The Corporate Takeover of Nature

Written By: Scott Silver, Executive Director, Wild Wilderness


Our nation's public lands have traditionally been managed so as to maximize the commodity value that could be extracted from them. Today, however, a major shift in federal land management policy is being developed and implemented. Instead of extracting commodities from nature, nature itself is being converted into a commodity that can be repackaged, marketed and sold in the form of value-added recreation products.

As we approach the year 2000, we find corporate financed Congressmen, cash-strapped land managers, and recreation industry leaders working cooperatively to create an entirely new management paradigm. Their efforts are being directed toward maximal "commercialization, privatization and motorization" of our natural heritage. The name that best describes their vision for the 21st century and beyond is 'Industrial Strength Recreation'.

Consider these words, recently spoken by Chief of the US Forest Service, Michael Dombeck, to a meeting of Ski Industry executives:

"It baffles me that the Department of Agriculture tracks the value of soybeans, corn, or wheat to the penny by the day, yet, rarely is recreation and tourism on federal lands understood as a revenue generator. Instead it has been perceived as an amenity - something extra that we are privileged to enjoy. Fortunately, that's beginning to change."

As Dombeck and other federal land managers strive to turn recreation and tourism into revenue generators, their first task will be to find the capital with which to build the infrastructure of their anticipated cash cow. Unfortunately for these managers, Congress is disinclined to provide funding for such things as maintenance of our National Parks and other outdoor "amenities". Unable to draw upon these customary sources of funding, Dombeck and others are attempting to develop new funding sources such as, user-fees and private investment. The newly implemented 'Demonstration Recreation Fee Program' is unique in this respect. It is a private/public venture developed for the sole purpose of promoting and selling to the American people, the concept of 'Pay-for-Play' as an acceptable model for recreation management.

'Fee-Demo', as it is commonly called, allows federal land managers to charge for the privilege of visiting wilderness areas and other lands. Fee-Demo is being implemented as a Challenge Cost-Share Partnership with the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), and is simply the first of many such collaborative programs. Fee-Demo is about money, but has remarkably little to do with raising funds for trail maintenance and similar worthwhile purposes. Please allow me to explain.

Private corporations, such as the industry supported American Recreation Coalition, are working feverishly to facilitate the transition to Industrial Strength Recreation. In 1996, ARC's contractual obligation to the USFS Fee-Demo program was $65,800. To the Forest Service, that represents real money that can help defray the costs associated with promoting this new program. To the ARC, that sum is insignificant compared to the returns they expect will accrue once Pay-For-Play becomes the accepted norm for all forms of public land recreation.

Working in collaboration with sympathetic Congressmen, most notably Murkowski (R-AK), Craig (R-ID) and Thomas (R-WY), ARC is actively creating a wide assortment of enabling legislation. If their bills are enacted into law, pandemonium will ensue as corporate entities and special interest groups engage in a veritable feeding frenzy for control of recreational opportunities on our nation's public lands.

While new legislation is being developed, traditional recreational uses of our lands, such as hiking, fishing, hunting etc., are being "reevaluated" to better reflect the requirements of managing recreation as a profitable business. In order to attract the massive levels of capital Mr. Dombeck is seeking from private investors, ample economic returns must be assured.

Traditional, rustic, passive and contemplative outdoor experiences must yield to highly developed recreation as Nature is transformed into a suitable playground for the spectacle of 'themed' and 'action oriented' entertainment. There is no money to be made in allowing the public access to Nature simply "as an amenity" or as "something extra we are privileged to enjoy." Free access must be eliminated because it would otherwise compete with commercial ventures and would hurt the bottom line.

'Wreckreation' (recreation run as a revenue generator) is going to be the new business of the USFS. And, in all probability, it will be managed, as have all other extractive uses on our public lands, for the benefit of private industry and to the detriment of the public and of the land itself.

As the cost of recreation rises toward its free-market potential, private sector investors will be encouraged to offer an ever wider array of commercialized recreation 'products'. We, the 'consumer', will be given the opportunity to purchase or to forgo these 'products' in accordance with our willingness and/or our ability to pay. These newly created commodities will encompass not only those nature-based recreational activities that the we have traditionally enjoyed on public lands. They will also include entirely new, far more profitable forms of 'eco-tainment', 'edu-tainment' and 'wreckre-tainment'.

Example proposals currently under consideration range from privately owned theme parks on public lands, to tramways through wilderness areas, to walkways suspended within the canopy of ancient forests. We will soon be seeing example after example of the 'Disneyfication' of Nature as the policies of collaborative stewardship and private/public ventures are allowed to run their natural course.

Don't be surprised if a trip to the National Forest soon reminds you of spending the day at Disneyworld or camping at a KOA. The same companies will very likely be managing both sets of facilities. The Walt Disney Company and Kampgrounds of America are just two of the more than 110 American Recreation Coalition members currently greasing the way for the new wreckreation agenda.

The next time you are asked to purchase a Fee-Demo permit, please recognize that you are really being asked to vote on the Pay-for-Play model. The permit is your ballot. Purchase it, and your action will most assuredly be counted as a vote in favor of wreckreation.

Its extraordinary that for a mere $65,800, a private interest group can arrange a national referendum so that the citizenry have no idea for what they are voting. Imagine what it will it be like when virtually all other public "amenities" in our great country are managed through similar private/public ventures? That is, after all, where America is headed, isn't it?


The author, Scott Silver, is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Wild Wilderness. Located in Bend, Oregon, Wild Wilderness has fought in support of 'undeveloped recreation' since 1991. Readers can learn much more about this subject by visiting the Wild Wilderness website at -- or phone us at (541) 385-5261

This document was prepared by Wild Wilderness. To learn more about ongoing industry-backed congressional efforts to motorize, commercialize, and privatize America's public lands, contact:

Scott Silver, Executive Director,
248 NW Wilmington Avenue,  Bend  OR 97701
Phone (541) 385-5261    E-mail: