The following material was abstracted from an article
originally found at the web site of the Environmental Working Group.
Policy Objectives of the Wise Use Movement
There are two basic tenets that serve as the driving force and
uniting theme for the Wise Use movement:
- All constraints on the use of private property should
be removed, including limits set for health, safety,
and environmental protection.
At the heart of the issue is the "takings" clause
of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which
states "...nor shall private property be taken for public
use, without just compensation." Property-rights advocates
argue that regulations that restrict an owner's use of his or
her land are a taking, and hence, the property owner must be duly
Regulations do not constitute a taking, however, when the restrictions
act to prevent public harm (such as regulations preventing a property
owner from releasing pollutants into a community) or if the benefits
of the regulation outweigh the burdens. For example, while a
zoning ordinance limiting building might place some restrictions
on an individual, the same ordinance might in turn provide benefits
that outweigh the inconvenience of the restrictions to neighboring
The practical result of the takings argument is that if the
courts validate the argument, environmental, health, and safety
regulations will be impossible to impose because unconditional
compensation is not fiscally plausible. (See page 16 for resources
on private property cases and legislation.)
Private-property-rights advocates have been touting the result
in a widely publicized case in South Carolina that was decided
by the Supreme Court in June 1993. David Lucas, a developer,
was not allowed to build on two seaside lots because the state
restricted coastal development. The Supreme Court reversed a
lower court's rejection of his "takings" claim, and
the state ultimately settled the case for approximately $1.5 million.
While symbolically important, the result in Lucas is consistent
with the traditional rule that a "taking" occurs when
regulation makes property completely valueless.
- Access to public land should be unrestricted
for logging, mining, drilling, motorized recreation,
and all commercial enterprise.
"Wilderness has no economic value, no timbering, no oil
and gas production, no mining, no livestock grazing, no motorized
-- Henry Yake, President, BlueRibbon Coalition,
Times Herald, July 15, 1990.
This misconstrued philosophy
is the basis of the Wise Use movement's public-lands policy.
Their public relations campaign touts its objectives as multiple
use of public lands. In reality, however, their objectives limit
public access and do not promote economic stability. For example,
the mining industry would close off public lands to recreational
users, and the timber industry would limit access on public lands
to hunters and hikers. The economic realities, distorted by the
Wise Use agenda, are discussed in AFE's publication, Jobs and
the Environment, developed as a companion to this guide on
the Wise Use movement.
Aspects of the political agenda that specifically relate to
public-lands policy include opposition to the designation of any
lands as wilderness areas; immediate logging of all old-growth
forests; opening all public lands --including wilderness areas
and national parks -- to mineral and energy production; and developing
massive concessions in all national parks.
Although Wise Use organizations differ in their specific focus,
at a conference in August 1988 sponsored by Ron Arnold's Center
for the Defense of Free Enterprise, many Wise Use organizations
came together and discussed their mutual concerns. Out of this
conference Alan Gottlieb, also of the Center for Defense of Free
Enterprise, compiled The Wise Use Agenda, a book that delineates
the following twenty-five goals of the movement.
- Initiate a public education project to demonstrate how Wise
Use of the national forests and federal lands can reduce the federal
- Develop the petroleum resources of the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge in Alaska.
- Advocate the passage of an Inholders Protection Act, giving
broader property rights to inholders (persons who own land within
the borders or tangent to federal or state lands).
- Support the Global Warming Protection Act, a misleading name
for legislation that seeks to increase the young stands (i.e.,
removal of old-growth stands) in National Forest lands.
- Increase harvesting of timber in the Tongass National Forest
- Open all public lands to mining and energy production.
- Assert states' sovereign rights in matters pertaining to
water distribution and regulation.
- Commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the founding
of the Forest Service by calling attention to the commodity use
of forests and the homestead settlement of these areas in the
early years of the Service.
- Increase harvesting of trees in national forests to promote
"rural, timber-dependent community stability" through
the Rural Community Stability Act.
- Create a national timber harvesting system that allows for
greater harvesting of timber on public lands.
- Reorganize the National Park Service. This includes the
implementation of Mission 2010, a 20-year construction program
that would maximize concession stands and accommodations in national
parks, and remove entry limits and bring in private firms experienced
in people moving, such as Walt Disney, to manage the parks.
- Expand the window of time that a patent protects companies
and individuals who develop new pest-control products by excluding
the time spent testing the product.
- Create the National Rangeland Grazing System to open more
federal lands for grazing.
- Open all wilderness areas to motorized wheelchair access.
- Support the enactment of a National Industrial Policy Act
requiring all Federal actions -- legislative and regulatory --
to include an economic impact statement.
- Require greater specificity in the costs associated with
actions by federal agencies.
- Allow property owners to recover easements on property taken
for railroad construction once the railroads have been abandoned.
- Amend and weaken the Endangered Species Act. The amendment
would exclude "relic species in decline before the appearance
of man," such as the California Condor.
- Require parties that unsuccessfully challenge any development
or economic action in court to pay damages to the developer.
- Strengthen the claims to private rights on federal lands
for mining, grazing, harvesting timber, etc.
- Press for the enactment of the Global Resources Wise Use
Act, which calls for the adoption of a pro-industry consideration
in natural resource-use decisions.
- Change the National Wilderness Preservation System to allow
for commercial uses. Reorganize areas so that some are designated
for partial development while others are allowed more extensive
- Allow Wise Use groups standing to sue on behalf of industries
that are threatened or harmed by environmentalists.
- Use monies from the federal gasoline tax to create trails
for off-road motorized vehicles.
- Discontinue the Forest Service's policy of allowing some
naturally occurring fires to burn, and introduce an active prevention
The agenda items range from dramatic changes in wildlife management
that allow for more commercial development of all kinds to measures
that deceptively appear to promote preservation. The impact of
many of the items is purposefully unclear, and this, in turn,
obfuscates potential detrimental impact on the environment.
The agenda establishes a concrete legislative strategy for the
movement. Unlike past attempts by resource-extraction industries,
which floundered due to internal inconsistencies, the Wise Use
agenda clearly sets out specific actions. It is important to
note, however, that while the items establish specific goals and
attempt to bring together dissimilar groups, there is still a
great deal of disparity within the movement.
Wise Use advocates have been active and in many cases successful
in changing public opinion and translating their support into
political and legislative action. Indeed, they have accomplished
some of the goals that they set in 1988. Using a variety of tools,
from economic boycotts to getting amendments attached to key pieces
of legislation in Congress, Wise Use proponents have been very
active. Here is a sample of actions that they have taken:
- Some groups organized an economic boycott of corporations
sponsoring two television shows produced by the National Audubon
Society on grazing and timber -- "Rage over Trees" and
"The New Range Wars." They were successful in producing
large volumes of mail from supporters, which prompted some sponsors
to remove their advertisements.
- Wise Use proponents have packed federal hearings on land management
in the Yellowstone area as well as hearings on the 1872 Mining
Act, convened by the Mining and Natural Resources Subcommittee
of the House of Representatives. In both cases they effectively
used the hearings to show public support and attract media attention.
- The BlueRibbon Coalition, an off-road-vehicle, "multiple
use" organization, orchestrated the Wise Use movement's biggest
success to date. They were able to get an amendment added to
the 1991 highway reauthorization bill that includes up to $30
million dollars in gas-tax money to build off-road-vehicle trails.
Under this legislation, trails for motorized vehicles can be
made through previously roadless areas, decreasing the chances
of these areas being protected under the Wilderness Act.
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,
Scott Silver, Executive Director,
248 NW Wilmington Avenue, Bend OR 97701
Phone (541) 385-5261 E-mail: