and humans benefit from ecosystems, and we also have some aesthetic pleasure we get from wildlife in natural ecosystems. So I think those are some of the reasons to consider for conservation of salamanders, and their movement, for example. Where some people might say “Oh, I don’t really benefit much from salamanders.”

We know that ecosystems are complicated and their functioning often depends on many of the smaller components that people often are ignorant of.

DJ: Well thank you so much for doing the interview. And thank you for your work, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Jesse Lasky. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.



Stephany Seay 10.01.17



Stephany Seay relates the abuses inflicted by the Montana cattle industry, assisted by all levels of government, upon the Yellowstone Park buffalo when they migrate out of the park to their traditional wintering and spring calving grounds in Montana; how the Park itself helps enable the killing of the buffalo; and how Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers devote themselves during these months to staying with the buffalo and documenting such killings and abuses, and work to enact better protections for the buffalo.


(sounds made by frozen Lake Baikal.)

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Stephany Seay. She is the media coordinator with the Montana-based Buffalo Field Campaign, the only group working in the field, in the courts, and in the policy arena in defense of the country’s last wild migratory buffalo, the Yellowstone population.  She has been on the front lines with BFC for fourteen years and from the direct interactions and experiences with these gentle giants, she and her comrades have come to the understanding that while we may be trying (very, very hard) to save the buffalo, the buffalo are desperately trying to teach us to save us from ourselves.

So first off, thank you for your work in BFC, and also thank you for your work with DGR; and second, thank you for being on the program.

SS: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here with you.

DJ: So, talk a little bit about buffalo. Who are they, what were they like prior to the European conquest of this continent, and then bring us up to more recent history.

SS: So, buffalo have been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years on this continent. They are North America’s largest land mammal, now that woolly mammoths and mastodons are extinct. And the interesting thing is the buffalo who exist today are actually the smallest version of buffalo that have ever been in existence. There were bison prehistorically that were twice the size of these creatures who we know today. And buffalo existed pretty much almost all over the entire continent, in the tens of millions. There’s estimates of anywhere between thirty to seventy million at the time before European invasion of this continent.

And, you know, buffalo were chosen by the earth to help create the land, and they have a symbiotic relationship with the land and with all the prairie and grasslands creatures who they share that community with.

As themselves, they are very helpful. They are grazers, they are gentle grazers, and their hooves help to till the soil, their poops fertilize the soil, their furs carry the seeds of the soil, their bodies feed the soil when they pass on. They help create other habitats for other species, birds and amphibians with wallowing, which is when they get down on the ground and shake their bodies around, rub their bodies around and create these big indentations that during the rainy seasons would fill up temporarily with water, and that helped create a lot of beneficial habitat for many other species. So they are just – they helped create this continent, and they are the sovereignty of the land.

With humans, with indigenous cultures, they had a relationship of reciprocity. There was respect, and there was honor to the point where many indigenous cultures, in particular the Plains tribes, considered the buffalo to be their relatives. But, as history has shown us, and it’s still actually taking place today, when Europeans invaded this continent, they wanted to get rid of the people who were already living on this land, and having a hard time doing that, they decided that they would go after their most important food source, which was the buffalo. And so, in an act of genocide, the federal government, the army hide and head hunters nearly drove the buffalo to extinction in pretty much less than two decades. It did not take them long. And they wasted all these buffalo who had covered the continent, who had taken care of the people as the people had taken care of them before, and just laid them to waste. And they didn’t even use the meat, they just killed for heads and hides. And ironically, those hides, with the strength of the buffalo’s hides, they were used as belts that actually assisted with the Industrial Revolution.

So it’s a pretty tragic history. We’re not always taught that in school, you know. People say “oh, there were buffalo, they were all killed,” and that’s pretty much all you get from it, and a lot of people don’t even know that there are still wild buffalo who exist today, and the only reason that they do exist is because there were about 23 individual buffalo in the late 1800’s that sought shelter in the Pelican Valley, which is located in what is now Yellowstone National Park. And these buffalo were discovered, ironically, by the Army, the US Calvary, because they’d suddenly decided they had made a big mistake in facilitating the destruction of these buffalo, they decided to protect them from poachers, and from others who would want to kill the last of their kind.

And from these buffalo, and a few others who were brought over to the park, we now have the last wild population that exists today, solely in and around Yellowstone National Park. And that population today is still extremely small relative to the tens of millions that once existed. There are fewer than 4500 buffalo that exist in the wild as a migratory species today. You have to go to Yellowstone to see them. There are approximately a little fewer than half a million buffalo around the country, but aside from the Yellowstone population, the rest are all living behind fences, or they’re in the public herds, or they are raised as livestock, so they’ve been turned into domestic livestock in the majority of the places where people would see buffalo today in the United States and Canada.

So this population in Yellowstone is very special, and like I said, they’re a migratory species, they still follow those instincts to migrate with the seasons, either to lower elevation habitat to seek winter range, or to spring calving grounds.

And unfortunately, those migration routes lead them into the state of Montana, which is a state that is heavily run by the livestock industry, the cattle industry. And the cattle industry does not like wild buffalo. And the reason they don’t like wild buffalo is because they eat grass. And the cowboys like to think that the grass is for their cows, and their cows only, and they don’t want to share.

And so the State of Montana has taken an extremely heavy-handed approach to prevent wild buffalo from accessing the habitat, their original range in Montana. Right now we’re just talking about the edge, right on the edge, the western edge and the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park.

The livestock industry is very – they have a strong history of violence, as you can well imagine. They’re a culture of death. They raise animals to kill them. So they don’t play fair, as you can also imagine, and so they’ve put a stigma on the buffalo that has kind of thrown a scare tactic out there to the world, to kind of make it seem as though the buffalo are a diseased animal, and this disease is, it’s a bacteria called brucellosis, and it was actually brought to this continent, and it’s an invasive bacteria brought to this continent with livestock, with cattle, and the buffalo contracted it around 1917, is what people believe, contracted brucellosis through human manipulation. Yellowstone National Park had an orphaned buffalo calf that they thought it would be a good idea to nurse on a domestic cow that they had inside the park, and voila! Brucellosis entered the Yellowstone population.

Elk also carry brucellosis, and it is believed that other species do as well, including deer and coyotes and other animals as well. But buffalo are singled out.

Brucellosis as a disease is not really a huge problem. It isn’t, certainly, for the buffalo. They develop antibodies, resistance to the disease, and if either an elk or a domestic cow or a buffalo contracts brucellosis – it is active in the females, and an adult female, if she gets brucellosis, she will miscarry one time and then she resumes normal birthing cycles and she develops immunity, and that’s it. It’s over.

DJ: So instead of having a baby – when do buffalo have their first babies? A year? Two years?

SS: About three years old, is when the females are sexually mature.

DJ: So one with brucellosis would have her first baby at four, then, is all.

SS: Or sometimes at three.

DJ: Okay. Sorry, go ahead.

SS: Yeah. So, but the cattle industry – as a conservation aspect, brucellosis is not a problem. The elk and the bison have developed resistance. They can deal with it. It’s not a big deal. You can eat the meat of animals that have been exposed to brucellosis. That’s not a problem. The problem is in the cattle industry. Back before the advent of pasteurization, when people were drinking raw dairy milk from cows, humans were getting brucellosis. And so it became this big deal in the cattle industry, and then pasteurization came into place, and so now it’s really not. It’s not even on the Center For Disease Control’s list any more, as a concern.

DJ: And what does it do to humans?

SS: It’s called ungulate fever when it’s in humans, and so it’s pretty much that. You can get temporary fevers that come and go, at any given time. I’ve never met anyone that has it. But the livestock industry likes to claim that it’s a serious human health hazard and that the buffalo are a serious threat. And so one of their excuses for having such a heavy-handed approach against wild buffalo is that they say they fear that the buffalo will transmit brucellosis back to the livestock that they got it from.

Before any of these crazy management schemes that are taking place now, which we’ll talk about- there’s never been a documented case of wild buffalo transmitting brucellosis. There’s never been a case of buffalo transmitting brucellosis to cattle outside of a human-induced situation, a laboratory setting, or a human-manipulated situation.

Meanwhile, elk, who we also love, are free to roam, exist in much greater numbers than buffalo – they can come and go as they like, and yet, over the course of the past ten years, they have been implicated numerous times in transmitting brucellosis to livestock in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. And yet, the same thing isn’t happening to them.

So there’s war against wild buffalo, it’s specific against wild buffalo, and a lot of it has to do with continuing genocide of indigenous cultures.

DJ: Can we back up just a second? What you’re saying is really important, but I want to go back prior to conquest, in more ways than one. Can you just describe for a moment what you’ve heard. You know, you said, between tens of millions of animals. Can you just describe for a moment anything you’ve read or heard about what it might be like to have a big herd pass by. I’ve heard that they might go horizon to horizon. Is this – what have you read about it, or heard?

SS: Yeah! That’s what I’ve heard, that’s what I’ve read. That is what has been stolen from the land and from us. There were places where you couldn’t see anything but buffalo, from horizon to horizon. And that when they’d come, you could feel them coming before you ever saw them. They would shake the earth with their movement. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that, what it was like for the continent to just be teeming with all these buffalo, and how wonderful that was, and how the earth must have been so much healthier.

DJ: And you’d have one herd, and it might take several days of that to pass.

SS: Yeah. Can you imagine that? It’s a dream that will come true again. To think about that. To think about walking out your front door, or stepping outside your tipi door, to see these buffalo coming, and they just keep coming, and keep coming, and keep coming. And then night comes and they’re still coming. The next morning you wake, and they’re still coming, until the next day. That would be the most beautiful sight to behold. And this culture has stolen that from us.

DJ: I was reading an account – this is a random thing. I was looking up something or another and I saw these accounts of, in Texas – because, of course, wolves eat buffalo, and if you have that many buffalo, you can have a lot more wolves – I was reading these accounts of single packs of wolves that were in the hundreds.

SS: Yeah, I’m sure. And it would take a pack that strong -maybe not a hundred, but at least 20 plus – at least. Buffalo are no small task to take down. There’s a lot of times wolves just back off. There was a video that was going around, I think it was the Mollies wolf pack in Yellowstone, there was a family group of buffalo, it looked like a herd of about 30 buffalo, and they had singled out an adult female, and she looked like she was offering herself. But the rest of the family said “that’s not going to happen today.” And this pack was about 16 wolves strong, and they had to give it up. The rest of the herd came in and told them to go away, that today was not the day for buffalo meat. So they had to seek something else for dinner.

And a lot of times, also; I have seen this, and this is really cool. In the Lamar Valley this one time we saw this wolf pack chasing a bull elk up on top of this ridge, and down in the valley was a bachelor group of bull buffalo. And this elk ran down the ridge and right into the middle of this bachelor group of bulls, and the wolves just totally backed off. They were like “yeah, we’re not going in there.”

Buffalo are formidable. They do not die easy. Except, I guess, by guns and traps.

DJ: Well, that brings us back to – we have a prairie full of buffalo, and we have a prairie full of prairie dogs, and the largest village was, I dunno, something like a thousand square miles, like a billion individuals – huge prairie dog village, biggest one. And we had flocks of passenger pigeons so large they darkened the sky for days at a time. We had six billion passenger pigeons, more passenger pigeons than all other birds in North America combined, and yet salmon runs so thick that an entire river the size of the Klamath would be black and roiling, second biggest river going into the Pacific Ocean in the United States.

And they’re all gone. This is a pattern of, you have this unimaginable fecundity, and wild life, and all of those, they’ve devastated. I don’t – I know this interview is about you, and about the buffalo. But, y’know, all of my work is about bringing down civilization, and it’s not because I hate hot showers. It’s because I can see obvious patterns. I don’t understand how somebody can see 60 million buffalo down to – it doesn’t matter. Even if we count all those half million, that’s still 60 million down to a half million. Same with the prairie dogs, same with the salmon, same with every single thing.

SS: And still humans will say: “Those are too many.” The species that exists in billions and billions, that is destroying everything, says these little tiny fragments are too many.

DJ: So let’s go back to Yellowstone. They migrate, and the technical term for the arguments in favor of killing the buffalo when they cross the park – I think the technical term for the argument is crap.

Actually, you haven’t got there yet. So what happens? The buffalo are in Yellowstone, during the summer – correct?

SS: They spend most of their time inside park boundaries in the summer. And that’s mainly because the herd size is as small as it is, and that’s where their rut grounds are.

So the cold comes. And winter in Yellowstone is intense, and the snow gets very deep. And you also have to think about – buffalo are a plains animal. Grasslands, plains. Lower elevation habitat where the grass is accessible. So Yellowstone is great summer country, and it was a great place to hide from the killers, back in the day, but it’s not their ideal habitat, even though they have always existed around there, that is not someplace they would choose to live all the time. They want to be on the grasslands, on the plains. So, when winter comes, and the grasses are obscured within the Park boundaries, they drop down to lower elevations, and that brings them west into the Hebgen Basin of Montana near West Yellowstone, and also north into the Gardiner Basin in Gardiner, Montana.

And when they come there, there is serious conflict with the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. And just to back it up a little bit, things started to get really bad in the winter of ‘96-‘97. There was an extreme winter where there was a whole lot of snow. And then it got warm and the snow got soft. And then it got cold again and the snow turned into veritable concrete.

Buffalo can live in deep snow. They can make it. They would prefer to seek lower elevation, but they can use those huge heads to push snow aside to get down to the grass below. But when the snow turns into concrete like that, they cannot do it. And there’ve been times that we have even seen buffalo, 1800 pounds, 2000 pounds, walking on top of snow that has frozen. And there’s no way to find food that way.

So this particular winter, ‘96-‘97, the winter was like that, and tons of buffalo, a few thousand, migrated into Montana, and over 1083 buffalo were shot by the State of Montana.

And Mike Mease, who you know, a videographer and activist, went to Yellowstone, went to Gardiner, and started to document what was taking place, to document the buffalo being gunned down. And he shared that footage, he sent that footage around to various tribal leaders, and Rosalie Little Thunder, a Lakota elder, responded, and together they decided there needed to be a presence on the ground, to show people what was taking place, so we could eventually stop this.

And that is basically how Buffalo Field Campaign was formed. And so what we do; our home base is located in West Yellowstone, and we have volunteers that come on a seasonal basis, as the buffalo are migrating into Montana, to conflict zones. We are present in the field every day. We go out morning through night, if night is necessary, and sometimes it is, and we monitor the buffalo’s migration. We are always armed with video cameras and still cameras and two-way FM radios, so that we can communicate with different patrols in the field and we can document all actions that are made against the buffalo. And we provide room and board and gear and training for anybody who would like to come and stand with the buffalo with us.

And so we’re with the buffalo every day when they are migrating into Montana, and that typically is a season that runs from November through June. But that could be changing, because there is a little bit of good news to share. We have actually gained a little bit of ground for the buffalo, but we can talk about that a little later.

So BFC is in the field every day, running field patrols, standing with the buffalo, documenting all these actions made against them, and also just on the good days just learning from them and seeing how they behave and interacting with them, you know, in a respectful way. But we are in a unique position to advocate for them, because we can see what is actually taking place. We live with the buffalo, we see how they use the land. We know what’s going on, we’re there in the face of it all. It’s a wonderful organization and I’m really thankful that we exist. And we can always use a lot more volunteers.

There’s been some good news that’s come, so that we’ve gained a little bit of habitat over in Hebgen Basin, but the Gardiner Basin is a completely different story. To back up just a little bit; when the buffalo migrate into Montana, they’re managed under a state, federal and tribal plan called the Interagency Bison Management Plan. This was crafted back in the year 2000 and it was largely designed by livestock interests. It’s pretty much – there’s nothing good that comes of it for the buffalo.

So when buffalo migrate into Montana, the Montana Department of Livestock, Yellowstone National Park, and other agencies initiate operations such as hazing, which is to chase or forcibly remove buffalo from the ground that they choose to be on. They used to do it on snowmobiles, and with helicopters, and they still do it today from horseback and ATV’s. And the other tool that they use is to capture buffalo and to ship them to slaughter to reduce their numbers. And another tactic that they are using more and more is so-called “hunting,” yet with no habitat to access, these hunts are basically a firing line style, where hunters situate themselves in these little bottleneck corridors – specifically, there’s a place over in Gardiner, on the north boundary, right at the boundary of the park, called Beattie Gulch. A lot of the family groups use this corridor, and it’s a pretty tight spot. And hunters just wait. They wait, they’ll watch groups of buffalo coming from the interior of the park and just wait until they literally step across the park boundary, and then they’ll start to shoot into the family groups.

It’s awful. And even worse – it’s all bad, but I guess even worse, because it’s Yellowstone National Park. Located inside Yellowstone National Park, about a mile south of Beattie Gulch, where this firing line/ so-called hunting takes place, is an enormous, industrial-strength trap, basically a glorified livestock trap, and it’s inside Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone National Park employees operate the trap. They chase or bait the buffalo into the trap, they run them through the sorting pens, they run them through the squeeze chutes, they put them on the trucks to ship them to slaughter.

And so these are some of the things that are happening to the buffalo, that we are trying to stop, and are in the face of all the time. Very difficult things to see, and absolutely unnecessary for every possible reason you can imagine. But it is what’s taking place and it’s sanctioned by the Interagency Bison Management Plan. That’s what’s going on, in a nutshell.

DJ: The larger solution, of course, is this entire culture that is killing everything needs to go away. But before that, what would be some – I mean obviously the brucellosis is an excuse to kill the buffalo. That’s not even any problem that needs to be solved because it’s not a problem, because there has never been a case of transmission. So that’s a non-issue.

SS: Exactly.

DJ: Before we go on, I want to ask: If we exclude the cattle industry, what do the local people think of – and this is not the determinant, because the most important determinant is what’s best for the land. Nonetheless, I’m wondering: What do the local people think about the buffalo slaughter? Do they support it? Do they hate buffalo? Or are they against it, for the most part?

SS: Most people, if they don’t have any ties to the cattle industry, are adamantly opposed to the slaughter. I mean, you get your random redneck types that just think killing is just the way that it is and, you know, there’s too many and blah blah blah. But for the most part there is a lot of support throughout Montana, including the specific locations where the buffalo are migrating into Montana currently. There’s support for the buffalo. And that is why, in part, we were able to gain that year-round habitat over near Horse Butte, on Horse Butte and that surrounding area. But the livestock industry just has so much control. They control the language, they control the dialogue, they control the land, they control the park. They’re controlling Yellowstone National Park. Or Yellowstone National Park’s allowing themselves to be controlled. They’re manipulating the tribes who are coming to hunt buffalo under treaty rights, by enlisting their participation to help facilitate the destruction of these herds. It’s insane.

But there is a lot of support. There’s been two polls conducted by other groups over the past I think maybe four years, that have shown that between 70 and 75% of Montanans support wild migratory buffalo.

DJ: And Montana’s a conservative state.

SS: Yeah. But Montana also is – it’s conservative, but people love the wild. I mean, ironic as it is because of the way wolves are treated, the way grizzly bears are probably about to be treated if we don’t stop delisting. There’s a lot of people that are in love with wildlife and love the wild places that are here. And most people live here because of that. There’s a lot of support for wild buffalo in Montana. But, again, the cattle industry just holds so much power. They own the legislature, like I said they’re patrolling Yellowstone National Park. They have way too much power and it’s difficult.,

DJ: So before we get to short-term solutions, what is the good news?.

SS: The good news is that – well, there’s two pieces of good news. Both of these mainly pertain to the Hebgen Basin, which is just west of Yellowstone’s western boundary. In 2014 – let me back up just a little bit.

Buffalo Field Campaign, ever since the beginning, we’ve always provided these “Buffalo Safe Zone” signs, for residents who love the buffalo and don’t want the Department of Livestock or any other agency to chase them off of their property.

And unfortunately, up until recently, the Department of Livestock could do whatever they wanted. If you had a herd of buffalo in your yard and you wanted them to be there, the DOL could come on to your property and chase them off because they had that authority, and that was a huge problem for a lot of people in the Hebgen Basin, and particularly in this area called “Yellowstone Village,” out on Horse Butte. And that’s a place where buffalo come every spring to give birth to their babies.

DJ: So one has some land there, and one sees – not to be too maudlin about this, but one sees baby buffalo frolicking with their mothers, and then you can fall in love with these particular creatures, this particular family group, and then – excuse my language, but thugs from the cattle industry can come on ATV’s or their horses, and send those buffalo off, many of whom are going to be killed.

SS: Yeah. Or chase them into the park, sometimes chase them into traps. A lot has changed over the years. But yes, especially over on Horse Butte, and that whole area, there would be these huge industrial-strength hazing operations, where you’d have these cowboys, federally funded cowboys, coming in with all their, y’know, chaps and their cowboy hats; backed up by federal cops. Federal law enforcement, state cops. Local cops. To come and chase native buffalo off of people’s private property where they were welcome. Where there were never any cows. It was insane.

And so everyone, we all made a huge big deal about this, and kept applying all this pressure – y’know, there’s no cows anyway. There’s absolutely no conflict. People want buffalo here. And then these hazing operations happening during calving season with these tiny little calves with their brand-new legs are getting chased for upwards of 15-20 miles in a day, many times collapsing or dying or becoming separated from their mothers and orphaned.

And finally we had a governor who decided to do something right. And in 2014 he issued a directive to the Board and Department of Livestock that the Department of Livestock may no longer trespass on a private property to haze wild buffalo without permission.

And so that suddenly made all of our little “Buffalo Safe Zone” signs a valid, real statement; they had meaning. There was at least 800 acres of habitat, and a little bit more, that was suddenly available to the buffalo. So that was one really awesome thing that happened. And that empowered a lot of people.

And the following year, there was a decision made after a long, long public process. The same governor, Governor Steve Bullock, granted year-round habitat to wild buffalo in the Hebgen Basin west of Yellowstone National Park, which included all of Horse Butte and lands north of Horse Butte. There was a little under 250,000 acres, which was given to the buffalo year-round, which is huge. It’s a small step in the larger scheme of things, but in the immediate, what’s taking place right now, it is huge for those buffalo, for these buffalo.

Lots of the land, however, is mountainous and covered with trees and it’s not really habitat that the buffalo are actually going to use. And also, south of Horse Butte, there’s a lot of habitat that the buffalo do use, that was not included in the year-round habitat decision. So that was unfortunate. That’s something that we’re still fighting for, obviously.

But in the Horse Butte area proper, it’s been amazing. We’re still trying to get used to it, of being out there, and being with the buffalo, and seeing all these babies born. And these pregnant moms are just on the verge of giving birth, knowing that they get to do what they want. They can be there as long as they want. They aren’t going to be harassed or abused by these government cowpokes that are going to come in and chase them off their ground while they’re in the middle of labor or while their baby’s just been born. They get to just be there. The calves get to grow strong.

And we’d always told these people that if you would just stop, they will migrate on their own. They have – their rutting grounds are in the park. As long as that’s happening, they’re always going to go there for their family reunions, until they establish other rutting grounds outside of the park.

And for the past two years, since they have had this new year-round habitat, that is exactly what has happened. And you know, they’ve gone back into the park before the cows have even showed up. And it’s just another lesson the buffalo have taught people, or are trying to teach people, in patience.

But like I said, we’re still trying to get used to it, because it’s so wonderful, and we’ve just always been so on guard, ready for the government to come and attack the buffalo, to have these spring months, with these little calves and these family groups, and just watching them graze and play and nap and do whatever they want wherever they want. It’s been awesome. I can’t – I’m still – We’re all still trying to wrap our heads around it, and learn how to just be there and enjoy this with them and not expect, y’know, the bogeyman to show up any minute now.

And the people that live in Yellowstone Village, so many people, they just every year now that they’ve gained this ground; people are smiling. It’s not like bittersweet, like “This is great, but uh-oh, the cops are coming” kind of thing. It’s – people are just so happy, and Yellowstone Village kinda updated one of their signs – Yellowstone Village is also called Hebgen Lake Estates. But they updated one of their housing signs, that has buffalo all over it now. And everyone’s just really, really happy. And we can welcome the buffalo in the spring and not be worried and not fear for their lives like we used to over there.

And we still have a long ways to go, this is a small step. But it is a huge and significant victory, and it took, y’know, it took 20 years to get there.

DJ: Which is a great, a great reminder to everybody else, that this is how social change occurs. It doesn’t happen because you go take pictures once. It happens because you go take pictures and then you work like hell for 20 years.

SS: Exactly. And then you don’t stop. You don’t stop there. You let that give you strength, and say “Look, we got this much, that’s a crack in the dam. This dam is gonna come down. We just gotta keep going.”

And now, y’know, I mean there’s still little bits of hazing that take place if the buffalo go south of Horse Butte, so we’re obviously working on stopping that, and gaining them that ground, but for the most part, most of the really bad stuff that the – the hunting, and the capture for slaughter, is happening over on the north boundary, in the Gardiner basin, and that’s where the trap is located, inside Yellowstone National Park. And that’s where that firing line that I was talking about earlier, is located as well.

DJ: What is the strategy to – well, first off, once again, I know what both you and I want on the large scale, and that’s not what we’re talking about at this moment. In the short term, in the next three to five years, what do you want – what would “solve” this problem – so, what do you want and how are you going to get there?

SS: Okay, I can think of four things off the top of my head right now. One is, there’s a law in the State of Montana, MC 81-2-120, that gives the Department of Livestock authority over wildlife when they migrate into Montana. We have to repeal, abolish that law.

Two, would be to replace the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which has expired, with a plan that respects wild bison, like wild elk, in Montana. And Buffalo Field Campaign has created that alternative. You can find it on our website, and we have submitted it to Yellowstone National Park and to the State of Montana.

The third thing is to gain Endangered Species Act protection for the Yellowstone herds, and we in 2014 filed a petition with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to do just that, and we are, of course, in court over it now. We’re pressing for that. You can also find that on our website. It’s loaded with information.

And the fourth thing – and these other three things would enable this last one to happen, is to dismantle the trap that’s inside Yellowstone, the Stephens Creek trap. Get rid of it. And get rid of their Berlin Wall that is at the northern end of the Gardiner Basin that is an attempt to prevent buffalo from migrating farther north into the Paradise Valley.

So those are very real, possible things that could happen, in a reasonable amount of time. And from there, the buffalo take it. We just step out of the way.

DJ: Okay, we have about five minutes left. And this is a ridiculous thing to ask with five minutes left. But where I live, in far northern California, there are herds of elk who go all over the place. If I were to drive from here to Arcata, I’m almost guaranteed to see a herd of elk. And the same if I drive north of here to the Oregon border, maybe one day out of five I may see a herd of elk. They’re all over the place. And hunters shoot a few, in the winter, or, I’m sorry, whenever the hunting season is. But nonetheless, the herds are doing great.

And nobody cares. They don’t – I don’t like how the locals treat mountain lions. If they see a mountain lion they want to shoot it. But elk are just …

So my point is, aren’t the buffalo kind of like the elk in that way? Don’t the elk just wander wherever they feel like it?

SS: Yeah, the elk do. And you know, there is a difference with buffalo. They do behave differently. Because they don’t really – they tolerate humans. You know, lots of times you see elk and you see their butts as they’re running away. I mean, sometimes that’s not the case. And y’know, buffalo, when they come to the roadside they don’t necessarily just cross it. Sometimes they bed down in the middle of it. Sometimes they hang around, around it.

We also provide a “Buffalo Crossing Safe Zone” service, helping buffalo to get across the highways safely. But that doesn’t mean that that’s a problem. That just means humans need to learn how to coexist, humans need to learn how to change our behavior so that we can coexist. And it will be fine. There’s safe passage, there’s migration corridors. There’s so many things that we could do, that would enable the coexistence to happen.

DJ: Well, I would think – I know I’m a bit strange, but I would think that buffalo tolerating people is actually, as they say, not a bug but a feature? I mean, that’s – as you know from discussions you and I’ve had; I see bears every day and it makes my life, y’know. This is wonderful. So you would think that having the chance to actually see a pregnant buffalo – you know, you have a friend visit from Kentucky, and your friend then gets to see a pregnant buffalo walk across your back yard, you would think this would be the highlight of this friend’s summer. Or decade.

SS: Nine times out of ten, it is.

DJ: So you’d think that would be a good thing – I mean, of course they’re going to trample on your roses or something once in a while, but anyway – sorry, I’m just rambling. I don’t see why that’s a bad thing.

SS: And it isn’t. It’s not a bad thing. There’s just some people that are too impatient and they think that everything needs to be controlled, and they think that humans are the ones that have the right of way. And that’s the behavior that I’m talking about that needs to change.

And at Horse Butte, and at Yellowstone Village, there has been the perfect living classroom of coexistence. I mean, this is a small little subdivision, with little houses on little land. It’s a little subdivision. And hundreds of buffalo migrate through there in the springtime. And people love it.

And, you know, if you have a favorite tree, they do like to rub on trees, especially when they’re itchy and they’re shedding in the spring. People put a little, y’know, fence around their tree. And the buffalo scratch on the fence, and it’s all good.

And the people that complain are people that don’t live with wild buffalo. The people who live with them have learned to coexist with them. They love it, can’t wait to see them again, they’re sad when they leave. So if anyone needs to just see how it can work, you just come to Horse Butte and go to Yellowstone Village in the spring, and there you go. The living classroom.

DJ: So we have about two minutes left. And can you talk about either (a) what people can do if they love Florida panthers and live in Florida, to start something similar, or how they can help Buffalo Field Campaign if they want to come help you.

SS: Well, (a) just enable yourself to be on the ground so you can be with the place, the animals, the trees, whoever it is that you’re trying to protect. Be there with them, get to know them, be that kind of an advocate for them and help tell their story and help stop the madness. And of course, help Buffalo Field Campaign. We always need volunteers, during our field season in particular. Like I said, we provide room and board, gear, training. Our field season runs from November through the end of May, sometimes a little bit into June. We need you. We have got a big problem on our hands. The buffalo have a huge problem over in the Gardiner Basin and we need to figure it out. We need people on the ground, more people to see this. You can visit to learn more about the issues, learn how to volunteer, there’s a little application involved. Sign up for our email updates so you stay on top of what’s going on. Check in with us on social media, we’re on Facebook, and it is a good way to help spread the word about what’s taking place. And yeah, we need people on the ground, especially over in Gardiner. We need people to come with some creative ideas.

DJ: Well thank you so much for all this. And thank you for your work. And I would like to thank listeners for listening, my guest today has been Stephany Seay. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.


Meghan Murphy 08.13.17


Meghan Murphy addresses so-called “sex robots,” the impact of the ideation and realities of “sex robot” and “sex doll” technologies on male socialization and fantasies, why these cannot be separated from material world realities, and how they act to promote and normalize material world abuse of women and girls.


Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio, on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Meghan Murphy. She is a writer and journalist from Vancouver, B.C. She founded Feminist Current in 2012, which has since grown to be the leading feminist website in Canada, as well as a global presence. She is currently working on a book that critiques third wave feminism as a modern anti-feminist backlash.

So first off, thank you for your work, and thank you for being on the program.

MM: Thanks so much for having me on the show.

DJ: So, today I want to talk about … kind of a weird and disgusting topic, which is so-called “sex robots.” And before I ask you a question, I just want to say; I have to say “so-called” every time I say that, because they’re actually masturbation tools. They’re not actually sex-anything.

MM: Mm hmm, mm hmm.

DJ: But, having said that, what are so-called sex robots, and then, after that, what’s wrong with them?

MM: Well, they’re humanoids, as they’ve been called, by what’s sometimes also called the “sex-tech” industry. And right now – I recently had the opportunity to talk with Kathleen Richardson, who, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her work, but she’s been working on a “no sex robot” campaign. So, she told me that, you know, in fact, sex robots aren’t really – I mean, there’s no sex robots for sale right now. It’s sort of more an idea and a conversation at this point, as opposed to a real-life product that we’re dealing with.

So, effectively, what we’re dealing with is an idea. And it’s this idea that men have sexual needs that must be met, i.e. they’re not desires, they’re needs – and if we are going to go so far as to say that men have sexual needs that need to be met, presumably there are consequences if those needs aren’t met. Either to the men personally, or, y’know, there’s some other consequences.

So, in essence, sex robots are discussed in the same way that prostitution is discussed, and pornography. Right? Like, it’s this idea that, again, any desire that a man has must be accommodated, and if those desires aren’t accommodated, something bad happens, whether that be the man is miserable and lonely and unhappy, or like, y’know, his balls explode, or, like, he starts raping women uncontrollably, or something like that.

So that’s what we’re dealing with. Not necessarily a technical product, at this point anyway. But this idea about what women are for, and how men work.

DJ: Well, let’s back up for a second. What is the relationship between the technology that is supposed to become a sex robot and the current existence of so-called “sex dolls?”

MM: Well, I’m not an expert on how robots work. But what they’ve done with these so-called “sex robots” is that they’ve given them sort of Siri-like capabilities. They’ve created a sex doll that can also retain information and communicate with you in a limited way. That it can sort of memorize information about its owner. So, you know, if you, if a man who has a sex robot wants to “converse” with his robot, he can feed her information about himself so that he can kind of pretend that this doll, this robot is interested in him, so she can, y’know, ask him a question about the kinds of movies he likes to watch. More likely, she can ask him if he wants to have sex with her, or something like that.

They also can do weird things like move their faces, things like that. It obviously doesn’t look realistic in the same way that a human appears, but that’s the idea. The idea is that they’re sort of trying to create a thing that emulates human behavior in a pretty limited way. And human behavior that’s obviously gendered; feminized and really pornified. Human behavior in terms of male fantasy.

DJ: So, before we really dive into what’s wrong with that – I was reading one article about this that said that there are chat bots, which is a computer program that people will “chat” with, and that seems a little bit strange to me, but then in addition, the thing that really got me was that there was this one Chinese chat bot that has had more than twenty million people say “I love you” to the chat bot. That seems very pathetic to me.

MM: Yeah. It is pathetic. It also speaks to where our culture is at, and how we think about relationships. I would guess that people who are telling the chat bot, saying “I love you” to the chat bot, were mostly men. Is that accurate, do you know?

DJ: The article I read did not specify, except it was in the context of these so-called “sex robots” and the paragraph after was about a Chinese man who, every night he likes to just chat with the bot before he goes to sleep because it makes him feel so comforted. So I can’t say – the article did not say, but the implication is yes.

MM: Yeah. I mean, I guess – I think that part of this has to do with male socialization. So, obviously, in our culture, and in patriarchy, or maybe not obviously to everyone; men are socialized in a way that teaches them that women are kind of for them. So in the same way that – I’ve had the experience a lot of times, way too many times, I would say; of being at a bar, and some man at the bar starts talking to me, which sometimes is okay and sometimes is annoying because I don’t want to talk to a stranger at a bar because I’m there with friends, so obviously I’m interested in having conversations with my friends, not a strange man at the bar. But, you know, what often happens is I end up fuming because this man will enter into a so-called conversation with me, but not ask me a single question about myself. So he’ll talk at me under the assumption that I am just going to be interested in anything and everything he has to say, and he doesn’t have to engage me in the conversation, and it doesn’t even occur to him to be interested in my life or me or what I might have to say about whatever he’s rambling on about.

And I find this is really common in male behavior. I think that men are kind of socialized not to think about other people’s interests and needs as much as women are. This is not to say that, of course, all men are like this, because I know, also, there are plenty of men in my life who do care about the feelings and thoughts of women. But I think that this is sort of an extension of that, this thing around sex robots, this thing where men are telling some chat bot that they love it. It’s like this warped idea of what a relationship with another person is, and specifically a relationship with a woman.

And we have so many examples of this in our culture, which reinforces this idea. Pornography is a really big one, obviously. Pornography is a kind of situation where a human man sits on one side of a screen and masturbates at what’s happening on the other side of the screen. And a lot of people seem not to want to differentiate. They don’t want to understand that what’s happening on the other side isn’t whatever their fantasy of that wants to be. They don’t want to imagine that the woman on the other side of the screen isn’t enjoying herself, isn’t super into it, isn’t turned on, etc. etc.

So, men sort of learn to live in a bit of a fantasy world, and they learn to see women not as full human beings, but as sort of partial human beings, like for example a robot that kind of exists to fill whatever fantasy that the man wants to have, and also to offer things like emotional support and nurturing, and sort of – there’s this expectation of one-way engagement. So the woman is to offer sexual pleasure, to be a good listener, that this man has somebody to talk at, and feel fulfilled, as though he’s having some kind of real, meaningful engagement with another human being. To support him, to emotionally nurture him, to take care of him in other ways in the home, through domestic work, cooking, taking care of his children, etc. etc.

So, y’know, it’s obviously a much wider problem than just these bots. This is just a new manifestation of that, I’d say.

DJ: So it sounds like some of what you’re saying is that a culture that didn’t perceive women as receptacles for men’s emotions, etc., could not conceptualize a sex bot. And it seems like the sex bot is almost the – from the pornographic perspective, the perfect woman.

MM: Exactly. She is the perfect woman. She has a kind of pornographic body, y’know; hairless, largely flawless, large breasts, full lips, etc. etc. She’s sexualized. She is that kind of literal object that pornography sells to men, that says women exist for them. They’re really just a series of holes to be fucked. That’s what a sex robot is. “I’m here for you to penetrate, I’m here for your sexual pleasure, I’m here for you to project your fantasies onto.”

And people, mostly men but not only men, because I’ve heard this argument from women as well, will say; “Oh, great. Let them have their sex robots. Keep them away from us.” Or, y’know, “Let them have their sex robots if it makes them feel better, what’s the harm?”

But of course people make that exact same argument about prostitution, and they make that exact same argument about pornography. They say, especially with pornography; “it’s just a fantasy, he’s not really doing anything to these women on the other side of the screen, he’s not harming them. So what’s the harm with him getting off in the privacy of his own home if that’s what he wants or needs?”

But of course there’s larger implications to these ideas, and there’s significance to these ideas, and they don’t exist within a cultural vacuum.

DJ: I agree with you, but it would seem to me that there was a difference between the arguments about pornography and prostitution and the arguments about so-called “sex dolls,” in that the woman who is having the videos or pictures taken of her is a real woman as opposed to, the doll is a piece of plastic, and so there’s not a woman being harmed in the production of that.

MM: Yeah, that’s true. There’s not a woman being directly harmed when we’re talking about sex robots. But I think that the harm happens in terms of the idea, and how that idea manifests itself in real life. The harm of pornography is definitely about what’s happening to those women who are in the porn films. But it’s also about the impact on all women. And the same thing is true for prostitution. The harm that happens to women in prostitution is horrific, so horrific that I think a lot of people don’t even want to think about it. Which is awful, because they really need to think about it.

But the system of prostitution, and the sex industry more broadly, has an enormous impact on all women, everywhere. The idea that a woman is a consumable object, the idea that a woman is a product that can be bought and sold, the idea that a woman is a thing to be fucked – these are ideas that were invented by patriarchy and also serve to prop up patriarchy. So it sort of reinforces the naturalness of male entitlement and male sexual desire and it naturalizes rape culture. It says that men have uncontrollable needs and sexual desires and that they need an outlet, and that if they don’t have that outlet then they’ll go and rape someone.

And the argument doesn’t fly. People use that argument in defense of prostitution. They have for a long, long time, said things like “Men need access to prostituted women so that they don’t rape other women.” And there’s obviously a lot of problems with that argument, because it’s saying that one class of women deserves to take that abuse, to protect another class of women.

And the other thing is that that doesn’t work. Because prostitution and pornography have been around for a long time now, and it hasn’t alleviated male violence against women. Men are violent towards women in prostitution. They rape and abuse and kill those women, in prostitution. They also rape and abuse and kill women outside of prostitution.

So the problem is larger than that. The problem is about what we condone, in terms of male behavior, and what we believe about male behavior. What we think is acceptable and normal and inherent. And, again, it says a lot about what we, as a culture, think women are for.

DJ: So, I know you’ve covered this some, but it has been in the news recently, and I want to talk about this just a bit, that there were recently some arrests in I think the United States and maybe Australia, where there is a company, or multiple companies, who are making so-called “sex dolls” that are of children. The argument was being made, again, the same argument that you’ve been refuting here, that this is all just fantasy and so someone should be allowed to purchase, some man should be allowed to purchase a doll that looks like a five-year-old child, and do whatever they want with it. And at least so far, governments are disagreeing. So do you want to talk about that at all?

MM: I don’t agree that fantasies are harmless, or what we call fantasies. Because they aren’t just fantasies. I mean, this is something – first of all, so long as something is a product, and it’s being sold to the public, that’s not a private fantasy. That’s a public issue, and that’s, again, speaking to what we as a culture condone, and what our values and ethics as a culture are. That same argument is made about sex robots, which is “who cares what these men want to do in the privacy of their own homes?”

The same argument is made in defense of pornography and things like BDSM. This is something that’s happening in people’s bedrooms, it’s none of our business, what people, let’s call them men (laughs) do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

But that’s a lie. That’s not a true argument, because these fantasies are not just private fantasies. They’re public issues and they have an impact on the public, and on women and children and our values as a culture.

The sexualization of children sexualizes children. And making child sex dolls sexualizes children. It says that children can be sexualized and that it’s okay for men to desire sex with children. So even if those men are not literally sexually abusing children, I think that these child sex dolls send a larger message, just like what we see in pornography sends a larger message.

So, for example, in pornography, the teen genre is one of the most popular genres. It’s always consistently one of the most searched genres. And those women who are, let’s say “performing,” in those “teen” porn movies, may well be adults. But the impact of that “teen” pornography is that it sexualizes teenage girls, and it encourages and condones men’s objectification and sexualization of teenage girls, which has a real impact on teenage girls, and contributes to men’s sexual abuse of teenage girls, sexual harassment of teenage girls, and, again, general objectification of teenage girls.

So, you know, pretending that these things exist inside a bubble is just dishonest.

DJ: Well I think those are all really great points. I want to go in a slightly different direction now, with a couple of headlines. “There’s now a sex robot with a g-spot so you can totally give it an orgasm.” (Headline) “Meet Harmony the sex robot, so realistic she orgasms.”

Okay, there’s the objectification of women, that we’ve talked about, that I completely agree with you on. And then, in addition, there’s the notion of calling a robot a “she.” There’s the notion also of attempting to make a person out of an inanimate object, and saying that a machine has an orgasm. That is really problematical on both the same and another level too. It’s simultaneously depersonalizing women and personalizing technology. That’s profoundly disturbing.

MM: Yeah, totally. Erasing the line between an actual object and a human being.

DJ: Which is the next line. There is a headline here from the Irish Times: “Sex robots: even better than the real thing.” I don’t even know how to respond to that.

MM: Well, I mean, again, it says a lot about what men want from women, and what men think about women. “Even better than the real thing.” I mean, if an object made out of metal parts and silicone that isn’t actually a human being with thoughts and feelings is “better” than a human woman, what does that say about what men think women are, and what they want women to be? And how does that impact the way – if they think that the ideal woman shouldn’t have thoughts and feelings? And we know – we know what the impact is. The impact is that men abuse and rape and otherwise sexually assault women.

DJ: This seems to be – and I don’t know if you want to go this direction or not, and if you don’t, we won’t – but this seems to be, really, the direction this culture’s been headed from the beginning. The patriarchy, by which I mean. What I mean by that, is that when we think of works of art, we think of works of art created by humans. We don’t think of birdsong, we don’t think of morning, we don’t think of evening, we don’t think of bats in flight. And basically, this is why this culture gets so excited when scientists can combine a couple of enzymes in a lab, and it’s like “oh my God, we’re about to create life.” It’s like, “yeah, you and every other rabbit, and every bird, and every bacteria.” Life creates life.

Or they go “Oh my gosh, we have to explore Mars to find out if we’re all alone,” as we kill life on this planet.

And so my point is that what men create, and I presume it’s mainly men who are making these dolls; what men create is of value, what nature creates is of no value whatsoever. And so of course “sex” with a robot created by men is going to be better than what nature gave us, nature gave all of us. I’m not saying that nature gave men women, I’m saying that nature gave all of us this wonderful, beautiful thing called sex. And so there’s this profound necrophilia in this culture, this hatred of what is real, and hatred of real relationship, and a valorization of that which is created by men wearing lab coats.

MM: Of course. We value consumer products more than we value life. Obviously, because of where our culture has gone, thanks to capitalism, and that idea – I think that’s a really good point that you made, that men are essentially saying that they can create a better version of women than real human women that already exist naturally.

And of course that speaks so much to male power. They seem to think that they’re kind of playing God. “We don’t need you, we can create our own version of a woman, and it will be this thing that exists to serve us. Screw you and your agency and your independence and liberation. We’re gonna do our own thing and we’re going to project our hate and our violent fantasies and our egos onto this thing. And we’re going to say ‘That’s what women are for, that’s the ideal woman.’”

DJ: So you can have, so they’re aiming toward having babies raised in a lab, or made in a lab, I should say; they’re going to basically outsource, not outsource, but technologize babies, technologize relationships, technologize sex, technologize everything. At that point, what the hell do men need women for? I’m being ironic, of course.

MM: (laughing) Well, I think that’s what they like to tell themselves.

DJ: Isn’t that kind of the thrust of this?

MM: Well, sort of, but I think again that says a lot about what they think women are for, because if their response is “we don’t need you anymore, you have no use,” then what they’re really saying is “you exist for us. So if you’re not doing things for us, then you’re irrelevant.”

Which of course isn’t true. The feminist movement has argued the opposite since its inception.

DJ: Well, that’s our attitude towards everything. That’s the resourcification of the entire world. “Things exist only insofar as I,” “I” being the dude, the white dude, “only insofar as I am able to use them. If I can’t use them, then they are useless.”

MM: Exactly. Totally. And we can see where that kind of attitude and outlook has taken us, in terms of the destruction of the earth, and the destruction of our fellow humans, and life on the planet, right? And capitalism has been such an enormously destructive force in this world, because it’s all about placing value on people and life and, you know, everything. Placing value on it only if it can be sold. Only if it’s salable, only if it’s marketable, only if someone’s willing to pay for it.

DJ: So one of the reasons that I wanted to interview you, I mean apart from all your great work, is that you said that these dolls are basically an MRA dream. You’ve addressed that, you’ve talked about that some, but you haven’t actually used the word “MRA.” Can you talk about how they would be an MRA dream? What is “MRA,” for the listeners?

MM: I said that sex robots kind of seemed like the dream of these kind of men’s rights, anti-feminist gamers who I come across online from time to time. And it’s not like it’s just, it’s not just about technical men’s rights activists, or all gamers, or whatever.

Anita Sarkeesian has obviously done a lot of work around this. There’s a lot of misogyny and pornification that happens in video games. So young men today spend a lot of time at home, on the computer, playing these video games that more and more frequently are designed to supposedly emulate “real life.” And the women in these games are often, again, sexualized and pornified, and in some of these games, the player can have sex with, or even rape, some of these video game women. So it sort of seems like an extension of this idea, that a player can, a player/man, can kind of create their own fantasy, and then project their fantasies onto that.

But more and more it seems like a lot of, kind of anger behind men who are fans of the sex robot or the sex doll, because they’re kind of saying like “fuck you” to women, like they’re these guys who are, like, so angry and so bitter, because they’ve grown up in this world that has taught them they’re entitled to women, that’s sold them porn culture, and said “You deserve access to this, hot, young, perfect woman. And she’s gonna have sex with you whenever you want, and she’s gonna big up your ego.”

And that’s what they see in the media, that’s what they see on their computers, that’s what they see in pornography. And all of a sudden, when they’re out in the world, they realize that women are human beings and they don’t have to do those things. They don’t have to have sex with them, and they don’t have to cater to their egos, and they’re not these half-baked fantasies that they’ve been sold online and elsewhere.

So it sort of seems like the response to these sex robots is like “screw you, women, we don’t need you anymore, we have this now.” And I guess they can kind of, or they think that they can kind of, have their fantasy, and they can have that thing they’ve been sold all their lives. And they can continue hating real life women who haven’t lived up to the standards that they learned women should be living up to.

DJ: The notion that this would not have effects in the real world seems to me to be absurd, in that what we take into our bodies, by which I mean what we view on television, what we look at on the Internet, affects us. What we read in books, affects us. That’s the point. And that’s the point of advertising.

And it seems to me, and you’ve been saying this a lot, I think; that in many ways, this new piece of technology is simply more advertising for the patriarchal, pornographied mindset.

MM: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s a comparison that I make quite often, what you mentioned earlier around advertising is that when people say things like pornography, or sex robots, or child sex dolls are just fantasies, they’re not real, and they have nothing to do with the real world; it doesn’t make sense, because we all know that the images that exist in our world have an enormous impact, and that’s how advertising works. And advertising can happen in really, really subtle ways. Advertising doesn’t work in the way that just says like “buy this thing.” It tries to sell you a fantasy, and it sells you a lifestyle, and it sells you an idea. And it sells you an idea about yourself. Like, “if you want this kind of life, if you see yourself as this kind of person, if you want other people to see you as this kind of person, then you have to have this product.”

And we know that images in film have an impact on the larger culture, and that’s why, for example, there are so many critiques of racist stereotypes on TV and in movies. Because we know that if we see racist stereotypes in the media, that shapes our ideas of what we think about various ethnic groups, and things like that.

So I think I’ve gotten a little bit off track of what you were asking.

DJ: No, no; it’s great. That’s perfect. Go ahead.

MM: I think that – it does, it functions as a kind of advertisement for porn culture. It sells us that idea, and it reinforces that idea that the sex industry sells us about – again, what women are for, what women should look like, what men should do with women.

DJ: It seems that if – there’s something I wrote in a book I wrote about zoos, which was that if you want to see wild animals, you shouldn’t – going to see a wild animal in a zoo is not really seeing a wild animal. You’re seeing a captive, and you’re seeing one who is not there by choice, and what I say in that book is that if you want to see bears, you shouldn’t go to a zoo. What you should do is you should live in such a manner that the bears want to hang around. And you should live such that you help make habitat for whatever creature this is.

And it seems that’s it too … And even when you do make the habitat, that doesn’t mean bears are going to show up. They’re their own beings, and they could show up or not. My point having to do with this is if you want to be – if you really want to be loved by someone, it seems that one of the things that one should do is to work hard to make one’s self lovable, as opposed to … In addition to everything else, it seems really pathetic, and really nasty, that instead of doing the work to make themselves such that they can possibly find decent relationships, that what they do is they buy a doll. That seems to me the essence of porn culture and also the essence of capitalism. That what I’m doing is “I am lonely, and I’m going to buy some damn piece of plastic that I can screw.” That seems as big an indictment of this culture as anything.

MM: Yeah, it’s turning love and relationships and emotional connection into a product, into a thing that can be bought. And it can’t be bought. But that’s what it tells these men. It’s like they sort of – they believe that they are entitled to love and entitled to relationships but they shouldn’t have to do anything in terms of their own personal lives and selves that would make them a good candidate for a relationship with a woman. I mean, “why would a woman be in a relationship with you? You seem really selfish and shitty and angry.”

DJ: Here’s a quote from an article you wrote. Not your quote, it’s a quote from a man writing in a sex doll forum. “If my real doll could cook, clean and screw whenever I wanted, I’d never date again.” And that’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

MM: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it says a lot about – he doesn’t see women as human beings. That’s not what a human being is. That’s a robot. So, yeah. I guess you do want a robot. But the fact that, like, you’re out there dating and that’s what you’re looking for is just so warped and gross and I mean, I can’t imagine that he’s getting very far with that attitude, because he sounds like a real asshole who doesn’t know how to engage with other – female – human beings, at all.

DJ: So we have about five minutes left, four or five minutes. What do you want people to take away from this interview, and also, if you can’t bring down capitalism and porn culture in one day, what would you want to do vis-a-vis this specific problem of these creations?

MM: I mean, like I said, sex robots are not for sale. A lot of men responded very angrily to my initial article about sex robots, saying, like; “You want to ban sex robots, you want to ban sex dolls.” And of course I hadn’t advocated to ban anything. I was just writing critically about these objects, these products, and thinking about what they represented.

And this is what Kathleen Richardson says as well, and I recommend people look up her campaign against sex robots online, she’s done a lot of really interesting work around this. But what’s important, I think, is that we have the larger conversation about the commercialization and the objectification of women’s bodies, and how that connects to violence against women, and how that connects to the sex industry, and that we stop compartmentalizing all these things and telling ourselves “it’s just a fantasy, it’s just a fantasy,” when these are real things that are happening in real life. Not just in real life in terms of the way that men are seeking out these products, or whatever, but the way that it impacts women in real life and the way that it impacts our ideas about relationships and sex with other human beings.

The way that we understand sex in this culture is so warped, and so harmful, and so often violent, and it’s because of these ideas that we see in porn, and these ideas that are represented by sex robots. Men think, even men who are so-called “nice men,” men who don’t go around, or don’t believe they go around raping women, nice men still see sex as a thing they want to, or should get from women, that is just kind of owed to them.

We talk about – there’s so many women who are in marriages, or long-term monogamous relationships with men, who talk about “maintenance sex.” Essentially that’s the idea that men are owed sex and that if you’re in a relationship with a man, you have an obligation to provide him with access to your body. And if you don’t, he might shrivel up and die, or he might cheat on you, or he might leave you. These ideas are so widespread, it goes so far beyond sex robots, it goes so far beyond even the sex trade.

And I think it has such a harmful impact on our relationships with other people, and it obviously has really a harmful and traumatic impact on women and girls, who just have been – I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say been traumatized so many times, not just through what we consider sexual violence, but just through the way that men have related to them, and behaved towards them, even in subtle ways, even in ways that much of the culture would view as normal and acceptable.

DJ: Well, thank you for all that. And I would like to thank listeners for listening, my guest today has been Meghan Murphy, this is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Ramsey Kanaan 09.24.17


Ramsey Kanaan discusses long-form thinking, the history of publishing and how it affects public discourse, the differences between mobilization and organizing, and how the Internet is wrecking our brains.


Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Ramsey Kanaan. He has been involved in attempting to disseminate the good word for well over three and a half decades now. As a young teenager, he founded AK Press (named after his mother’s initials) from his bedroom in Scotland. He’s co-founder and Publisher with PM Press. You can check out his current efforts at .

So first off, Ramsey, thank you for all of your work in defense of the world and for social change, and thank you for being on the program.

RK: Always a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

So, we have before discussed the collapse of the publishing industry, the collapse of long-form thinking, and the necessity of long-form thinking and the role of publishing in social change. And today I’d like to talk with you about – I mean, it’s all really depressing stuff and I would like to talk with you a little bit about ways forward, given this reality we face. So if you don’t mind, I’m wondering if you could give people a brief introduction, a several minute to fifteen minute introduction, to the problems we discussed in previous interviews, and then we’ll move from there to the solutions. So first off, can you talk briefly about the collapse of publishing, the collapse of reading, and the relationship between all that, and the collapse of long-form thinking.

RK: Certainly. I’ll do my best to do a somewhat brief recap. I think fundamentally the problem is, as you posited, that people don’t read anymore. Reading, and the written word, is fundamental to any form of change. Certainly any form of change that includes making the world a better place. I think this is somewhat easily illustrated in two ways. One is that you can pretty much trace the rise and fall of social movements – and not even social movements, but the kind of explosive events in the history of the last, certainly two or three hundred years, in terms of modern history. That pretty much parallels the rise and fall of reading, and of literacy, and of the advocacy of both thereof.

To give a couple of examples, which I always give, going back a hundred years – a couple hundred years – that the first great outpouring, certainly in the English language, of literature, was in the English Revolution. The English Revolution gave birth to many things. As your listeners are probably aware, the most famous on the left would be the Diggers, at St. George’s Hill. They took over this hill, in what is now London, and cultivated it for the common good. The earth is a treasury for all, the kind of world turned upside down, rulers should become peasants and peasants should become rulers. In fact, it should be the Commonwealth, so-called; wealth should be for everyone to share equally, the Kingdom of Heaven is actually here within us, etc.

So the English Revolution: the other great thing, of course, was they beheaded the first, that was the first time the King of England had actually been beheaded by the people, so to speak, which is never a bad thing.

The English Revolution was just this fantastic outpouring of literature, both of the revolutionaries and of course of the reactionaries. An insane amount. And that’s why we know that, you know, the Kingdom of God is within us, and that’s why we know that the earth is a treasury for everyone to share, is because those so-called “Digger tracts” actually are still with us. They remain; the writings of Gerrard Winstanley, the writings of Abiezer Coppe, who was a so-called “Ranter,” who was, again, notorious in his lifetime for two reasons: one, he was a vegetarian, and secondly, he attacked Parliament with a sword, all on his own.

So the writings of these kind of plucky characters in history, and the movements of which they were part of, actually still exist today.

The next great outpouring of literature was during the events leading up to the French Revolution of 1789, which again was the first time that “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” were kind of posited to the world. And again, during that time of incredible ferment, again there was this massive outpouring of literature. So Tom Paine, the erstwhile founder of American independence, issued several pamphlets, as they were called then. One was called Common Sense, and in the U.K, which had a population of six million, Common Sense sold 100,000. which as a per capita, especially bearing in mind that most of the populace were illiterate, is pretty phenomenal.

Again, fast forward to 100 years or so ago, to 1906, to Kropotkin, the wonderful Russian anarchist, formerly known as “Prince,” issued a pamphlet called An Appeal To the Young. Again, I think the sales of that pamphlet in the year 1906, again, amounted to hundreds of thousands.

Again, this was a time of revolutionary ferment. The Russian Revolution of 1905 had just happened. So, again, what I’m trying to illustrate is that literacy, reading, writing, thinking about these things, and perhaps even acting upon them kind of go hand and hand with radical ferment.

My second example of the importance, if you like, of reading and writing to awfully fundamental societal change, is that any liberation movement, across the world, you name it, the first things that they try and do, both in terms of struggling for liberation, and then secondly, if they’re in a position of power where they can implement programs, to kind of further, and help cement and solidify and further those radical changes, is adult literacy. So, again, you name it: any society anywhere in the world at any time in the last several hundred years – the first thing they’ll do is adult literacy – the second thing they’ll do is adult literacy. And these are considered to be integral, fundamental planks of any form of social change.

The capitalist view of education; of literacy, and writing; has been, of course, the history of that has been entirely the opposite. It’s been purely instrumental and purely utilitarian. Education is only useful insofar as it teaches people to know their place, to understand their place in society, and insofar as we need certain people to do certain jobs, you know, to function in that society. Again, of course that society being purely based on the premise that its only existence is to enrich what is now popularly known as the one percent.

So universal adult education was brought in after much struggling, only to a very basic level, and again, only insofar as it was perceived to be useful. What we’ve seen post-second world war, with the decline in profits for capitalists, is that, again, any ideas of universal education, of education being free, at pretty much any and all levels, have gone out the window, and are rapidly being hacked away with this kind of neoliberal imposition of what now passes for education and literacy. Hence, as I’m sure everyone is aware, rates of adult literacy are falling. I believe, and you’d know probably better than me from your work inside prisons, Derrick, but I believe the average literacy age, or reading age, or comprehension age or educational age of someone incarcerated is typically like fifth grade, or something?

So basically, people are being taught not to read and write. So that’s the kind of overall picture of what’s been going on, if you like, over the last few hundred years.

Superimposed, and/or enmeshed within that, is what’s been going on more recently within the publishing industry. And it always has been an industry, the publishing and hence dissemination of ideas of whatever nature, has always been an industry, for the kind of previous 150 years, up until about 30-40 years ago, that industry was largely in the hands of kind of, so-called gentlemen. It was a gentleman’s profession, and, again, whatever one’s views about the world and how to move within it, it was kind of rich people did it as a glorified hobby. To be a publisher meant that you invested large sums of your money into doing just that.

DJ: Okay, can you hold on for a second? Hold on with that thought. I agree with you, and you also said “for 150 years,” so my question might be irrelevant, but who published Thomas Paine? And who published Kropotkin? Were they published by these gentleman publishers? Or did they scrap nickels and dimes together? How did that work?

RK: In the case of both of them, I actually don’t know. In the case of – that’s a very good question. I do know, later if we move into the early 20th century, I do know that much of radical publishing and the wherewithal to do so, was published by wealthy patrons.

DJ: Great. That certainly does happen, too. And Kropotkin wasn’t poor, was he?

RK: Kropotkin wasn’t poor, but he also wasn’t rich. He was, literally, a prince. But the Russian, whatever you want to call it, the system of kings and queens, whatever that’s called – the regal system in Russia – that’s probably the wrong term. But there were hundreds of princes. So to say that Kropotkin was a prince didn’t mean he was, you know, fourth in line to the throne, or he was going to be the next Tsar any time soon. So what it meant was he was part of the nobility. As such, he was a man of some means.

But, again, in the Russian system – I mean, the other famous Russian anarchist, Bakunin was not a prince, but was also part of that nobility. But because the nobility was so vast, what the nobility meant in Russia at the time was kind of like the role the middle class plays in society today. Meaning, you could be middle class, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are financially well off. But it does mean that you are undoubtedly better educated, and that the role in life that is assigned to you, and that you’re expected to fill, and that function, is that of, you know, that kind of middle strata in society, the society of teachers, professors, educators, but also managers – the kind of managerial class, if you like.

DJ: You know, I was feeling bad for interrupting you a moment ago – there was a sense in which this is kind of irrelevant, whether Kropotkin’s actual financial status –

RK: I agree, but I disagree in a sense of it points to the wider picture. Because I think, not only did these, the examples I gave happen at times of kind of social unrest, or radical transformation, or at least potential for that. But basically they came out of social movements. Thomas Paine or Kropotkin weren’t writing in a vacuum. They weren’t just stuck away in a study or, you know, a little garret somewhere, living off their uncle’s whatever, and writing. They were actually part of the kind of ferment and the radical activity that was going on, and so they were both feeding into it and feeding off it.

DJ: Absolutely. And then the other point I want to make is that the fact that I can ask you what is the relationship between wealthy patrons and publishing radical material, or anything else, and the fact that you can respond with information and say “I don’t know about Kropotkin but I do know about in the 1920’s,” is a testament to the power of reading, because one of the points of – one of the differences between science, for example, and literary criticism is that quite often in science you’re actually working with physical reality that you can check against. The same can be true for history, of “we actually know this.” So the point is, you can talk – you can have the conversation we are having right now, because you have read that material. And so you’re actually manifesting exactly what we’re talking about, because if you don’t know the history, you, as they say, are condemned to repeat it.

RK: Absolutely.

DJ: So I was feeling bad about the digression and now I’m not feeling so bad, because you’re showing the importance of data points for analysis.

RK: Well, I think in more than one sense. I was going to say “one sense” but I think in many, many senses, that’s vital. Because, again, we’re talking about the death of discourse and the death of ideas. I mean, the whole logic of reading and writing is to stimulate your brain, and it’s to stimulate thought, and that’s why, as I said, any revolutionary movement wants that basic level of literacy, in the broader sense of the term, because without that you can’t actually have any discourse.

So, the only level of literacy that people had, say at the time of the English Revolution, in the 1640’s, the only discourse that they had, the only points of reference, the only data, the only history, the only so-called facts that they had, was a religious discourse, and was the Bible.

So the early struggles over literacy, as you and your listeners may recall, was over getting the Bible – that was the Reformation, was getting the Bible out of Latin and getting it into English, the so-called King James Bible. Because once it was in English, that actually expanded the discourse.

So when I said the Diggers, you know, these revolutionaries in the 1640’s, their whole discourse was couched in religious terms. “The Kingdom of God is not in Heaven, it’s within you, and each and every one of us.” Or they want “the world turned upside-down.” These are all religious imagery, because that’s their only frames of reference. That’s the only data they have to deal with. Yet, nevertheless, despite reading this horribly hierarchical, oppressive, you know, horrendous theory and practice, if you like, of religion; the very fact that they’re able to have a discourse around that, think around it, and be able to engage and interrogate with that – that’s where they get the radicalism from.

So, if I’m making sense, it’s – once we get the brain to interact with anything, that’s the danger. Which is of course why modern society is all based on censorship, it’s all based on making us illiterate, because they don’t want us engaging with anything. And the same with, modern society doesn’t want us to come together. Modern society is set up so we’re all isolated, atomized individuals. Because they don’t want people to come together, to congregate, and actually have discourse. Because that, historically, has always proved incredibly dangerous, threatening, and upending to the powers that be.

DJ: So … this would be a really good jumping off point to what we do to counter the decline of reading, in terms of – and what we really care about is social change, I believe. And reading is one of the ways to get there.

But before we make that transition, can you talk for a moment – I love the interview you did before, about long-form thinking, and can you give a literally three or four minute discourse on the importance of it – (laughs) check that out. Long-form thinking, cut it down to three minutes. A discussion of the importance of long-form thinking and its decline, and what that decline means.

RK: So if we take as accurate my premise that it’s the engagement with ideas that has produced social change, and that you need some engagement to actually even have any discourse or any frame of reference. So of course, the first book that any people read for hundreds of years was the Bible. That’s pretty long-form. And hence, similarly, most of the ways people engaged with ideas was what’s called long-form.

Admittedly, there was also, y’know, pamphlets. And Kropotkin’s Appeal To the Young and Tom Paine’s Common Sense were only 30 or 40 or 50 pages, but nevertheless, that’s a substantial body of work, not quite as long as the Bible, that one is engaging with. And it’s packed full of ideas, and it’s to be discussed, and again, as I said before; when Common Sense was published, it was often – there would be the one person that could read, would read it out to his – whatever, his fellows, who would be these, like, book clubs, in effect, where the one person who could read would read out to the assembled, whatever, his fellows, and of course in those days it typically was fellows and not their spouses or whatever. But nevertheless, they were actually reading and then discussing these long-form ideas. What we’ve seen probably in the last twenty years has been, in effect, the slow death, and now the increasingly accelerated death, of that long-form thinking, and reading, and interaction.

So now, typically; again, even 20-30 years ago, typically your average household got a newspaper. Irrespective of the quality of the newspaper, or its political perspective, your average person read a newspaper, and were engaged in some form of longer-form thinking or interacting. These days, with the Internet, whether it’s the New York Times or whatever the hell, most people, even if they subscribe to a newspaper, are going to do it online, and they’re going to scan the headlines, or scan a couple of articles. That’s fundamentally very different from even reading a whole article, let alone reading a book.

That has all kinds of ramifications. It actually apparently has a genuine physiological ramification, meaning, for the last 500 years, since literacy first came in, human brains have actually developed in ways which, or have developed accordingly because we are actually engaged with this longer form of reading, and hence contemplation and discourse.

DJ: And I want to say; before that, in story-telling. For God’s sake, Homer – that’s long.

RK: Absolutely.

DJ: Story-telling was also a long-form thinking.

RK: Exactly. That whole oral tradition. Again, all of these, all the classics, of these stories, it’s not a two-minute bedtime story. These are, you know, they’re called odysseys for a reason. You know, they go on forever. Not literally, but … We’re now seeing, for the first time, several, perhaps a generation or two now, where that whole paradigm, of the way that we interact with ideas, has completely shifted. And that means not just the rise of so-called ADD or short attention spans, but apparently this is having actual physiological effects on our brain and brain development. That the kind of constant jumping to and fro, instead of curling up with a good book for several hours, the fact that if one is online, even if you’re actually trying to read an article but you’re following the hyperlink, so you’re checking up on this data, or you’re going to the online dictionary – that form of reading, and that form of thinking, and that form of interaction, actually has a deleterious effect on our brain and our brain development.

In the shorter term, or in the more immediate term, it literally means, of course, that there isn’t that kind of long-term discourse and contemplation. And as I say, it’s all part of that, without sounding too Machiavellian, or without sounding too, kind of, the “powers that be” conspiracy theory, because it’s not like one person deciding this, or even one group of people deciding this – but nevertheless, what the short attention span means is the opposite of people coming together and having discourse.

I mean, you could look at the history of the Internet, right? The Internet was first mooted – I mean, let’s forget its original military purposes. But when it became open to the public, so to speak, the Internet – I don’t mean, again, the pioneers, who were these radical, libertarians, often left-wing libertarian types who were into prima information and that kind of, you know, early bulletin boards and that kind of thing, that often was done by anarchists or their ilk, their comrades. But as it was first touted as a kind of mainstream thing.

The Internet, if you remember, Al Gore said, was the “information superhighway.” It was actually meant to be about ideas, supposedly. You know, that lasted for about a year, and then it very quickly got turned into shopping, online shopping. It got turned from the information superhighway into online consumption. And by its very nature, that turns us into, say, the kind of isolated atomized consumers. Not thinkers anymore, and certainly not thinkers who may engage with their neighbors, or with anyone else, but into atomized stay-home shop, and shop. And that has huge ramifications for everything.

DJ: So, before we go to solutions, I want to say two things. And this is all great, by the way. Thank you for saying all that.

And one of them is, one of the things – and this may drive some readers crazy, but one of the things I love about my books is that I will take an idea, and I’ll throw it out, and then I’ll sit on it for – I’ll throw it out over pages 47-53, and then I’ll talk about something else, and then at pages 73-82, I’ll go “Y’know? That idea I had before is not such a great idea. I think it’s kind of crap.”

And that, for me, comes through long-form thinking. That’s what you ruminate. That’s what cows do. You swallow something, and then you bring it back up and you chew on it and you swallow again. And that’s what long-form thinking is, for me, is; throw out an idea, see how it works and then “I like this part. I don’t like this part.” And you can’t do that in ten minutes. That takes days, weeks, months, years.

So that’s one thing. Do you have a response to that, at all?

RK: Yes, absolutely. The only caveat I would put to that is, as a publisher, I’m always very cognizant and aware of the instrumentality of why I’m publishing certain things. Meaning, I think you have to be aware, given that we can’t publish everything, and we can’t all follow every idea wherever it may take us. I think there is a necessity, as well as a practicality, of “where do we want to go with these ideas?”

And so, again, “instrumentality” makes it sound too –

DJ: No, I’m totally with you. And I should have put a warning of –

RK: How do you explore ideas? And to what end are we exploring ideas?

DJ: And I just want to say, in defense of myself, that I don’t just throw any crap on the page. I mean, I’m crafting a process, I’m showing a process, really. That’s what I’m really getting at. I’m showing a process when I write my books. Of how we – if I come up with a really, really bad idea, of course it doesn’t stay on the page. But I’ll explore something, and then I will intentionally undercut it, because that’s how we think and how we move, in this long-form thinking.

RK: Right.

DJ: Let me get to the other story now, which is just yesterday I had lunch with a family of intellectuals. And there was a mother, father, and two children. And we sat at the Thai restaurant for three hours. And the children were eleven and thirteen, and I can’t tell you how many times this happened when I was a kid. The children attended to the conversation, but they were old enough that they listened. And at one point Burning Man was brought up, and this was the eleven-year-old’s only contribution to the conversation – he turned to his mother and said “What is “‘Burning Man?’”

And they were attentive, and they were – I was so impressed with these children – with these eleven and thirteen-year-olds, these adolescents, who were – and also, I said to the parents; “Your children are delightful. What’s the story?” And they said a couple of things. One of them is “We treat them like human beings and don’t allow them to be terrorists,” and the other is “We don’t – we very much limit or eliminate their screen time.”

RK: Yup.

DJ: So, my point is, that was an absolutely common experience when I was a kid. You know I was raised a fundamentalist Christian, and I would sit there through Bible discussion meetings when I was seven years old, and I’m sitting there with the adults, and occasionally I might say something. And if I did, it was on topic. My point is, from childhood, not from two years old, but from, at a certain age, children can be taught and assisted into this long-form thinking.

RK: Absolutely. I think even more than that, as a crucial component of thinking, particularly long-form, is the whole process of any education pretty much is actually to batter away at children’s natural creativity and imagination. Because without creativity and imagination, you’re just becoming a rote robot, right? Repeating – you’re actually not interacting with the information you’re getting, whether long-form or otherwise.

And what school is designed to do, of course, is to tell you to sit down and shut up, do as you’re told and know your place. Which you learn from the day you go to school. And that’s the opposite of nurturing, let alone encouraging that natural, for want of a better term, state all kids have. Which is, you know, your imagination. Take it where you want it to go.

It’s kind of like what you say with your, when you’re literally putting your thinking processes onto the page. And without that, we’re all doomed. We just become mindless automatons that just repeat what we’re told. Big Brother knows best, okay. (Regarding) Your imagination and creativity, that’s where you’re always going to end up with, with “Big Brother Knows Best.”

DJ: So, given the current state of discourse – we have, like 15-20 minutes left. We’re halfway through, a little bit more. Given the social and – given what we live in, what do we do? What are some ways that we can revivify long-form thinking, revivify community, stop this – You know, this makes me think of what Lewis Mumford talked about, how only the most sort of half-baked authoritarian systems will just shoot all the dissidents. That’s kind of a desperate and not very sophisticated means, that it’s much better if you can use more advanced technologies to do it. 1984 – we’ve seen this everywhere.

So, given those realities we face, and Brave New World, all those – notice, again, that I go back to literary references. That’s how I learned political theory.

But anyway, so, given all that, and given declining reading, what do those of us who care about social change, care about long-form thinking, care about the word – what do we do?

RK: Well, I think in the most banal terms – and I’ll preface this by saying if I had the kind of, the easy quick answer and solutions, we’d be discussing this in the past tense, because we’d have won. We’d be in the process of already living in and helping to make that better world. Whereas it’s a pity that’s not the case yet.

Alas, even I, and all my accumulated wisdom and long-form reading, don’t have the kind of, the easy, three-point magic solution which will transform us and our world. But I really do think that the – like most organizing, like most successful – again, I really hate the term “activism” so I won’t use it – but in terms of organizing, whether it’s organizing our lives and whatever aspects of our lives, the most successful organizing is done through building real community and real bonds and real ties with whomever. And again, I think community’s a really loaded term, and I really don’t like using it, because typically it’s used by people who have their own agenda and want to represent something which is actually not real. You know, “I speak for the X community.” Well, if you can define actually what the X community is, then maybe you can speak for them. But again, putting all of those caveats aside, I think that real transformative change has always come through struggle, and has always been effected by people coming together.

So what can we do, to be more effective in getting people to come together, and then when they come together, how can we be more effective in having the kind of discourse and the kind of dissemination and circulation of ideas which are needed, and then how can we be more effective in putting those ideas into a suitable practice which actually produces results?

And I think that involves a whole myriad of things. I think it fundamentally involves goals, strategy, and vision. And I think it means understanding what those things are, how they relate, and, for want of a better term, or better terms; the differences between organizing and mobilizing. Because I think, again, to bring it to the kind of “where we’re at” in the movement, I think over the last, say, 20-30 years, certainly since I’ve been around, been politically active, there’ve been many, many successful, phenomenally successful examples of people mobilizing. There have been pitifully few successful examples of folks coming together and actually organizing. And I’ll give two very quick, very obvious examples of successful “mobilizing.”

Probably the most successful mobilization around the world was in, again, we discussed earlier our favorite memories, because we’re not getting any younger, but again, the mobilizing against the second Gulf War, which would be, what? 2003? Against George Bush, and if you and your listeners recall, on 2/15, the fifteenth of February, the entire world was mobilized and marched in the streets against the impending second Gulf War. Millions of people. Not only millions of people within America, but millions of people in pretty much every country in the world mobilized. Literally millions of people. I mean, there were a million people just in San Francisco, I was there.

It achieved absolutely bugger-all. It was a phenomenally successful mobilization, but again, it achieved nothing.

A few years later, in 2006 I believe, there was a fantastically successful mobilization of immigrants here in America. It was on May Day and basically, literally millions of immigrants went on strike. It was actually a genuine, probably the last time America actually had a genuine general strike. It was a fantastic mobilization. Millions of people didn’t show up for work, they marched in the streets, etc., on May Day.

Again, it achieved nothing. Actually that’s not true. What it achieved was, again, after the fact, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were retaliated against by their employers, were deported, were sanctioned, etc., etc.

I think they were phenomenally successful on their own terms, in terms of turning out people, mobilizations. They are the complete antithesis of organizing. Because in neither case did they effect any actual change whatsoever.

So I say that the challenge is: How do we actually organize? And as I posited earlier, that involves what we’ve been talking about for the last half hour, going back to the basics, of how do we nurture, how do we encourage, how do we further those forms of reflection, of discourse? Of reading and writing. And then how do we further doing that as a group activity? So how do we further that as a collective action? Or a collective series of actions?

And then, how do we take those thoughts, those discourses, I would take that theory, if you like, and put it into practice. Which again, to me means how do we build collective power? And how do we build collective institutions which are able to mount a serious and realistic and lasting challenge to the system, to the powers, to the authorities, that we actually can effect those changes?

DJ: A great example of this that I think about a lot, was I was so excited hearing of Arab Spring. And I was thrilled that people were rising up against these dictatorships. And that ended up in my mind being a great example of mobilization. Because who won round one in Egypt, of Arab Spring was the Muslim Brotherhood. Why? Because they were more well organized and they’d been organizing for 70 years. And then who won round two, was the US-backed military dictatorship, because they were even more organized and had even more power.

RK: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic example. And I think, to me, it points to the necessity of organization. Because, as with the Arab Spring, stuff – which is a phenomenally inarticulate term for a publisher and somebody who pretends to be involved in long-form reading – nevertheless, stuff happens all the time. The history of the world is one of revolts, uprisings, rebellions. It happens constantly, on small scale and very often on a large scale, such as the Arab Spring, such as Occupy, in recent history. All over the place, all the time.

As you pointed out, who actually wins – and I must stress again, I’m only interested in organizing because actually I want to win. That’s partly selfishly, of course. I want a better life for me, thank you very much. But it’s also understanding that me winning is by necessity a collective process, I can’t be purely selfish about it.

But more importantly, winning is better than – no one likes a loser. But losing is dispiriting, it’s kind of self-defeating in that sense. So when we struggle, where we have our goals, our goals don’t have to be huge. You know, the goal might not be “Let’s climb Mount Everest.” That might be your vision, but that’s not your goal. Your strategy, to get that vision of climbing Mt Everest, your first strategy is “Well, I’d better figure out what I need to know about mountain climbing.” That might be your first goal. Your second goal is “I better team up with some people who know better than me what they’re doing, and we can do it together.” And then your third goal might be “Let’s see what it would take to get us to the base camp at the bottom, first.”

Whereas if the first goal is “Let’s nip off up the mountain,” we’re going to be defeated immediately, of course, and we’ll probably never try to do that again, we’ll be so crushed by the experience.

So, it is incremental, sure. But I think we have to be strategic. And strategic means a succession of small victories. And a small victory is building our knowledge, building our power, and then finally building organizations and institutions, if you like; or a better term, that when stuff happens, as it does all the time – as you pointed out, those that benefit from the Arab Spring were both reactionary institutions. I mean, it’s kind of ironic that the even more reactionary institution took out the not-so-reactionary institution. Meaning the state went after the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course the Egyptian state went after the Muslim Brotherhood, because the Muslim Brotherhood were the perceived threat. Whereas a bunch of people frolicking in Tahrir Square, however well intentioned, were actually not really a threat; whereas the Muslim Brotherhood were organized and hence they were a threat to the state.

We have to be, the collective we have to position where, when that happens again, on the small level, and along the kind of major level – that not only are we able to take advantage and win, but when the time comes, we’re able to win big.

DJ: And this reminds me of a saying that was on the locker room wall when I was in college. And it was – you know, all those cliches they put up. “Winners never quit, quitters never win,” etc. There was one that was great, which was “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And, as you were saying, these opportunities come up all the time, and the question is whether you have prepared for them, so that you can have the luck when the time comes.

RK: Exactly. Us radicals, revolutionaries, people like myself, point to, you know, the kind of high point, if you like, of anarchist success – it came twice, in the 20th century. One was in the Ukraine, during the Russian Revolution, where Nestor Makhno and his compadres basically, in effect, took over large swathes of Russia, of what was to become the Soviet Union. And it was basically then that they kind of successfully defeated the Whites, you know, the reactionary forces that were fighting against the Revolution.

Second, of course, is the Spanish Revolution, and Spain in 1936. What is typically not talked about, or forgotten about, or never mentioned, is that in both cases the Ukrainian anarchists and the Spanish anarchists had been organizing, had been fighting, and had been, you know, having these small victories and small defeats and whatever, but they’d been working up to that big, to big events, for literally decades. The Spanish Revolution, the successful revolution insofar as a success in year 1936, was preceded by failed revolutions in 1934, in 1932, in 1930. They’d been going at it, and organizing, for the big one, for decades. Same in the Ukraine. It’s not like these people suddenly popped up, fully formed, and well organized. They succeeded, insofar as they succeeded, because they were prepared, they were organized, they knew what they were going to do. So when the opportunity happened, they could actually – they out-organized the forces of reaction, if you like.

DJ: And to bring this back to – we’ve got three or four minutes left. And to bring this back to discourse, part of that – there’s a sentence I heard many years ago, that really stuck with me, was “it takes somebody ten years to change their mind.” And what he meant is that he was very pro – he was very anti-choice, and then about ten years later, with no discernible transition, he found himself just as much pro-choice. And I’ve noticed that in my own life too, that a lot of times my transitions in how I think will take a long time, and they happen through discourse. They happen through somebody presenting a challenging idea, and then me perhaps disagreeing with it strongly, but then, like I was saying earlier about ruminating, I go away, and I think about it, and then I forget about it, and then I think about it, and forget about it; and several years later, I have learned. That’s how you metabolize a position.

And so I just want to mention that one of the things I love about PM Press, and your work in general, is that you provide a platform for all sorts of ideas, many of which, and this was kind of the point I wanted to make about my own writing, too – many of which are contradictory.

RK: Sure.

DJ: And that seems to me to be an absolutely essential part of this organizing, is to present lots of pieces of information and lots of analyses for people to sift through, and to take literally years to cogitate upon, so that when the time comes, they can, they are ready to move into some sort of action.

I’m sorry that was so long-winded, but I’m sure you have someplace to go with that.

RK: No, no. I think that’s absolutely vital. And I think even more than that is providing the wherewithal, the platform if you like, or the space to be able to do that. One of the myriad of problems of the Internet, and particularly of social media, say like Facebook being the obvious example, is they actually don’t provide a space for discourse. They actually provide a self-enclosed bubble and an echo chamber. The only news you get on your news feed of Facebook. is what your friends have sent you. So the chances of getting an alternate opinion, let alone a radically different opinion, are (slim).




George Wuerthner 05.21.17

Geo Tobacco Root Mountains, Montana
Image from


George Wuerthner talks about the history of the creation of public lands in the United States, the outrage evidenced by those who do not approve of such creations, and the political and corporate machinations that manipulate the public into acting against their own best interests.


Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is George Wuerthner. He’s the former Ecological Projects Director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He is an ecologist and wildlands activist. He has published 38 books on environmental issues and natural history including such environmentally focused books as Welfare Ranching, Thrillcraft, Energy and most recently, Protecting the Wild. Today we talk about the right wing assault on public lands.

So, as always, thank you for your extraordinary work and thank you for being on the program.

GW: I appreciate it and I’m glad to be here.

DJ: So, when you say “assault on public lands,” what does that mean? And also, can you give a history of – I don’t want to say “the history of public lands,” because of course that is beyond just the formation of the BLM, etc., but can you talk about the formation of the BLM, the Park Service, the National Monument system, whatever is appropriate to this discussion.

GW: Sure. Well, briefly; the assault on public lands is an attempt by mostly extractive interests. Oil and gas, ranching, logging, etc. To have greater influence over the management of those lands to benefit their bottom line, basically. And this is not a new issue. It’s almost been endemic to the creation of public lands in the first place.

I’ll give you a little bit of history on that. It’s kind of an interesting thing to think about, because our nation, back in the mid-1800’s, was pretty much devoted to trying to give away as much land as possible. They had the Homestead Act, they had the Timber and Stone Act, they had the Mining Law of 1872. They gave almost 200 million acres to the railroads, presumably for building, helping to finance the building of railroads cross country. In other words, the whole way of approach was to try to get rid of the public domain as quickly as possible, and part of the reason was it was a way to settle the country, which was seen as a way to make sure we had people there, to have a claim to the territory, you might say. And then the other was the hope to get new tax revenues and so forth, from all these endeavors.

That was the general policy, and the first sort of crack in that policy happened in 1864, during the Civil War. The federal government relayed the Yosemite Valley to the State of California to maintain as a state park. That was sort of the first time, in a federal way, that there was any attempt to keep lands from being given away.

And then, in 1872, an even more extraordinary thing happened, and that was the designation of Yellowstone National Park. And you really have to look at this within the context of the era, where the whole goal was to give away land as quickly as possible, and turn it into private land. So the idea of withdrawing from public acquisition and exploitation of over two million acres of land, and the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, was a real change in whole attitudes about land, and what the public policy should be.

And that continued on through the 1880’s and 90’s. In the 1890’s, legislation was passed that allowed the president to designate what were called at the time “forest reserves.” And the forest reserves were predecessors of our national forests. The idea was to withdraw them primarily from homesteading, and other activities were still eventually going to be allowed on them, although initially they were more like what we think of as national parks, where logging was not allowed, etc., even though they were called forest reserves. And the main justification for these forest reserves was that in the West, aridity was seen as a major issue, and the reserves were seen as a way to protect watersheds.

So then in 1890, we got our second and third national parks; which was Yosemite, much larger than the Yosemite Valley was protected, and Yosemite National Park; and then Sequoia National Park was also set aside. A lot of that was through the efforts of John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club.

And then we get into the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, and there was an increasing realization that maybe the frontier was ending. I mean, the whole idea of giving away land was predicated on the idea that we had infinite land and we’ve gotta settle it and use it and so forth. That idea that the frontier was more limited started to give rise to efforts to take some of that land and keep it in federal ownership.

And another thing that contributes to this, that people should know about, is when states west of the Mississippi River, primarily, the western states, entered the Union, they would get a certain percentage of federal lands designated to them for their state use, to fund schools and other activities. So that’s a large part of how we’ve gotten state forests and state rangelands in the West, on state lands.

In any event – so, we’re around 1900, and there were a couple of things that happened. One, and it pertains to this whole idea of national monuments, which I’ll get to in a moment – but there was a stone dish found in Sequoia National Park, by one of the employees there. And when the supervisor of the park demanded that that be kept in public ownership and be returned to the park, this worker refused. And there was actually no way that the superintendent could force him to give up this stone bowl.

And that kind of led to some concern about all these antiquities, as they were called, mostly Indian ruins, in places like Utah and Arizona and New Mexico, that increasingly were getting robbed by pot hunters and others. So all of this was coming together, a sort of change in attitude about public lands, that happened to coincide with the election of Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt was very conservation-oriented. I don’t think there’s been any President who’s been more conservation-oriented than Roosevelt. So, he was sort of a big game hunter, and he was also an extremely astute bird watcher and very much believed in preserving wildlife and the habitat it relied on for future generations.

So anyway, he’s there, and Congress, to deal with this stone problem in Sequoia, passed what is called the Antiquities Act. And the basic idea behind the Antiquities Act, 1906, is to allow a President to designate certain features in the public domain as national monuments.

The original purpose of it was to try to protect some of the Indian ruins around the West and those sort of artifacts. But it was also quickly used to protect other things, for example; Devils Tower in Wyoming was designated a national monument for its geological features.

All along, around this time, there’s been discussion about setting aside the Grand Canyon as a national park. And Teddy Roosevelt was very much in favor of this, but there was, as is typical, and still occurs, local opposition to creating the national park there. Miners, loggers, grazers, etc. Northern Arizona didn’t want a park and fought against this idea.

And then Roosevelt was sort of again reviewing the Antiquities Act, then noticed that there was no size limit imposed, other than large enough to protect whatever the object of protection in that monument was to occur. So Roosevelt checked with his Attorney General and said “Is there any limitation on the size of a national monument?” And the Attorney General reviewed the law and said “Well no, there isn’t.” And so Teddy Roosevelt said “Well, I hereby declare that the Grand Canyon be set aside as a national monument,” which greatly outraged the local people. Along the same lines as we hear today, from people in southern Utah where the Bears Ears National Monument, another national monument, set up recently; has been designated.

It’s important to note at this point that a lot of what are national parks today, were originally national monuments. The difference between a national monument and a national park often is only a matter of how it was created. National parks can only be created by Congress. In other words, you have to get a bill through Congress that designates such-and-such a place as a national park, national seashore, or whatever. And a lot of these national monuments, like the Grand Canyon, eventually were re-designated by Congress as national parks. And the advantage of designation by Congress as a national park is that it’s less subject to the whims of presidents. Like right now, President Trump is attempting to “review,” he says, 27 national monuments that have been designated by Bill Clinton, George Bush and President Obama. The review is supposed to determine whether they should even exist in the first place, or should they be resized – “resized” means made smaller – or modified in other ways.

And no president has done this since, like the early 1900’s, made any changes to national monuments created by other presidents. So this is a real first, in having this review. And many of the areas that are being reviewed, I would not be surprised if in ten or fifteen or twenty years, they were to be re-designated as national parks, in keeping with some of the many other areas that were originally national monuments. For example, what is now Olympic National Park was a national monument. What is now Grand Teton National Park was a national monument. What is now Zion National Park was a national monument. What is Death Valley National Park was a national monument, and so on. So, a lot of our very famous parks around the West originally had their origins as national monuments.

So that’s kind of how we got national monuments. Now, through the 1920’s and 30’s and so forth, we had a whole lot of national forest created, particularly, again, by Teddy Roosevelt. In fact, there’s stories told about Teddy Roosevelt drawing on the floor of the White House with Gifford Pinchot, who was the first director of the Forest Service – sitting on the floor, with a map of the West, drawing lines on it for new national forests. And as he was designating these new national forests, western congressmen were very upset. You can read all this rhetoric about lockup of the land, the same kind of rhetoric we hear today, back in the early 1900’s. And in fact, Congress passed a law making it illegal for Teddy Roosevelt to create any more national forest. And he didn’t have enough votes to oppose, to veto it. In other words, if he vetoed it, it would be over ridden.

So the night before the law was to take effect, he and Pinchot spent another night drawing lines on a map and he created sixteen more national forests that night, before the law passed making it illegal for him to make any new ones.

So Teddy Roosevelt was quite a hero in a lot of ways. He also designated a lot of national wildlife refuges, too, by the way.

So the Forest Service got its start about then, during the Roosevelt years, and Gifford Pinchot was the first director. And national forests were seen different from national parks in that resource extraction could occur. So you could graze on national forest, you could log on national forest, you could mine on national forest. Most of those activities are prohibited in national parks.

So that was sort of the origin of our Forest Service lands. And then, in the 1930’s, there was a whole lot of land that was designated national forest; there was land that was designated as national parks, and wildlife refuges; and then there was a whole bunch of other sort of public domain that didn’t have any special designation, and it was under the General Land Office and the Grazing Board. And then in the 1940’s, those two agencies were combined to create the Bureau of Land Management. So that’s how we got BLM land, which were the lands, as it’s sometimes said; the lands that nobody else wanted. In other words, if it had been good for homesteading it would have been homesteaded; if it was good for mining it would have been mined, and so forth, and privatized. So we have a lot of lands around the West, in fact more acreage in BLM land than we have under any of the other agencies; the Forest Service or the Park Service.

And many of these national monuments that were established by Obama, as well as by Clinton, were on BLM land primarily. So for example, Grand Staircase-Escalante, in southern Utah, was BLM. The Bears Ears National Monument designated by Obama was BLM. The Mojave Trails in California, designated by Obama, was primarily BLM.

So these agencies are still given the opportunity to manage them, presumably better than they would be as just any old public land. Which, critics would say, hasn’t really happened. But that’s the goal, in any event.

So what we have left is we have about a third of the nation’s land, total land area, that is in public, federal domain. And that’s under all these four different agencies: Forest Service; Fish and Wildlife Service, which is the wildlife refuges; BLM, Bureau of Land Management; and the Park Service.

And collectively, you could say that’s part of the nation’s heritage for future generations, and it’s also some of the most critical wildlife habitat we have left, and some of the most important watershed, drainages in the West. It is some of the most stunning, scenic landscapes, and of course very important to a lot of people for just recreation and sort of communing, I’d say, with nature. So it’s a tremendous asset for the country. You go back east, to places like New Jersey, or, you know, Kentucky or wherever, and you have a lot less public domain in those places. And that’s primarily because what is National Forest land, or parks and those areas, pretty much all had to be bought at one time or another, and actually taken back from private ownership, whereas the public domain in the West has been retained in public ownership through all this.

And, depending on what it is, different activities are either prohibited or allowed, as I said. So you can mine on BLM land, and you can log on BLM land and Forest Service land, but you can’t on national parks. And sometimes log, mine, etc. on wildlife refuges, but a lot less than you would on, say, Forest Service or BLM land.

And throughout this history of public domain, starting from way back in the 1800’s, all the way to the current situation, there have been people, particularly in rural communities, who have always chafed under the idea that government, federal ownership of this land, and have from regulation and prohibition that limit their ability to utilize it and exploit it, primarily for their own profit. And so we have recently had, for example, the Bundy boys who took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge; Cliven Bundy down in Nevada who has been grazing his cows on public land for decades now without paying any fees and ignoring all warnings to remove his cows; those are examples of people who basically feel that the federal government and the rest of us have no right to manage these lands, to have an opinion about how they’re utilized, and basically shouldn’t be allowed to control these lands. So that’s where we’ve got to today with the idea of privatization.

And the fear is – and what is being done by some members of Congress, is to introduce legislation, and there’s various pieces of legislation out there that’re ultimately designed to, in my view, and a lot of people’s view, to privatize these lands. They would never say that, that would never be the stated goal. But what will happen, more than likely, is that the lands would be sold off. So for example, there are bills in Congress to turn over some federal lands to states. And why is that a worry? Well, a lot of states have no protections about selling off public domain. You can actually nominate lands for sale in states like Wyoming and Idaho. Say “Hey, I see 160 acres there, I want to nominate it for sale,” and the state will put it up for bid, and if you’re the only bidder, in particular, you can get it for any price you want to offer for it. So the goal of a lot of states is still like the frontier days, which is to sell off as much of the public domain as they can.

This is an issue, for example, in Oregon right now. There’s a state forest called Elliot State Forest, it’s about 90,000 acres of land on the coast of Oregon. And the state initially, about a year ago, or less; voted to sell off the entire state forest, to the highest bidder. Well, they only got one bidder, and some people felt like it wasn’t high enough, and there was a big movement also in Oregon to keep it in state ownership, public ownership. And just recently, I think last week, the State Forestry Board reversed its decision, I think that’s who was in charge. Anyway it was reversed and now it’s going to stay in public ownership under some plans about how they’re going to accomplish that. But the point being is that transferring federal land to the states is very risky. And there’s a good chance that a lot of that land will eventually be sold off to the highest bidder.

DJ: So when we are talking about the western resistance to public lands, or western assault on public lands; you said that there was opposition to the creation of these parks in the first place. I want to read a few quotes from your excellent article called Some People Have Always Hated National Monuments Until They Loved Them ( and the quotes are – there’s three or four of them.

When they made Yellowstone National Park, the editors of Montana’s Helena Gazette said “We regard the passage of the Act, (to protect the area) as a great blow struck at the prosperity of the towns of Bozeman and Virginia City.” Which of course could be said today too – they use the exact same words. National Park – Grand Canyon National Park. The Williams Sun Newspaper, northern Arizona, captured the common sentiment of the time when it editorialized that the national park had represented a “‘fiendish and diabolical scheme,’ that whoever had come up with such an idea must have been ‘suckled by a sow and raised by an idiot. The fate of Arizona depends exclusively on the development of our mineral resources.’”

Mount Olympus National Monument/ Olympic National Park, a local person, 1909, wrote “We would be fools to let a lot of foolish sentimentalists tie up the resources of the Olympic Peninsula in order to preserve its scenery.” Jackson Hole, they said that Jackson will become a “ghost town,” which of course is nonsense. Glacier National Park; they argued that they should dismantle the park, arguing that “it’s more important to furnish homes to land-hungry people than to lock up the land as a rich man’s playground, which no one will ever use,”

And I don’t know exactly how the politics are where you live, George, but these sentences could happen today in Del Mar County in northern California. I’ve seen these essential quotes in the newspaper, from locals arguing against the national park here.

GW: Well, exactly. And that’s the point I was trying to make, is that the rhetoric hasn’t changed at all. They still use terms like “lockup.” Or that it’s going to destroy the economy. And of course time has shown in every instance that that is exactly the opposite of what happens. As you referred to; Jackson Hole, the “ghost town,” has sixteen thousand people living in it today. And primarily living off of the national park that’s just outside of the town. The same with towns like Bozeman, which the Helena paper predicted was going to suffer tremendously; the experience is Bozeman is one of the most vigorous, economically vigorous towns in Montana, in the large part because of its proximity to Yellowstone.

And it’s very important for people to understand that, and one of the common criticisms you hear is that creating a park just makes seasonal jobs for part time help. And that critique is totally wrong, because what happens – first of all, you get a lot of creation of small-scale businesses. You can say whatever you want for it, but, you know; restaurants and bookstores and other things; outdoor shops, fly fishing guides, whatever. These businesses are often run by local people who adapt to the creation of the park, and then offer some sort of service or business that is attractive, by that public domain there.

But beyond that, there is a movement – it’s always been there, but it’s really accelerated in the last decade or two, where people are choosing to live in places with what’s perceived to be a high quality of life. And “high quality” is defined by a lot of things; lack of traffic, perhaps; good schools, etc. But one of the factors is just having beautiful landscapes in your life; with wildlife, with opportunities to go for a hike, and otherwise recreate on. Things like national parks and national monuments; one of the reasons they’re attractive to people is that somebody who decides to live close by knows that those areas are likely to be retained, and available, throughout their lives, for future generations. So it makes it an attractive place for people to move businesses to. In other words, somebody who has nothing to do with the park.

When I lived near Yellowstone, I lived adjacent to Yellowstone in Livingston, Montana for about twelve years. There were people moving to Livingston throughout the time I was there, who had businesses either that they had established in town, or they brought with them. An example is a financial advisor I knew in town, moved from Minneapolis to Livingston. And all his clients were back in Minneapolis, but what he could do was work on computer, and he moved to Livingston because he wanted to be close to Yellowstone Park.

So he was spending his money locally, supporting the schools with his taxes. He eventually expanded his business and hired a few other people. And that’s the kind of situation that’s much more common today. So that his business, as financial advisor, has nothing to do with serving tourists, but it’s still an economic opportunity that is in a large part being created because of the proximity to Yellowstone Park.

So we see that kind of thing happening in a lot of rural communities around the West. And the irony is, to me, that a lot of these rural communities are very hostile to the idea of these changes, in part because, you know; “my daddy was a logger and by gosh I’m gonna be a logger,” or “my daddy was a rancher, and my grandfather was a rancher, and I’m gonna be a rancher.” And there’s resistance to changing and trying to see if you can do something different.

And the other part of it that hurts a lot of these rural towns initially, to get to a certain threshold of change, is that the cultural attitudes of a lot of those towns are so negative that people who might be willing to bring a business to the community and liven up the economic opportunities are not willing to live there. So they hurt their own, sort of, hopes for the future in a lot of cases.

I’ll give you an example. Burns, Oregon, where the Bundy guys took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge, is a case in point. Something like 35 or 40 percent of the people in Burns supported that takeover of the refuge. They didn’t think they should be dealing with guns and stuff, but they really agreed with the general attitude that the public lands around there should be turned over to the people of Burns to do what they want with it.

Well, that attitude is really unattractive to somebody like me, and a whole lot of other people who might be willing to otherwise find Burns an attractive location, because it does have a lot of amenities, like a wildlife refuge, out the door, not to mention other public lands.

So in their sort of negativity they actually hinder the opportunity for different economic diversity in their communities.

I’ll give you another personal example. Years ago, I bought a lot in Challis, Idaho. I worked for the Forest Service on the Challis National Forest, and I bought a lot there. I had always thought I’d want to retire to Challis, because it’s just surrounded by a tremendous array of public land. There are wolves there, there are salmon in the Salmon River. It’s just a great outdoor location with a lot of wild lands close by.

But as I got older, I realized that I just wouldn’t fit in Challis. The community is very hostile in general to public lands, they’re hostile to wolves. It’s just a place that, I said to myself, “I just can’t see myself living there.” And eventually I sold my lot for that reason and never did settle in Challis.

So, what happens, I think, is this hostility to public lands actually hurts these communities. Tom Power, who I actually had as a professor in college – he used to be the chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana – used to say that most communities had what he called a “rear view mirror” of their economy. And what he meant is that people know what used to drive their economy. “We used to be a logging town” or “we used to be a mining town” or “we used to be a ranching town.” And he said most people have no idea what their economy is doing at this moment, much less can predict the future. And a lot of these small communities are constantly looking backwards and saying “We used to be a logging community and we should be a logging community.” That’s what’s driving a lot of the voters who voted for Trump. Y’know, “We’re a coal mining town, we should be a coal mining town today. It doesn’t matter that coal mining, burning coal, contributes to global warming. We’re going to be a coal mining town.” That kind of looking backwards instead of looking forward hurts these communities, because they really are not willing to embrace what could be great opportunities.

DJ: So, you’re raising a whole bunch of really good points, and one of the ones that I want to kind of tease out is … I think, in some ways it’s accurate that the land grabs of public lands, or when we talk about these takeovers of public lands, that individuals are small – you know, we’re often not talking about somebody who runs four cows, or something. We’re actually talking about – you know, the largest public lands ranchers in the West are, I dunno, Anheuser-Busch, or just huge corporations. And it’s the same with mining, etc. So on one level, this public lands takeover – the individual, the rugged rancher, is a Trojan horse. I would like for you to talk about that, and then at the same time, like you also said, there’s 35% or whatever of the people in Burns supported it, and in Crescent City it would be the same, if there was going to be some sort of takeover of the local national park, the – many locals would support it, even those who are small business owners and would gain nothing out of it. So can you talk about both of those – do you see what I’m trying to get at? There’s a Trojan horse element and at the same time there’s this support for the Trojan horse, or there’s also the individual – if you know what I’m trying to ask, then you can do a better job of answering it than I did of asking it.

GW: The point that you’re trying to make, which is accurate, is that there’s a populist front of the “little man,” or woman, put out to represent the efforts to privatize these lands, or to at the very least, reduce regulations on how they are used, and utilized. And you’re absolutely correct. For example, J.R Simplot, a billionaire in Idaho, who’s now dead, but his corporation still exists – was, and may still be, the single largest permittee on public lands. And I think numbers two and three are several mining companies in Nevada, which gets to your point. One J.R. Simplot controls more of public grazing land than a thousand small-time ranchers that’re out there. And yet, the face there will be is the guy who’s got a hundred cows or something, and who’s got torn-up jeans and an old pickup truck, and we don’t see the corporate J.R. Simplot represented in any attempts to talk about how there should be more grazing on public lands.

And the same thing is true for logging, and so forth. Big corporations, Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, these are names that we all know, who dominate logging on public land. And ironically, just like grazing on public lands, most timber sales on public lands, if not all, are subsidized by taxpayers. And so we’re indirectly subsidizing these corporations and their stockholders.

And we of course have the same thing with mining on public lands, and oil and gas drilling. Almost all the demand for utilizing public lands, and for trying to get them with fewer regulations and under state control, in particular, is that states tend to be more manipulable, I don’t know if that’s the right word, malleable maybe; more receptive to reducing regulations in the federal government, which are not great, but which have more backbone than most state governments do. The idea is that if we put these lands under state control, they’ll be able to log more, they’ll be able to graze easier, etc.

And that’s all fronted by this populist face of a poor logger or a poor rancher, when in fact the beneficiaries will largely be corporations and very wealthy individuals who control large segments of that particular industry.

DJ: And that’s all true, and that’s half of it, but there’s also – how does it – okay. You and I both understand it. We are veterans of fighting against those corporations. But that doesn’t alter the fact that you get –

Decades ago now, I was at a Forest Service meet and greet, and I got into an hour-long argument with some guy about clearcutting, and the guy was the owner of a drive-in. He didn’t have a vested interest. He wasn’t a Plum Creek flack. And there is still this – like you just said, this 30% support for – how does it end up happening? That there is this populist support for these corporate land grabs. That’s really what I’m getting at, too.

GW: Well part of it is a failure, as I was mentioning earlier, looking at their past economies. A failure to understand where they are and to even imagine where they’re going. A lot of that sense is “Oh, if we only could reopen the mill here we’d have a nice economy again.” Never really looking at the fact that even people who worked in the mill and the loggers in the woods, generally, on the face of it, didn’t really like their jobs that much anyway.

But the point being, is that they identified with the larger corporations and the rich landowners, because they see those folks as representing similar values, even though they’re not likely to benefit from those changes.

And some of it’s philosophical. To make an analogy to the current situation, with the Republican attempt to revisit health care, at least what’s been produced so far, would harm a lot of the poor rural residents of the West. And yet, overwhelmingly those same residents are supporting the Republican agenda, even though it will hurt them.

And that’s not an uncommon thing. One of the free-marketeer-type people, like the Peer in Bozeman, I don’t know what it stands for anymore, something economic research, but they are a free market proponent, and they always argue assuming that people are rational about it, and obviously they’re not. A lot of people do not vote in their own economic self-interest, partly because sometimes they don’t even realize what would be in their economic self-interest, or they have other philosophical components to why they support a certain agenda.

And so the fundamental assumption that local people know the land better, they’re gonna take care of it better, those are all slogans that you hear. But they are not borne out by actual experience. And when we see how – you have to go back to why did these lands get taken out of the giveaway in the first place? They got taken out of the giveaway, to remain as federal lands, because they were largely being abused. I mean, the reason, or the rationale, for the creation of the Forest Service, for example, was to control the excessive logging that was occurring on lands, and to protect watersheds. The reason we had the BLM created was to correct the abuse of grazing that was happening.

And to a degree, all these agencies, for all their flaws and faults, have done a better job of that than not having the regulations, have done a better job than what happens on private land. The worst clearcuts you see in Oregon are all on private land. The worst grazing lands in the West are generally private. When you compare lands that are equal, the vegetation. Despite what I can tell you about how badly the BLM has managed its grazing, it still does a better job than what happens on private land.

So the assumption that if you put it in private hands it would be taken care of better is not borne out by the actual experience. You can always find exceptions, of course. But in general, private lands are more abused than public lands.

DJ: So we have about seven or eight minutes left, and you’ve – One of the things I love talking – one of the reasons I love talking with you is because we get this bigger picture and – this has been a wonderful history lesson. And I’m wondering if you can bring us up to date, and talk – once again, we only have seven or eight minutes – if you can talk about the most recent round of attempts at land grabbing. Perhaps start with Reagan and then bring us up to Trump, and talk about politically – about the political movement to take over or destroy or assault public land.

GW: Well, you know, there are two ways to talk about takeover. And you don’t have to necessarily have a change in ownership as much as change in policy. So you kind of had that with Reagan, and other presidents. A lot of the, particularly the Republican presidents we’ve had, appointed people, like James Watt was Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who are very hostile to the very idea of public lands, protecting endangered species, and so forth. So, by appointing people who in many cases worked for industry prior to their appointment, and we saw that with the Bush administration too, who had former executives from timber industries running the Forest Service, things like that; we get a top-down command that can greatly affect the policies on the ground.

Now, so ultimately, as long as we retain the ownership, we can correct those over time, but one of the ways that you sort of work the system is you don’t actually work to get it under some other ownership. You just work to invalidate regulations and put in more friendly administrators and regulations. And that’s what we see happening under the Trump administration right now. Things like the EPA took down any mention of climate change, on its website. We have Secretary of the Interior Zinke looking at 27 national monuments to see if they should be eliminated or resized. These are all efforts to reduce, you might say, the long-term sustainability and integrity of these public lands, and to give more control to those people who are seen as deserving of their use.

And that brings up another topic, one of my things that I’m irked about with media constantly, they talk about local control. As if, again using Burns as an example, just because you live in Burns, Oregon, you have some sort of right to express and exert greater manipulation, express greater control and authority over what is federal domain owned by all Americans, who are, by the way, also paying the bill for these lands. To my mind, there is already an exorbitant amount of local control. If you are living in Burns, Oregon, you can walk into the BLM office or the District Rangers office there and have a discussion with the administration there, the District Ranger or the BLM manager, and voice your opinion. And of course, even if you do it nicely, those people know it.

And then there’s – it’s very hard to be, like, a BLM manager or Forest Service District Ranger, living in a town like Burns. Because, you know, you want to get along, you want your kids to enjoy the schools and so forth. So you have a strong incentive to try to work with that local rancher, logger, whomever. To satisfy them and make them happy, even if it’s to the detriment of the long-term public interest.

And so we have that kind of call for more local control, which just seems crazy to me, given that there’s already an exorbitant amount of local control and influence already occurring.

DJ: So what do you want people to do with this information, and what do you want them to do, especially regarding the assault on public lands?

GW: Well, two or three things. The most immediate thing right now is to encourage people to make comments in support of the existing national monuments, which the Secretary of the Interior is taking comment on right now for the next couple of months. The Bears Ears in Utah has a comment period that’s going to end May 25th, pretty soon, but the others have I think another month beyond that. So try to write comments saying “Hey, I want these lands protected and to remain as national monuments.”

And then beyond that, to realize that there’s a constant assault, and you’ll hear all this rhetoric about how it’s destroying the economy, which is false; the rhetoric that locals know best how to manage it, which is false. You’ll hear that the best way to utilize these lands is for some sort of resource extraction, which invariably, taxpayers support. We subsidize the logging, we subsidize the grazing, etc. That’s just the straight subsidy, and if you add up the environmental costs of those activities, in other words when you log a hillside and you get erosion, or the grazing pollutes the water or spreads weeds – the rest of us pay for fixing these problems, if we fix them at all. And so the cost of having these activities occur is huge.

So we’re subsidizing the destruction of these lands. And it’s an important point to remember. And so the more of those activities that occur, or the less regulation of these activities, the more it costs us all in the future.

DJ: Well thank you so much. And I would like to thank listeners for listening, my guest today has been George Wuerthner, this is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Jason Flores-Williams Part 2 09.17.17



Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Jason Flores-Williams. He’s a noted civil rights attorney and author who has litigated some of the most important cases of our time. He has been featured on CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post and has given speeches about resistance to audiences around the world. The Law Firm of Jason Flores-Williams along with the aid of Deep Green Resistance has filed one of the first federal law suits asking the court to declare that nature has fundamental rights and standing. The law suit is based on the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s work in seeking natural and community rights in Ecuador, Colombia and India.

We talked last week about the case, and this week we’re going to talk a little bit about some of the objections that will come up to this case.

So first, can you do – can you spend five or ten minutes reintroducing people who may not have heard last week’s show, to the case we’re talking about.

JFW: Sure. So here’s the problem that we’re trying to address with this lawsuit. Corporations obviously have tons of money, tons of resources, infinite war chests to manipulate the legal system and to do whatever they want and deem necessary to make their shareholders happy, which is profits.

Nature, on the other hand, on which all of human life depends, and from whence the corporations take all kinds of resources to turn into profit, has no rights. It has nothing. It has no way of defending itself. So what we’re doing with this suit is equaling the playing field. The suit is going to confer upon nature something like rights. So in this suit, it’s going to be the Colorado River. So that – this is where it gets a little legal and not really that interesting, but to sum it up, is that for someone to bring a lawsuit into the federal courts, what they have to do is have standing. Standing requires a direct injury to them. And they also have to have personhood that is recognized by the courts.

And so nature – the Colorado River, the natural entities upon which we depend, has no recognized personhood or standing. So it’s a lot, if you want to make this analogy, very similar to slavery, where you had human beings who had no rights and were treated as property, and nature is also treated as property in this way.

And so, what we’re doing, and this example exists throughout our law, in situations where an entity or individual, say like a kid, could not go into court and litigate lawsuits on their behalf, so they had something like guardian ad litems, in the trusts arena you have executors, in business you have fiduciaries, who are legally entitled to litigate and represent the interests of another.

Well, that’s going to be the same kind of relationship we want to have for nature, so that the Colorado River and other natural entities will be able to be represented and bring litigation and colorable claims in court, because they will henceforth if this lawsuit is successful, have standing, and by having standing, that means we – it would be a kind of personhood, for lack of a better term. We have to deal with the terms that are currently available to us right now in our jurisprudence and so we say things like personhood.

So it won’t have to show river, mountains, Pachamama as it’s called in Ecuador, the Ganges as it’s called in India – these entities, which are so vital, and so dynamic, and upon which we all depend, and which we can’t exist without – they will not have to show injury to human beings to have colorable claims in court, which is an interesting way of saying we recognize damage and injury to nature as deprivations and insults unto themselves. Which is to say that we recognize that the natural world upon which we depend, and at our best times are integrated with, has its own rights and dignity.

DJ: So, everything you’re saying makes perfect sense to me. I live in an extremely conservative area. I sometimes call it Mississippi on the north coast of California. There’s a very strong kind of anti-environmental ethos here. And I can just hear some of the local people saying “So, what? What if I want to fish? So I gotta ask permission? And I gotta sue somebody in order to fish?” What if somebody wants to fish from the river? What happens then?

JFW: If someone wants to fish from the river?

DJ: Yeah, do I have to ask permission?

JFW: I think what you’re saying – if I may – I think what you’re saying is that there is going to be these common sorts of critiques regarding this suit and seeking standing and rights for nature.

And where all of those critiques come from, Derrick, is the view – and this is similar to slaves, that nature is property that is ownable and that is owned, and that human beings have the right to do whatever they want to, to it.

So with that, my response to that – there are numerous responses to it. On one level there is the response, well you do realize that injuries to nature, and treating nature as though it was completely and utterly your plaything that you can do whatever you want to it, that you can exploit, that you can damage, that you can fish in, whatever you want – that you can take out of, whatever you want, in any way that you want.

You realize that by doing that unchecked, ultimately is you do do damage to human beings. We’ve discussed in our last conversation that the Colorado River, which is becoming smaller and smaller all the time, and it’s heading toward its own extinction. And with the extinction of the Colorado, come the extinction of all the biological entities and ecosystems that are integrated and dependent on it, is that because of the way we view nature, as a piece of property to be done with as we wish, the current demands on the Colorado are more than 100%, in fact 120% of what the Colorado River can actually provide, and these demands are made by the various states, and the agricultural urban demands that they’re making on it.

So, when you have a river on which life is dependent, that is being drained into extinction, and you have cities that are dependent on it, then, y’know, it gets real simple. You can’t drain the river – because if you drain the river, it’ll hurt you.

I think that’s the American Way, really, is you gotta explain to people how it’s going to hurt them, how it’s going to do damage to them. People just don’t see – we just saw this with (Hurricane) Harvey, is that you had a city that was just no regulation, abject growth, no consideration for nature, but then when it came time, when Harvey came along, what happened was that they were reminded, in a very direct and personal way, that they are dependent on this planet, and if they don’t act in accordance and with respect for it, and to try to integrate with it rather than dominate it, then horrific things can happen.

Now that is the way a law and most of Americans need to understand what we’re doing. “It’s going to hurt you, unless we balance the playing field, it’s going to result in damage to you.”

DJ: So I was asking sort of sarcastically as a right-wing person here, but now let’s – I mean, part of the purpose of law is to make definitions. You can park your car here, but if there is a bus stop, you can’t park your car there. You can withdraw money from the bank if you have a bank account there, but if you don’t have a bank account there; robbing, taking money from the bank is called theft. It’s all about definitions.

So, now, instead of me being sarcastic, it’s real. So what – for what – where do we define the distinction as to when someone would have to face a lawsuit if they are – I don’t think you and I are worried about two eight-year-olds going down and fishing from the Colorado River, and in fact if the Colorado River had fish in it, had water in it, they could fish better. But where are we making that – do you see the question? Where is the distinction as to what –

JFW: As I said earlier, this is about balancing or equaling the playing field. The kind of degradation, and the kind of destruction of nature that concerns us, and that is, to use a now-common term, unsustainable, is the exploitation of nature that is coming from multinational corporations. And not just multinational corporations. There’s a factory there, that’s putting in – that’s taking water out of the Colorado river and bottling it – as an aside, we just saw that Donald Trump took the Obama-era regulation concerning the limitations on using plastic bottles and has just done away with them. So that we are now in the age of the Return of the Plastic Bottle, though we know how damaging and exploitative it is to our environment and therefore to us.

To summarize, the real concern here is the kind of exploitation and using up of nature that large corporations engage in that are not only on the river, like the factory I talked about, but who also are in cities, and in corporate agriculture. I think we can make a general point here that using nature for profit is something that we should look at very carefully. I think we would reverse-engineer it from the profits that are being generated from nature. And those would be the sorts of moments – because you truly are simply draining nature and converting it into your own self-interests. Those would be the moments when we would look at that and reverse-engineer it from the amount of profit that is being made, and say “This is where nature, equal the playing field, is going to have to have some rights and standing to show that what you’re doing to it is unsustainable.”

DJ: So who gets to decide what is in the interest of the river? I’m thinking about conversations I’ve had many times with loggers who say “I know what’s better for the forest than does some damn environmentalist,” and ranchers, I had a good friend in my twenties who was a rancher who, we used to fight bitterly about this. He would say “You know, I know what’s better for the land much better than does some city slicker who doesn’t know a cow pie if he steps in it with his brand new loafers.” So there was this very strong notion that they don’t want outsiders telling them what to do. So that’s the hyperbolic part. And the real part is, who actually does get to decide what is in the river’s best interest?

JFW: Interesting. Well, you know, I don’t automatically side with the city slicker when it comes down to people who actually live in rural America thinking that they know more than city slickers do about it, and I actually understand that I wouldn’t want somebody who’s never been to a piece of land or other natural entity I’ve spent my life around, coming in and trying to define that relationship for me, and telling me how I can act and telling me what I can’t do.

So I respect that. But – this would not be simply somebody who puts themself in the stead of nature and says “I’m the guy. I’m the person. I know what’s best for nature, and you do not.”

What’s best for nature, and we define this in the complaint, are the rights that we described. In the same way that the rights of men that are enumerated in the Bill of Rights, tend to be pretty good descriptions when realized, of what it is to have the opportunity to be a full human being.

Nature has a right to flourish, nature has a right to exist. These things are objectively quantifiable. Are the current demands on the Colorado River unsustainable? Or are things going along, in some other world, there could be a Colorado River that is being respected, and that is actually flourishing, and existing, as are all of the biological systems that depend on it.

So it’s not just going to be some person who’s maybe having a bad day and says “Well I’m going to sue those guys over there because I don’t like the looks of them and I got this job protecting the river.” That ain’t gonna happen.

In the complaint, that anybody would have to generate, it would have to first off prove that they share the values that respect whatever natural entity is at stake here, and that also share objective values and to have the kind of expertise to know when an activity is occurring that is actually causing a direct injury to the river. Versus someone simply saying “I don’t like what’s being done.”

So all of these things that we’re talking about here, and the reason that we want to get standing and have some basic rights conferred on the river, is we need to equal this relationship. And I think that equaling the relationship, what we’re going to get is a reshifting, a paradigm shift. Where I actually believe that people in rural America, they want this. They want an equal playing field. The reason that they’re often driven to the brink is because corporations came in and bought the land next to ‘em, and are suing them because some seeds flew into their property, and the kind of competition that exists out there is putting them in a place where they have to manically exploit any resource that’s available to them.

So if all of a sudden you had an equaling of playing field by granting some rights so that you just couldn’t randomly incur injury and deprivation and drain the river and other natural resources, that would be applicable to everyone. And so we would have a kind of a result with regard to the way that a lot of the activities that depend on the river – I’m mainly thinking of agriculture here – are done.

Things are objectively verifiable as to what works and fits for the right of the river to exist and flourish. These aren’t arbitrary, subjective things based upon whomever is put in the profound responsibility of having this role of being a fiduciary to the river, whatever person or entity.

DJ: So who … how do we choose who gets to – why should DGR (Deep Green Resistance) be allowed to be “friends to the river” in this case, and … there’s a process that is gone through, before someone can be a guardian ad litem. So what would be the process?

Let’s say that you are successful in this, and it moves forward. What would be the process in the future for someone to declare themselves “friend of the Adirondacks” or “friend of the Mississippi River”?

JFW: So what would be the mechanism by which that status would be conferred on them?

DJ: Yeah. As opposed to somebody from the Corps of Engineers declaring they’re a friend of the river and they want to put –

JFW: I mean, the law is really already there with these kinds of qualifications. It’s like the same thing as when an expert witness goes into trial. If somebody wants to be an expert witness on a certain area – say, for example, in the J20 prosecutions that are occurring in DC right now, where I represent some of the defendants there. Those prosecutions, that’s where more than 200 people are being charged, facing more than 75 years in prison each for a couple of broken windows on inauguration day.

You have – we have an expert – the government says that the reason that people wear black masks is to create anonymity. And that’s what Antifa and Black Bloc are. Well we have an expert, who has written for The Nation, and specializes in dissent, protest and policing in America, who, once he is qualified, will say “No, the reason that people wear masks is because there’s been an increased use in chemical agents as a way to chill and deter protest in America.”

And for him to be able to say that, we have to go through an entire process called voir dire, where I have to turn over to the State, or the government in this case, his CV, his information, his writings, everything he’s done that substantiates that he is an expert to be able to speak in this field. And the court sits back and the court says, after we go through this voir dire, as it’s called, expert qualification, the judge says “Okay, I’ve heard all of this and I’m going to decree that you are an expert in this area.”

I see it as very similar to being the same kind of mechanism in qualification processes.

DJ: Great. That’s good, that’s one concern we don’t have.

So here’s another concern, which is that, I understand you’re talking about leveling the playing field, and that’s very very important, and that doesn’t alter the fact that if 120% of the Colorado River is allocated, and if the Colorado River is given the legal right to once again reach the ocean, and to flourish, we can presume that some of that water will no longer be removed, which is going to mean that some golf courses are not going to be watered –

JFW: (Laughing) No.

I’m sorry. Go ahead.

I’m just responding to the tragedy of a couple of golf courses being eliminated because they didn’t have enough water. But, please.

DJ: Let’s just mention, by the way, in case people don’t know this, that the same amount of water is used by municipal golf courses as is used by municipal human beings. So having set that aside, I know that in the 1830’s and 40’s and 50’s, this was a huge impediment to the abolition of slavery, was that there were analyses done of the economic value of these enslaved persons, and in order to compensate the slave owners for their “property,” that would have bankrupted – there was not enough money to do that. And so the point I’m getting at is that if the Colorado River gains some of these abilities, there are people who are going to lose a lot of money. And there are some farmers who won’t be able to – I saw this 60 Minutes several years ago, on the Sacramento River being drained, and they actually said in there, sympathetically they said of farmers – the thing was terrible – of farmers, they said “These people are creating life, and the people who want to keep the water in the river are creating death,” because it would kill the almond trees.

JFW: (Laughing)

DJ: So leaving aside that propaganda, the fact is, if the water stays in the river, somebody’s not going to get it, so – so that’s it, so go.

JFW: Okay, so somebody’s not going to get it. Again, let’s just get back to objective criteria. Now I don’t know the exact numbers, but science shows that cattle ranching, for example, is really not a very sustainable activity. I dunno – do you happen to know, like, how much water goes into producing a pound of beef?

DJ: No, but I can tell you George Wuerthner does, if you want to contact him at some point. I can put you in contact.

JFW: Okay. Well, it’s an incredible amount. And it’s a very wasteful amount. And so – you know, this is America today, where being a good American is not questioning the status quo. So I guess I’m a bad American, Derrick, in that I think some activities simply have to be questioned. No, you don’t get a golf course. Screw you. You don’t get to live that way, when it means that other people, and nature, are being hurt by your activity. So you don’t get a golf course. Make some sustainable golf courses, or keep your golf courses to a limited number and make them in a way so they aren’t injuring nature and ultimately, because nature is being deprived and injured, injuring human beings and other biological systems.

So, there’s some things that aren’t good, scientifically speaking. Now, going back to what I was saying, about how this could change behaviors, because the river would become a natural entity with rights and standing, it would change those behaviors for everyone, so that the idea of a corporation, Nestle is one that I have kept an eye on for some time, being able to go to the river – we all have water already, and we’re thankful for it. So we really don’t need Nestle to go to an already overdrawn river, with plastic bottles, and start draining the river in order to make as much money as they can, while also, you know, simultaneously drain the river and also damaging the environment by putting more plastic into it, and we are already way past our carrying capacity on plastic.

So that kind of behavior, because the river would have its rights, the river would be able to sue back if you unnecessarily drained it, and injured its right to exist and flourish, just to make you and your friends on the Board a buck, that would have to be stopped.

And – good! You know, there’s no reason – that’s why we’re doing it. It’s so ridiculous, wastes of precious natural entities, they’re not allowed to stand. No pun intended, y’know, “standing.”

But it’s – some things must end. And that kind of greed and exploitation, it needs to end in general, in this world. But conferring standing and rights upon an entity like the Colorado River would be a real strong step in ending what is unnecessary and is really consigning all of us to a very bleak future.

DJ: So, I completely agree with everything that you’re saying, and agree with the notion that nature has rights. It seems to me – and this should have been, from the beginning, but it seems to me that in some ways what you’re doing is – it seems to me that the law is about at least 120 years behind history. Because, you know, Frederick Turner wrote that very important essay about the closing of the frontier back in the, what, 1890’s?

JFW: Yes.

DJ: Everything you’re talking about seems to me to be about moving from a frontier mentality to an inhabitory mentality. Is that making sense?

JFW: Sure it does. I view it as – here’s how I view this. Whenever I go camping, in the Rockies- there’s two types of people who go camping – who, like, are out in nature. The first group are the ones with, like, the four-wheeler ATV’s. And you know, who go glamping out of the back of their car, are there and then take the ATV’s or whatever instrument they’re using and go off-trail and do whatever it is they want. That group is the frontier mentality because nature for them is something to be dominated. It’s the same old “… property, we own you, we can do whatever we want with you. God is with us, God’s country, God will fix it all. Nature is ours. So, let’s drive our ATV’s over tundra that takes, you know, 200 years to form. And who cares? And leave more beer cans around.”

That’s the frontier mentality. That’s domination. The mentality that we’re talking about is more alive. It’s about the people who go camping and they’re very conscious about the environment around them, and they’re out there to learn from nature.

I didn’t get the opportunity to finish what I was talking about, about how some people can only understand things in terms of direct injury to themselves. And you’re going to have to talk to them about, and you’re going to have to say “Okay, here’s why, when you screw with nature, you hurt nature, this ends up being bad for people. Let me show you why that is. When you dump that pesticide in the river, this is what happens, so ultimately you’re going to get a big lump in your neck. So, and then all of a sudden they’re “Well, wait, I don’t want that pesticide dropped in the river.”

But the group I like the most are the people who have actually spent a lot of time in nature in the integrative model, and who are just overwhelmed by its power, and its beauty, its poetry and all the amazing things that it has to teach us. So I don’t imagine that this argument will be too hard to make to them. And so part of this is we have to, to the one group, which is the mass group of Americans who would see this, they have to be explained how this could be – an injury to nature is an injury to them, and also I think they understand what I would amount to the Bernie Sanders argument, that we gotta equal the playing field between corporations and nature, or there just isn’t going to be any nature left by the time it’s all said and done.

Then there’s also this component, this third group, and I think probably we’re in this group, and I’m proud to be in it. Where we just simply understand the dynamic power, and that nature is in some way, it is our spirit. I believe that nature is its own kind of god in a way. And it is as important and as alive and as beautiful and as dynamic as – well, probably more dynamic than most human beings I know. At least as many human beings. And that it needs to be respected, and the systems that exist within it are the same systems that exist within us.

So, those people – going back to this, this transfer to beginning to respect nature rather than simply seeking to dominate it and use it up, which is the transference from the frontier mentality to a more inhabitable? Or integrative mentality that you were talking about.

DJ: So, you’re running up against this notion of nature as property, and specifically when you take on the Colorado River as opposed to some other natural being, you’re also running up against Western water law, and a lot of established law there, and for people who don’t know, I’m sure you know this much better than I do, but Western water law, the phrase is “first in time, first in right.” And what that means is, the first people who showed up and took water from the river, to use for what they call “beneficial uses,” get to maintain that right. So somebody comes, and they can take a million acre-feet from the Colorado River to use to irrigate their alfalfa field or to run their mine, then since they were the first one there to claim it, they get to claim it.

The point here is that – three points. One point is that the human beings who were traditionally, who were living along the river, they did not count as beneficial uses. Drinking of it, or catching salmon or whatever. And second, the use of the fish – and the use of the river – the use by the fish of the river, and the use by the trees of the river – those are not recognized as beneficial uses either.

And the third point – this is the real point and this is the question; is not only are you demanding that rivers have a legal standing, but you’re also going specifically up against, what is it, 150 years of Western water law?

So, is that a concern? Is that a problem? That’s certainly a challenge. That’s all. I don’t really – just take it wherever you want from that.

JFW: Yeah, it’s a challenge. Absolutely a challenge. And it’s not – water law. Let me tell you something, is; an attorney would be a fool unless they’re a real expert in water law to explore that area. I’m familiar with the basic tenets that drive it, but that kind of litigation is its own complex set. So, but – what I can speak to in a more legally philosophical way, is that what water law derives from is the idea of nature as property. And property, what that derives from, obviously, is this idea of the discrete legal unit that cannot be trespassed. And to be able to cognize a trespass, you have to have standing or personhood.

So that’s, in an interesting way, is that you can think about this suit as saying that we are giving the right of nature, to nature, to not be trespassed against.

So I think that is a way, perhaps, that people can understand that in the way that perhaps you have property; nature, that cannot be trespassed against, and the way that you cannot be trespassed against, we call that an assault or a battery or potential infliction of emotional distress, something like that – nature has, because it’s its own sensitive system and it can die, and it can be drained, and it can suffer, in very many of the same ways as other natural entities, including us, suffer; and that is, it can become sick, it can become toxic, it can stop to function. And the creatures within it become sick, toxic, and stop functioning.

So that – what we were saying, is that you cannot trespass against natural entities. And so that grounds us, Derrick, in the history of Western law. Okay, so that’s the Western law. Now, where it can get really interesting and funky – and this mountain, I doubt this mountain is going to be climbed any time soon in America, but that said, it’s been climbed in India, Ecuador, and Colombia. Is that nature, unto itself, is – nope. Do you want me to stop there? Because I’ve learned to stop at a certain place when I’ve said what I think I needed to say.

DJ: So, yeah. It seems – I just said a moment ago that you’re going against 120 years of Western water law and you just said that you’re going against Western property law, which goes back, what, a thousand years?

JFW: That’s right. So it goes back a thousand years. Going back to the mountain that’s going to be very difficult to climb, is that this mountain, the concept of property, which serves as the cornerstone of Western law, y’know, it was codified in the Magna Carta, is that – which gives rise to this gross disproportional power relationship between corporations and people and entities, and nature, that exists today, because nature isn’t viewed as something that has standing, that can be trespassed against.

I don’t know. I don’t know. When I put it in those terms, it seems pretty daunting. And so, I want to get back to something that we talked about last time, which is the procedural defect. As we discussed last time, is this idea that the courts don’t really want to be silent in matters that they know are damaging. And not only damaging people, just simply damaging. And so it’s like the courts are just completely silent in this huge area. They’re almost helpless in the realm of global warming. Judges are intelligent, they read, they look at things, they read about the extinctions that are occurring, they read about, and understand the planet is warming, and are seeing what’s happening, the intensification of hurricanes.

But the courts, because of this kind of standing requirement, where you have to show direct injury to a human being – in cases that have come to them, to this point, they had to just simply dismiss them and be silent, and have no voice, because of this procedural defect that nature doesn’t have standing.

So instead of taking back – I’m kind of thinking through this as I go, and this is good – instead of going back and saying “well, we need to overturn, or shapeshift a bit, our fundamental conception of property law, which is the basis of all of Western law, from the Magna Carta forward,” it may just be easier to characterize this as a procedural defect, because that’s what it is, and addressing the procedural defect, so the courts will have a voice in being able to address the most relevant injustices of our time, which are occurring within the environment.

DJ: And it seems also that one of the things that will be really fortuitous is if at some point a judge can be found who has the courage of – I can’t remember his name right now, but the British lord who abolished slavery in the U.K with the ruling that we must do what’s right, even though the heavens may fall.

JFW: Yeah. “May justice come, though the heavens fall.” (

DJ: It is daunting, and of course all of our work is daunting, but I keep thinking, and this is corny as hell, but I keep thinking about a slogan that was on my locker room wall, in college, the athletic wall, which was “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And, you know, you can’t – things may be daunting, but you have to do them, and then sometimes they fail, and then you do them again, and sometimes they fail, and at some point, they don’t fail.

JFW: Yeah. And I think in the law, one of the strategies also is to introduce important legal concepts, like the rights of nature, in a way that the court can understand them and cognize them.

The court is like its own sort of thinking brain. The first time it hears something it seems strange. But maybe by the tenth time it hears something, and sees something, it begins to make a kind of sense.

There is, in the animal rights law – I don’t know their names, but there are people who have really taken it upon themselves to file complaint after complaint regarding the rights of, say, a chimpanzee to bring suit.

DJ: Steven Wise.

JFW: Steven Wise. Amazing guy, amazing guy. And so, he’s done that and the first couple of times he did it, he was nowhere. Probably laughed out of court. He might have even been sanctioned. This is what we talked about last time. In these situations, and this is especially relevant for us, because corporations, they exploit nature for profit. There is this dependency.

I’ve always wondered, and I’ve heard about this, Derrick; I bet you know. Is it possible to quantify how much nature contributes to the economy?

DJ: Well, the whole thing (laughs).

JFW: The whole thing. The whole thing.

DJ: Because without nature, you have no economy. You don’t have any money.

JFW: That’s right. So without nature, you have no economy. Okay. That sounds like something I could go with. I’m sorry, we’ll have to step back, and think about what I was saying. If you can recall and kind of get us back online.

DJ: You were asking me the amount – Steven Wise –

JFW: That’s right. Steven Wise, and the efforts that he’s done – in our case, this goes back to what I’m saying with corporations, is that because nature is the economy they depend on and exploit nature for everything, is that when you file something like this, they’re going to come back at us hard. I know with the case of Thomas, they had filed simply an intervenor motion, in a case that was happening in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago, they tried to cognize some basic natural community rights, and that’s Thomas Linzey of CELDF. I think – I forget what the corporation was, it was an energy corporation, ( ) and they came back at him trying to get attorney’s fees and do everything. I call it – there’s a word for it, I call it “chevroned.”

A colleague of mine, Steven Donziger, went down to Ecuador. Steven is a really good friend. And he goes down to Ecuador, and he had the frikkin temerity to try to say “Okay, hey look Chevron, you cannot pollute the lands of indigenous people to the point where it becomes unlivable, these people are dying because of what you’re doing. These people have value and worth as well.”

And so he went down there, and he had the guts to fight Chevron. And actually he was fairly effective. More than fairly effective. And in response – and this is what I mean by “chevroned” – Chevron is now seeking $32,000,000 against him, in attorney’s fees, and trying to get him disbarred.

So that’s what happens when you go up against the system and the entrenched forces, and you are effective. So, you know, we can only hope that – for me, that word is a badge of honor. The harder they come back, it means the more effective we’re being, and the more scared they are that we might actually do something, like I said, that equals the playing field.

DJ: So we have about five or six minutes left, and this is not the question I want to end with, but is one that I think that – especially those who disagree with us will ask, is “If the Colorado River is granted rights, okay, I’ll grant you that. But where do you stop?” And Steven Wise has addressed this question himself. He agrees that all of nature should have rights, but he himself has carved out – he’s going to do it step by step. He’s starting with great apes, and then he’s going to move from there to cetaceans – I don’t know if he’s already doing cetaceans. Anyway; great apes, cetaceans, and then move to monkeys, and then just do it – eat the monster one bite at a time.

So that’s great, that’s one great approach. But what do you do about somebody who says “Well, do viruses have rights? Does the smallpox virus have a right to exist?”

JFW: Those kinds of questions are just ridiculous. Like I said, there are objectively quantifiable ways of looking into the complexity of a system. This is interesting – is that human beings aren’t out of this picture in this quantification. In looking at what should have rights, where should the rights stop? To what degree do human beings depend on it? It’s another value and another question.

And so these sorts of things like “well, you’re committing genocide because you killed 100,000,000 bacteria” by moving the coffee cup from here to here on the kitchen sink.” These are just absurdities that are about as persuasive as the three a.m. wine-fueled comment when someone’s just trying to be smart.

I’m usually the one who’s trying to make those comments, by the way. It’s very easy to get real smart and to make good judgments and find real solutions as to what should have rights and what shouldn’t. You know, like for example, is that I am always in this conundrum – I really like spiders, spiders are amazing, they’re beautiful, and they’re highly complex creatures who do amazing things. But I’m always scared that the spider is going to – it might be a poisonous spider. So I’m always in this place where I’m kind of wondering if I should endure and respect the right of a spider to put up a nice little web in my house.

And that doesn’t really answer the question, but I’m always interested in how people integrate with some of the bugs that come into their home. I guess, some people that automatically say “just kill them.” Because there’s no comparison. But for me, I find it enjoyable to contemplate the spider, and contemplate whether or not it’s possible for us to have a relationship, based on the spider web that’s up on my ceiling that I can see from right here. It’s working out so far.

DJ: There’s spider webs all over here too, I completely agree agree with you.

For myself, I think the question, for me, is not quite so much whether the individual fish would have, necessarily, rights; but specifically the larger fish community. For me, that’s how I would get around the whole smallpox question. Is that – I love this line by the mushroom guy – Paul Stamets – he said “Nature loves a community.” And, for me – once again, this is irrelevant – I don’t know if it’s irrelevant or not. But I’m more interested in the Colorado River community as a larger entity, and that having rights, than I am in any individual within that community. Does that make sense?

JFW: Yeah. I think what you’re saying is that when you look at collective, and included in the collective, is nature. Then the concept of what rights are can change a little bit.

I think it’s important to add here that I think there’s been this kind of false dynamic that’s been created, like “Well, if you’re for the environment then you’re against people.” I don’t see it that way at all. The reason I am very interested in the environment is that I’m also very interested in people. I see them as going hand in hand. So as part of the greater calculus of all this is also the human community and community rights.

So all of this really ends up being is just empowering the relationships between all of us, and all of us includes nature, so that we can plan on being here a little bit longer than it looks like we’re going to be here right now.

DJ: So, last time I ended by asking you about how people who live elsewhere can either assist in your efforts or do efforts on their own, and this time I’m going to ask the same question but in a different subset, which is … there are a lot of young people I know who want to become attorneys to defend nature. And, what (a) advice can you give them, and (b) how can they best help nature, do you think?

JFW: Ahh … I would say first, don’t do it. The attorney existence – I’m being very frank here. I probably have one of the best attorney existences that you can carve out for yourself. Being a civil rights attorney who takes very interesting cases, that are usually at the forefront of social issues, and, you know, doing this kind of – being able to make enough money to survive while doing that and take on things like this.

But one of the things I didn’t calculate, in doing this, is that when you become an attorney, you’ve got to believe in the system to a degree. You’ve got to take the system seriously. Being a lawyer is being enmeshed, being a cog in the system. And you can say, well, you know you can challenge the system, and that’s what we’re doing here, from certain angles. But at the end of the day, it’s like we’ve been saying for these last two conversations, is you’ve got to put all of this into the language of the system. You’ve gotta have it make sense for the system. So that ultimately – or otherwise the system will just penalize and ignore you. Or both.

But ultimately, being a lawyer, you are part of the system. And – I’m going to be real honest with you, is that my biggest questions about this entire thing is, I actually love people. I love nature, and I have a pretty good time in my life. But one of the things that’s really starting to haunt me now is that this system just isn’t working. It’s cashing us out and it’s taking us to a place that we’re not going to come back from. And I mean this politically and environmentally, the whole thing. We’re not in a good place. And so one of the things that sometimes I wish – sometimes I wish that, you know, I didn’t have this attorney thing with me. Because I’m aware of the fact that I’m able to do a lot of good with it. But sometimes I myself feel limited, in the sorts of things – the way that I can talk about things, and the sorts of things that I can do. Is that, you know, that I believe in the right and just cause of civil disobedience, when necessary. For the right just cause, and to preserve nature, and to hinder exploitation of nature and other human beings.

But as an attorney, that requires at times breaking the law. So I’m not allowed to encourage or participate in that endeavor. And a big part of me really wonders if systemic solutions can really even do this anymore.

So that’s the kind of thing that I sit on, so while I’m writing out the motions, going to my law office, living this life, doing this career; there’s kind of this thing that hangs with me saying “Are you contributing? By creating the illusion of a functioning system? By creating the illusion and the veneer of due process? By creating the illusion and the veneer of justice?” Because sometimes I worry that that’s what I’m really doing, and not actually really achieving any of those things.

DJ: Yeah, I completely hear you. And I feel the same about writing. One of my most famous lines is “Every morning when I wake up, I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.”

JFW: Yeah. Writing is good. Writing is important. But these are all institutional, systemic things. They are things that are ultimately – I wonder about, say you write this brilliant piece on the environment for the New Yorker or something, or wherever it’s going to come out. At the end of the day, just because of the medium it ends up being something more along the lines of liberal entertainment, rather than “it’s known!”

Put it this way. And I hope you understand that I’m just talking about writing itself. Your writing, Derrick, I have a tremendous amount of respect for, because with your writing it has an organizational reach, or, I’m sorry, an outreach quality to it, where you are using words to craft a possible response and way of being that could actually solve some of these problems. You’re engaged in a lifelong call to resistance, I think it’s fair to say.

That’s a little different than saying, writing educated articles that just end up being intelligent entertainment, but suffice it to say irregardless that none of these things, none of these endeavors are actually, like you said, going out, in the tradition of Edward Abbey, stepping up and saying “This far, no further.”

So I wonder, very personally, if I’m just creating a veneer in this role, or really that I should be doing other and different things that might have a real impact. I think at the end of the day we just do the best we can.

DJ: Well, thank you so much for all that, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Jason Flores-Williams, this is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.


Deanna Meyer 07.23.17



Podcast here:

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio, on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Deanna Meyer. She’s a long-time environmental activist, and is a member of Deep Green Resistance, and is also the founder and executive director of Prairie Protection Colorado ( Meyer’s work currently centers on the protection and the preservation of prairie dog communities up and down Colorado’s Front Range.

So first off, thank you for your work, and second; thank you for being on the program.

DM: Well, thank you.

DJ: So let’s start by talking about prairie dogs. Who are they, and why are they so great, and what was their range and population prior to conquest and what is going on now?

DM: Well, prairie dogs, like just about everything that we’re seeing that were essential and native to this continent, are being annihilated, with a continuous annihilation plan that began in the 1700’s and 1800’s, when they really started going after them for the ranchers and to get them off of any land that they wanted to put cattle on. So they did a huge campaign with cyanide, strychnine, everything that they could to really eradicate the species from all grazing land and from the continent, really.

And they’re extremely resilient, because they’re still here. And they’re in very bad condition, though. They have very few left. There are less than one percent of their historic numbers remaining. You’ll see them living on the medians on highways, you see them in vacant lots, you see them by the Denver airport, you see them living on the side of railroad tracks, so they basically, and then people get this crazy idea that no, there’s prairie dogs everywhere, and really, they’ve just been moved out of all their beautiful territory and home on the short grass prairie, and they’re just trying as hard as they can to continue their existence in these really horrible situations where they just don’t have much at all.

And I mean, just to give you the scope, I know I’ve heard you talk about it, and other people; but there were probably at least five billion prairie dogs in North America, and now they’re down to in the millions, the lower millions, I don’t know the exact number that they’re using now, but it’s less than one percent. And in Colorado, they continuously are killing them for development along the front range right now. (Map that shows Front Range:

They also poison them all along the vast grasslands in the east. But what I’m aware of, and what I’m working on, is up and down the front range where I live, and where one development after another is coming in, because of this massive growth wave that we’re having here in Colorado. And they just kill most of them using aluminum phosphide, which is phosphene gas. And they get gassed in their burrows, and you just see fewer and fewer and fewer of them around, and it’s really heartbreaking. They are an amazing species, and everything that we learned about them, and more and more people are starting to care a lot more about prairie dogs. Because nobody was really aware, they just have this horrible stigma, like all things that this culture hates. They all decided that they’re disease-carriers, they’re plague-carriers, they’re just dirty little rodents that serve no purpose other than destroying land. This is the myth out there that a lot of people hold on to.

But more and more people are starting to understand, through extensive studies, thanks to Con Slobodchikoff and John Hoogland and other people who’ve just done an enormous amount of work, that they have, like, the most complex language ever studied, they’re extremely social. Duh. (Laughs) They have a language, like all other species do, and we try to pretend like somehow we’re so great and different. But prairie dogs to me are just an amazing animal because I am around them, I see them, I can watch them and I also know the heartbreaking story of the loss they are experiencing. And they kind of just reflect everything that’s happened to everything living and vibrant on this planet, and they’re the last of them, and it’s actually pretty heartbreaking.

DJ: So, can you talk – what was their historic range? They obviously were along the Front Range of Colorado. They went as far east as? As far south as? As far north as Montana. Where were they?

DM: They were all over the Western shortgrass prairies. And just from what you said, they were in Mexico. Up here in the mountains, there are all different kinds of species. There’s five different species of prairie dogs. Up at my elevation, where I am, there’s a lot of Gunnison’s prairie dogs, and you have the white-tailed prairie dogs, the Utah prairie dogs, the black-tailed prairie dogs, and you just see – wherever they would be able to survive, they did pretty well. And they weren’t like lots of people – another myth that people think of prairie dogs is that they are just these, like bunnies, or whatever; that they breed like you wouldn’t believe. And that is not true at all. So they establish these places on our shortgrass prairies all throughout the entire West, both north and south, all over an extensive amount of area, if you can imagine five billion animals and prairie dog colonies. In Texas, that was 25,000 square miles. Anywhere they could live, they would do well. But I think they did well a lot more from language and social skills and communication than ever from breeding.

They actually go into – the females go into estrous for about a year. And they have one litter, and they have between two and eight – usually between two and four babies, and at least half of those are predated. So you can imagine how long it took them to get to those large, large numbers across the prairies. And a huge myth that people have about prairie dogs is that they breed like rabbits, they spread like the plague, and they carry the plague too, all over, and that they’re out of control. And all of that is just nonsense. I mean, they do establish territory, and they create towns and colonies, and so they’ll spread out over an area to where they’re supposed to, to feel comfortable in. But, y’know, the myths keep carrying on like that.

They were just – anywhere that they could live, and have good food, and be out on the prairian sea for long ranges, that’s really important to prairie dogs, so they can see the predators – they did quite well.

DJ: Can you talk about – they’re a keystone species, right?

DM: Right.

DJ: Can you talk about that concept, and talk about how that applies specifically to prairie dogs?

DM: Right. Well, I call them “the coral reefs of the prairie.” There’s up to 180 vertebrates that depend on them, and that’s not counting all of the insects and all the plants and every other living being that depends on them for a healthy prairie community. In order to have a healthy prairie community, full of life, of all this variety, hundreds of different species; the prairie dog is absolutely essential. So even black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, all kinds of different insects, the plants and everything, benefit from and are dependent upon healthy numbers of prairie dogs out on prairies.

A couple of, like, glaring instances of what really depend on prairie dogs that we see are the black-footed ferret. It should have been extinct. They found one family and have bred that family out extensively now and are trying to repopulate from this very small gene pool back into colonies and having very little success. But they are 100% dependent on prairie dogs. More than 90% of their diet depends on them, and they depend on their colonies. The reason they are critically endangered is solely because prairie dog numbers are almost gone. And these little black-footed ferrets need about 20,000 acres of healthy prairie dog colonies to survive in the long run. And that’s why we see this huge failure, because they’re not putting these prairie dogs – there just isn’t that – those types of colonies are not left. I think they have very few – I think there’s one in Mexico, and you’ve talked about that before, and there might be one more up here, of a significant size where ferrets might actually be able to live in the long run, if those prairie dogs continue to survive. But – the burrowing owl is another species that’s threatened right now, and closer and closer – should be endangered, so should the prairie dogs – but they depend exclusively on prairie dog burrows for their survival, and to raise their young.

And as you see the prairie dogs decline, you see them decline, and fewer and fewer burrowing owls are spotted each year.

DJ: So … do you know, and if you don’t know about this we won’t talk about it, but I’ve read somewhere that the American Indians said that the prairie dogs would bring rain, and it ends up that recently science has confirmed that they were correct about this in the first place. Have you heard about that?


DM: Yeah. So I guess the Hopi saying was that if you kill all the prairie dogs, there’ll be no more rain. And basically that was just kind of a known statement that people had heard over and over, and I know that Harrod Buhner nosed into that a lot. He found that – you can imagine these huge colonies of prairie dogs where they have this massive, extensive burrow system which plays huge roles for the ecology – well, I don’t like the word “ecology” anymore, but for the community of life out on the prairies. And they have these huge networks of these aeration, and the holes, in the prairie; just imagine that 25,000 square miles one! And the water levels would rise and fall with the moon, like tides. And it would come closer up to the surface and everything else, and it would be very much like the rainforest, in terms of creating condensation.

The holes also help the water rise to the surface much more easily than it would if you don’t have any aeration holes throughout the soil. So they did find, have said that, and it’s true; that the prairie dogs did create a lot more condensation out on the prairies, similar to rainforests.

DJ: So let’s just – before we go on to your work, let’s talk about – just, name a couple of other species who – name one common species and one surprising species, if you can, who are dependent upon, or who are significantly helped by prairie dogs.

Coyotes, for example. Coyotes eat prairie dogs. So talk about one that’s common and one people might not know about, if you can just think of any off the top of your head.

DM: Well, one that would be common would be all of the raptors, and the ferruginous hawks, and eagles. In fact, eagles shift from summer to winter. In the winter they come to prairie dog colonies when the rivers freeze up. And then they go back to the rivers. And now – it’s so sad to think about, the rivers hardly have any fish anymore now.

But let’s say we had a healthy landbase now. You would see a lot more of that. In the winters you see much more of the eagles coming to the colonies for the prairie dogs.

One thing that was shocking to me was that black widow spiders and the rattlesnakes and everything totally depend on them for their burrows and for safety and shelter. Like you said. I mean foxes of course, the coyotes, all different kinds of raptors. Lots of people complain about coyotes here, it’s so funny. They’re killing off all these prairie dog colonies surrounding these neighborhoods, and then they start complaining and killing all the coyotes too, because the coyotes are coming into their yards looking for food because all their food is gone.

I think anything you can imagine, that would eat – they call them the candy bars of the prairie, I’ve heard them being called that too, by wildlife people, biologists who’ve said “Yeah, they’re pretty much the candy bars of the prairie.” So anything living out there and eating off them – plant species absolutely need them because they dig up different minerals that are locked down in the soil, and they allow them to come to the surface. So certain plants do much better with prairie dogs.

You’ll see horses, and ungulates – buffalo, totally – they’re the bookends, I call them, of the prairie, the buffalo and the prairie dogs. Because the grasses that the prairie dogs do – because of their churning and everything, the grasses are much more nutritious and sweet, so the buffalo always preferred, and prefer when they have the chance, to eat in prairie dog colonies. So there’s just a huge – antelope, there’s all kinds of animals who depend on those prairie dogs for the amazing service they do to the land and to the native grasses and everything.

I mean, a big problem – now in Colorado too, and you see it in all these – land officials harp on it all the time and use it as a reason to kill, is that prairie dogs are – they’re going back on to – they’re on the land and you’ll see these denuded landscapes of bindweed, mostly. Or invasive weeds. And that’s what the prairie dogs have been forced to live with, because ranchers have come in, and crops have come in, and completely destroyed the native plants. So then they blame it on the prairie dogs, because the prairie dogs have come in, and eat what they can, they’re super resourceful. Then you’ll see more of a bare land or weeds taking over there, but really it’s not the prairie dogs, it’s the damage that’s already been done to the soil, which has totally made it impossible for the healthy, native plants to survive in those areas.

And that’s almost everywhere in Colorado now, just about, that has been killed. Which is, you know, almost all the land that I have seen.

DJ: So, before we talk about your work, I want to go back to this “candy bars” notion for a second. Of course, the prairie dogs are wonderful beings for themselves, and not merely as food for others, and you and I both know that. But having said that; some of the pictures that you’ve sent me of prairie dogs that you’ve taken; you’ve taken pictures, are, the prairie dogs, some of them can be pretty fat little creatures, and that suggests a nice little meal, or a nice big meal for – I’m meaning this in a value-positive sense, actually; a nice chubby meal, for someone who wants to get it. There’s a lot of nice fat for them to eat.

DM: Right. Yeah. And it was funny, because I don’t know very much about this, but I was talking with Stephany Seay from the Buffalo Field Campaign, and she had just met somebody from a local indigenous tribe in that area, and she was talking with her about prairie dogs, and she had said – and that was the first time I’d heard that too, because you just don’t hear it very often, but she said “Our people love the prairie dogs. We ate more prairie dogs than we did bison. That was more part of our diet than it was with the buffalo.” And (Stephany) said she thought that was really interesting and I did too. It makes sense, and the whole thing is when you have a huge healthy population of these prairie dogs out on the prairie, they are part of the land and part of the health of everybody else connected to that land. Just like salmon, or whatever. So of course they feed everyone, when everything’s healthy and balanced.

DJ: So, before we get to your methods of protecting colonies, and some specific actions that you’re working on, can you briefly also just tell the story of how you started working on prairie dogs. Because, as I have said to many people, many times; you are one of my heroes, for getting off your butt and actually seeing a problem and doing something about it. And so can you tell that story, because I find it so inspiring, and I want every damn person listening to this to (a) listen to it, and then (b) do the equivalent wherever they live.

DM: Right. Yeah. Well, I mean – it first started with reading your work, and with understanding the problem, which I always knew there was a huge problem, and your writing connected all those dots for me, and gave me this huge urge to do something, because I knew that I wasn’t crazy anymore, and that there is a huge issue out there in that we need to get off our butts and do something. And then I’d just started paying attention to the prairie dogs of Utah .. prairie dogs you always have in your books, which made me really start thinking a lot more about them, who they are, what they’re doing. I live right here in Colorado and I’ve always loved prairie dogs, I always thought they were so cute, that kind of thing. But then when I started reading, connecting the dots, understanding who they really were, reading your work and recognizing your love for them as well, then really starting to pay attention, I started noticing how few of them were left as compared to how many of them were around when I was young.

And then I saw this colony that I’ve always paid attention to, started watching this colony, would pull over all the time with my son and just watch them, and one day we drove by this colony off of Daniels Park Road where I live, and it was gone. They had killed everybody there, or had killed most of the population. And I was just devastated.

And then I started thinking about the next to other last big colony that I had been familiar with since I was young, and I started really worrying, like “I’d better do something now,” because every colony, and this is true; every colony in Colorado we see right now is in danger. On the Front Range for sure. Any plot of land that isn’t open space and protected, and even then they’re getting killed all the time.

So I went and just started researching what was going on in this colony, and then I found out that they were going to build the nation’s biggest mall on top of this huge, 166 acres of prairie dogs, which isn’t huge if we think about what is supposed to be out on the land, but for what is left now, it was one of the biggest, on the Front Range as well. The biggest mall on top of one of the biggest remaining prairie dog colonies. There were probably eight to ten thousand prairie dogs there.

And so then I just didn’t know what to do, started wringing my hands, then you helped and got me connected with some other activists, and we just started – and I didn’t know how to start a campaign, but I was kind of directed on how to do it, and I just started writing petitions to get signatures so that we could get an email list; I started writing emails every single day to everybody on that list; I gathered a big core group of people who would get on phone calls every night to talk about what we were going to do to save them. We started come and going to every single city council meeting and really working on that angle, and then when they approved the final stage of what they needed to in the mall, we pulled a referendum on there; got out on the streets, got all the signatures.

They ended up killing most of the colony, but there were hundreds of survivors, and we did end up, at the end, saving all the remaining survivors, of which there were several hundred.

So we ended up doing not what I would have wanted to have done, which would have been to save everybody, or to stop the mall, is what I would have wanted to do. But in that, we did a lot more than just save the several hundred that are still sitting out here where I live, but we also just really ignited a huge wave of people caring, understanding and learning a lot about the prairie dogs, and we made a lot of press out of it too, so all of that was good. It seemed to bring a lot more awareness to a lot of people in Colorado who didn’t necessarily hate prairie dogs. People who hate ‘em, you’re not going to really change their minds.

But (a lot of people) also didn’t care one way or another, and they ended up caring a lot and understanding way more about what the prairie dog, or who the prairie dog is.

DJ: And I want to emphasize, or would like you to emphasize, if it’s true, that you didn’t really know what you were doing at first, and you didn’t let your ignorance or naïveté, or just lack of experience, or whatever we want to call it; stop you.

And also if you could mention one more thing before we do this, which is one of the, one of the actions you did, or one of the things you did, was to … or, your group did, was to get students involved? Get children involved? Go to speak at the, wasn’t it the State Legislature? Or the Denver City Council? What was that?

DM: Yeah. Well, they are trying, in Denver, or in Colorado, they already have a Senate bill that they passed in 1999. It’s called Senate Bill 99-11. And what it does, is it restricts – and I’m dealing with that right now, in one of our campaigns – it restricts any prairie dog relocation over county lines, unless you get the approval of all the Commissioners of the county that you move the prairie dogs into. And what that has done, for people who would like to save prairie dog colonies, is basically made it impossible, because it is very rare, I think it’s happened maybe once since 1999, that Commissioners will approve a prairie dog move into their county, because they all hate them. They all don’t want prairie dogs in their county.

So that bill was passed as really a slap in the face to somebody who is quite – who had made quite a lot of accomplishments in saving prairie dogs, that had actually put together a land trust, and her goal was to put as many prairie dogs as she could onto that piece of land, and they stopped it through that law.

So this law – at the beginning of 2016, they were trying to pass a bill that would do the same thing for within-county relocations. Which would mean that if I wanted to move those prairie dogs at the Castle Rock Mall, and it’s already impossible to do relocation – I mean, not impossible, but it’s already extremely difficult to do a relocation, with all the already horrible obstacles that we have to overcome. So they were going to add just another obstacle, which would mean the commissioners would have to approve of any move of any prairie dog to any place within the county as well.

So we got involved with this school, the Denver Expeditionary School and they all got really excited and wanted to help save the prairie dogs, so we got a huge class to go to that hearing, and it was kind of sad because they knew we were all coming, and on purpose they made sure that this oil bill was going to go first. Which means that – the kids did sit there for about an hour and a half, but that went on for four hours. So then the kids came back, the ones who were talking, they were on hold, they weren’t going to go away, and there was a panel of three girls who gave a really awesome speech to all of the Senate at the hearing, to the committee that was listening to it, and they did end up throwing away that bill. So they killed the bill.

DJ: So, just to be clear, the state legislature knew that children were going to be involved, and so they intentionally put other things in its place, in an attempt to discourage these children from sticking around and participating in this civic process, is this what you’re implying?

DM: Yes. The whole thing was a nightmare, because they postponed it two times, and they tried – I do believe, in retrospect, looking back, that those kids had a huge, huge impact on that bill being killed. It was in the – they call it the “kill bill committee,” but we had – you know, when you start lobbying and stuff, you get the inside (scoop), and there was one person who was going to vote, as a favor to these ranchers, for the bill, and the pressure that we put on that person, on her, that was Sue Rider, the pressure we put on her with those kids turned her vote around. And she just couldn’t do it anymore, because of – the kids got in – the press love kids, so we got a great article in the Westward (, we got a lot of press, they got a lot of press, and they kept trying to postpone the hearing, which is extremely frustrating because one time they postponed it one hour before the hearing, and why did they postpone it? Because the person who wrote the bill, Kevin Priola, and I’m not saying this is intentional or not; but he went to go see the Superbowl, and his plane got delayed so they canceled the hearing an hour before.

So the kids were devastated. They were all dressed up, they were all ready, they all had their speeches. Then they postponed it again, about three days before. And then finally they did it and pulled that trick where they – the whole room was full of the class, because they brought seventy-five kids in there – so seventy-five kids. And those third graders, they sat in there for an hour and a half, very quiet, listening to this oil bill being presented, which was important too, but they – they, I’m sure, were very bored, but they were quiet the whole time and sat there waiting. When, y’know, like I told the teachers “This is going to take hours” and it did. But they came back. But I believe very much that it was intentional.

DJ: Well, civic participation is good unless it’s going against industrial capitalism.

DM: Right.

DJ: So let’s talk about the focus of your work, and some of the projects you’re working on right now.

DM: So, what we’ve been doing in the past couple years is just mounting one campaign after another. So we advertise – we do a lot of advertising of our work through our Facebook page, Prairie Protection Colorado, and we talk about colony – people come to me and say “Oh my gosh, I’m so concerned about this colony, can you help?” And we kind of look at the colony, at what’s happening, and we figure out if we have any kind of leverage. If there’s something we can do about the colony, and then we just go in and kinda do what we did with the Castle Rock prairie dogs, or the mall prairie dogs, and we just do several different techniques at once.

The biggest thing we do is apply as much public pressure as possible on the local government. So that – we create, really, a nightmare for them, if they were to decide to kill the prairie dogs. A public relations nightmare.

DJ: For example, wasn’t Naropa Institute, which presents itself as all eco-groovy and everything else, weren’t they going to kill some prairie dogs?

DM: Yeah. Naropa filed for a kill permit in Boulder, in Boulder City. Before you kill prairie dogs, you have to file for a permit to kill them. Which was, that law came into place with activists in the 90’s.

And then they advertised the kill permit, and tried to find a place to put the prairie dogs before they give them the permit. So they allow for a sixty day public notice period where people can try to find the land, and after that happens they kill them. So that’s what Naropa was trying to do, was open up that time period so that if nobody came up with land, they were going to kill. And of course nobody ever comes up with land.

So we just started – we, of course, noticed that right away. And here this is a Buddhist-inspired university and they are planning on killing prairie dogs.

They received so much opposition from just making it really public, what was going on, from protest, calling the Dalai Lama, from getting as many people involved in the situation and writing about it as we could, and they ended up pulling the permit.

And the prairie dogs are still there at the Nalanda campus today.

DJ: Before we go on more, I just want to emphasize that prairie dogs – I mean, like you said, they live in medians? They – prairie dogs – don’t – hurt things.

I remember growing up – I don’t know if people, if this is going to mean anything to most people, but when you drive into Boulder, the Boulder-Denver turnpike sort of veers to the right, and then you have the university off to your left, and there’s a big parking lot there. And when I was growing up, that parking lot was not there, and instead of that, there was a huge prairie dog colony. And I don’t know when that got wiped out. Probably in the 70’s. I think it got wiped out and turned into a gravel parking lot in the 70’s. But, they don’t – unless you’re going to build a building, I mean, they co-exist. They – you couldn’t ask for a more forgiving creature.

So – I’m sorry, I’ve interrupted you several times. Can you talk more about some current projects you’re working on?

DM: Well, currently we’re working on Longmont, a prairie dog colony called the Great Western Flex prairie dogs, and they’re basically – the interesting thing about Longmont is they have a code in place, for, a city code, a municipal code that states that a developer shall relocate the prairie dogs. And then at the end it goes on and says “shall relocate” a few times. And then at the end, it says the only way that they can kill the prairie dogs is after a good faith effort to relocate.

So we started looking at this colony, and it was interesting because the city was prioritizing and fast-tracking this development, because there’s another, there’s another group in Longmont right now that they’re evicting from their land for this St. Vrain flood project. And it’s a big warehouse, it’s called Creative Learning Systems. And Creative Learning Systems said well, if we don’t have any place to go, and move into, by February, then we’re going to have to leave Longmont.

So the city picked this place and said this is, with that land, developers there were more than willing to construct a warehouse right on top of this prairie dog colony. They were also a month late giving public notice about this, because they say they were behind, on their website.

So as soon as we found out, which was as soon as they posted it, we got in contact with them and found out about the fast-tracking and everything, and then we contacted the developers. They refused to get back to us, and we started going to city council meetings. They forced the developers to hold a meeting with us. The owner of the land was hostile, he even tried to jump over the table at me as he was yelling and spitting at me, and threatening me that if I had postponed his development he’ll do something, y’know. A very uncomfortable meeting.

And then after that they, because they were required to, they came back to us and said “look, we’ll let you – ” because we were telling them “if you’re going to fast-track this, let’s passively move them out of the way, and then we can remove all of the colony, because we’re confident we can find a place for them, and we’re working currently with Rocky Flats to open that land, because we have a lead.” (Ed. note: “The passive relocation technique is a multi-step approach that is designed to begin with low-level earth disturbing activities within an established zone to encourage prairie dogs to relocate on their own volition.” cite

And they said, y’know; “Oh yeah, right; they’ll never open up their land,” and whatever, and we talked to them, and maybe in three years they might open land, but not today. And we kept pressing them, and they said “Okay, look. If you want the passive relocation then, and the final relocation, what we want is for you to pay for it all.”

So they said “if you go ahead and put $25,000 into a savings account within this week, and then you get Colorado Parks and Wildlife to put their stamp of approval on it within a week, and then you agree to pay the additional forty or fifty thousand dollars that it costs to move them, and you deposit that money within a few weeks, then we’ll give you the thumbs up.”

DJ: So wait a second. They’re saying that they want to destroy this prairie dog village, put something on its place, and it is not – even though it – even though the law says that they “shall relocate,” they’re trying to force you to pay for it.

DM: Right. So that we all of course laughed at, and then we brought it up with the city council. The whole city was, and still is, extremely non-responsive. They don’t return – our supporters have sent hundreds of emails, and we have a petition that has over 50,000 signatures on it now, we’ve got tons of press on it, we’ve had probably about ten articles now.

DJ: 50,000 signatures? Over something in Longmont?

DM: Yeah.

DJ: Longmont – I mean, let people know, let people who live in New York State know; Longmont’s a town of, what, 15,000? 25,000?

DM: Well yeah, but those 50,000 signatures are from everywhere.

DJ: No, I understand that, but this is still for a fairly small community.

DM: Right. It is. Longmont is part of Boulder County and it’s probably one of the most conservative areas in Boulder. The city still kinda just – they won’t respond to us, so we went up and we thought “You know what? We’re going to have to get this relocation receiving site.” Because the only way somebody can say “Look, we cannot move these prairie dogs, there’s nowhere for them to go.” And that is the excuse. This code has been in place for over ten years. Not once have they moved a prairie dog colony. Not once. They’ve killed hundreds. But not once have they followed this code. And their excuse is always “Oh, yeah; we looked; nothing. No, there’s no place for them.”

So this time we’re like “Okay, let’s get that place underway,” y’know? So we talked with the land manager of Rocky Flats, and he had been working with us from the start, because we had thrown this idea at him and I almost fell off of my chair, because I said “How about let’s move some prairie dogs out there to Rocky Flats?” Because they don’t have very many prairie dogs. And he said “Yeah, I think I could do that.”

And I couldn’t – I still was in disbelief until even now, that he was so supportive. And then he worked, and then he changed the NEPA laws, or he did a NEPA so he could show that he did a bunch of legwork, got it all ready, said “It’s open.” He sent the letter to the city and to me, that said “Yes, receiving site Rocky Flats is open for these prairie dogs.”

And then the city says “Ohhhh…nooo…” Because nobody wants to save these prairie dogs.

And so then they told the land people about it and now we’re in the process of just kind of waiting, because then the land people said, the landowners, the developers, said “Oh gosh.” And the city, are like “Oh gosh. We can’t – the only way we can get out of this is if Colorado Parks and Wildlife doesn’t give the permit, or if the Commissioners don’t okay it.” Which also, I don’t know if they’d be able to get away with that either, because Rocky Flats is federal land. So it’s a whole other, like, legal issue in question.

But David Lucas, the (US Fish and Wildlife Refuge) manager of Rocky Flats, is looking into that and seeing what’s going to happen with these Commissioners. But we have to get their approval because it’s across county lines. And I don’t see why they’re, why they would say no, because the land is so far from any of theirs, it’s on a federal refuge, and it seems like even Rocky Flats, the managers there are pretty confident they’ll approve it, but I don’t know yet, and so we’re kind of waiting on that. And then we’ll see what happens from there. They’re not going to want to hire us, they’d rather die than hire somebody who could relocate prairie dogs well and assure a survival rate. They’re going to try to hire their people who have never even done any relocations before, and they’re extremely complicated. And of course the land manager at Rocky Flats isn’t going to allow that.

So it’s an interesting – we still have a long way to go on this colony, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. Just like last week, I shared that with you, but we had another group of environmental activists sit there, called the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, and they have been fighting Rocky Flats for a long time; and recently, and I knew this was going to crop up, but recently they have filed a lawsuit against Rocky Flats because Rocky Flats wants to open up the refuge in 2018, for visitors. And they have filed a lawsuit because Rocky Flats is where they created and produced a lot of plutonium in, back in the Cold War, and they were negligent about what they did, and so it’s a Superfund site.

So they have the whole area where they created this plutonium, it consists of about 1300 acres, sealed off, poured with concrete, all of that, and they’ve contained or say they’ve contained the nuclear waste,

This group says no, they haven’t, it’s going to kill everybody probably on the planet, and they think that, and then they got involved, and where we’re putting these prairie dogs is one mile – it’s beautiful, actually, up there on Rocky Flats. And just like Chernobyl, or anything that we learn about where there has not been human impact for a long time? They really rebound. And they come back. And this place in Rocky Flats is so amazing because it’s one of the only places up and down the front range that has never been tilled. Nobody’s ever taken a plow to this land. So when you walk out there you see all these native plants that you see nowhere else. It has some of the most diverse native plants. And when I was talking to the land manager, too, he said that’s why this place is so wonderful for introducing back these native species, because they will not harm these plants, they will only benefit them, they won’t be in this barren wasteland of bindweed, and this’ll be like the true prairie that they can live in.

And right next to where we’re relocating them is another colony that’s been doing well for decades. Living right there. Been there forever. But this environmental group went out and did a huge press release that said “Prairie dogs being moved on to Rocky Flats will unleash plutonium and endanger everybody in Boulder!” And all of the news channels went after it. They just love that sensationalist stuff. So last week there was about five different news shows on this issue. So they just opened up another – it’s so hard to move – I always say to myself, and we all know that as environmentalists, that it should never be this hard to do the right thing. And it is sooo hard to move these prairie dogs. So hard to save them. And the miracles that happen with this land manager and everything to actually open up this refuge, and look at the land and get all excited about it.

And then, of all people to come in and just throw another fire – start another huge fire that now we’re gonna have to focus on putting out is quite devastating. And frustrating.

DJ: Yeah. Well, oftentimes peace and social justice activists are not always friends of the earth.

DM: Right.

DJ: They are quite often not – certainly not ecocentric, quite often.

DM: No.

DJ: So, we have like seven or eight minutes left, and a question I want to ask you is – two questions. One of them is, obviously the short-term goal is to save as many prairie dogs as you can, but the longer-term goal is for these colonies not to be forcibly relocated in the first place.

DM: Right.

DJ: The other is; in the meantime, while you are relocating, is there – if we didn’t have to worry about politics, is there still good habitat, apart from Rocky Flats, where they could be relocated? If all we were doing was a technical – once again, I’m not accepting the relocation as the primary option, as you aren’t either. The primary option is to shut down this whole culture so that there are no more malls built, or warehouses. But in the meantime, while we’re living in the real world, you’re trying to save prairie dogs. If you didn’t have to worry about politics, would it be – like – oh, shoot, I can’t remember her name right now. The wonderful woman who relocates the beavers. (Ed note: Sherri Tippie possibly) She’s wonderful. And she told me that there is a lot of habitat, there is more habitat than there are beavers right now. And if you didn’t have to worry about politics, is there plenty of habitat where prairie dogs could be relocated if necessary?

DM: Definitely. So I mean the – just like we’ve talked about – I mean, Rocky Flats is just kind of prime because they actually have the native grasses in place. But I’ve totally – these prairie dogs, as you’ve said – well, another huge thing that impacts prairie dogs is the plague. And that runs through, it kills them all in a matter of 72 hours, they’ll all die. And we see that happening, we see outbreaks of that happening all the time, and the plague was brought by – da da dah! Europeans, y’know. Who brought ‘em over, the rats. And they have no susceptibility to this. They don’t carry the plague, never have. Fleas carry plague, prairie dogs die from the plague. So that’s another huge impact on them. And you’ll see all these – our goal with Prairie Protection Colorado, by doing these campaigns, is not to move prairie dogs. At all. Like you said, I wish that we never had to relocate any prairie dogs, but I also would much prefer relocating them to seeing them gassed to death.

But the main goal is to be able to, in every single county, and we have a grassland species plan for Colorado that lines this out perfectly and says this should be happening, but nobody follows it – is that there should be a significant amount of open space land set aside for maintaining and securing, preserving prairie dog colonies and shortgrass prairies.

And if they would spend as much money as they spend on poisoning prairie dogs, on all of these open spaces in Colorado that have prairie dogs existing, and put that into native seeds and into land restoration, it would totally work. And our goal in these campaigns is that. So we did the Naropa but then we did the Armory campaign, we did the Broomfield campaign. Now we’re doing the Longmont campaign, the Castle Rock campaign, all those. And in the Broomfield and the Armory campaign, we forced Boulder to open up land for these prairie dogs, which is the goal. And we forced Broomfield to open up land for those prairie dogs. And the open space preserve land where they’re not, where they’re supposed to, with quotations, be protected, and be preserved, and, you know, that we want to see these healthy colonies feeding the other wildlife and being there for themselves.

So, I mean in highlighting all these campaigns, we’re trying to draw enough grassroots support from people in Colorado to really get more and more people caring about the poisoning, which most people care about that, and about the species itself, the declining baseline of prairies themselves, and the prairie dogs. And encouraging everybody to get behind the harder work of changing legislation and of holding the counties accountable to preserving open-space land for wildlife.

And we’re kind of chipping away at it, and that’s the point of our campaign.

And people seem to really like the pictures of the prairie dogs, the stories of the prairie dogs, and then they kind of get hooked in that way and they start caring more and more.

So the more we can build up grass roots support from people throughout Colorado and throughout everywhere, throughout the United States, for this species, through the education and the work that we’re doing, and working on these relocations and preserving, and highlighting what these people are doing to these communities of life, the better chance we’re going to have at actually making big changes, where we can preserve these species. Because right now they’re in so much trouble genetically, they’re just being wiped out everywhere. Prairie dogs, because of their huge population, have always had a huge system of biological integrity where they really spread out from colony to colony and they’ve always had this great diversity in their genes. And now it’s just about gone. So you see the plague wipe out 90% of them over thousands of acres, which happens a lot in these larger colonies, and that whole genetic pool is gone, forever. And they have all these really diverse genetic pools that are just shoved into these little corners up and down the Front Range, on these lots, these urban lots that are going to turn into developments, and then they wipe out each one of those. And it’s just – if it continues, and we’re about at the end of the line with less than one percent, there is going to be no more prairie dogs. They’re resilient, but nothing’s resilient enough to withstand the horrors of this culture.

DJ: So we have like two minutes left. I’ve got two questions real fast. The first one is; since they are a keystone species … there are lots of results from when they reintroduced wolves, or when wolves came back to Yellowstone, that it helped all sorts of creatures. So couldn’t prairie dogs be used not only for themselves, but couldn’t they be used as land restorers? To put prairie dogs into a place that’s been harmed and then watch it over decades or over even years, that fast, as it rebuilds through the prairie dogs doing the work.

And then the second question’s going to be; how can people help you, in Colorado, and also how can they do this with whatever issues are important to them where they live. And I’m sorry it’s so fast, but we got like two minutes for both those questions.

DM: Okay. Well, definitely what you said about the healing of the land, that’s what – even at Rocky Flats, the point that I’m really pulling out is that all lands destroyed, and Rocky Flats certainly has its own set of issues, but the only thing that’s going to heal the land are the species of the prairies, the prairian community itself. And what our job is, really, is to get everybody back out there: get the bison out there, or the buffalo, the prairie dogs, all the native plants that we can help with that, get everybody out there. And step back. Because they know way better what to do with the prairies than we do. That’s their home. They’re the healers, like mycelium, bacteria and fungus, lichens, moss, all that stuff. If we lay off of it and quit trampling all over it, quit trying to control everything, it will eventually heal itself. And that’s so important.

And as far as people helping in Colorado, you can get involved – we’re working on our website, it’s coming along here and there, it’s, and then you can get onto Facebook, on our Prairie Protection Colorado page, it’s there, how to get involved. We definitely have a lot of work and places and things people can do. And anybody outside of Colorado can get involved on that page.

And in terms of doing your own work, for whoever it is you love in your area, because of course it’s under attack, I’d say just don’t ever step back and wring your hands like I almost did with the prairie dogs, and “Oh, there’s nothing to do, everything’s so terrible.” Just step forward and do whatever it takes to draw any kind of attention to it, and if anybody needs help just learning about campaigns and how to build those up, I’m more than happy to share what we do to make it happen.

DJ: Well thank you so much. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Deanna Meyer, this is Derrick Jensen, for Resistance Radio, for the Progressive Radio Network.