To mainstream environmental activists, Ron Arnold merits special disdain. A former Sierra Club conservation committee member, Arnold now runs, with associate Alan Gottlieb, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, Washington. Together they wrote a 1993 expose of the environmental movement, Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism is Wrecking America, which remains controversial for spotlighting corporate funding of mainstream environmental groups.

Arnold and Gottlieb also figure prominently in the “wise use” movement that the environmental mainstream says is a front for rapacious natural resource industries and a reason for the current backlash against environmentalism. For example, in the recent Sierra Club book by David Helvarg, The War Against the Greens: The Wise Use Movement, the New Right, and Anti-Environmental Violence, Arnold and Gottlieb stand accused of helping to whip up nasty feelings against environmentalists. In a January article in the alternative tabloid Seattle Weekly, wise use activism in Okanogan County, Washington, is even accused of encouraging “a more insidious brand of recruiting by a militia group with ties to white supremacists.”

Yet while such a linkage may have had them cheering in the Sierra Club’s suites, the environmental mainstream has more to worry about from Arnold and Gottlieb than allegedly fostering racist agitation. For their center, and perhaps the amorphous wise use movement in general, is making common cause with what is known as the “New Conservation Movement.” As Arnold explains, “We have common enemies.”

While the New Conservation Movement is made up of radical greens, it is a grassroots effort that illustrates what Arnold and Gottlieb make clear in Trashing the Economy. Arnold highlights an article by leftist Alexander Cockburn and radical green Jeffrey St. Clair in the December 19, 1994, issue of the Nation to underscore the common ground among wise use and pure green activists. “The mainstream brass [of the environmental movement] is elitist, highly paid, detached from the people, indifferent to the working class and a firm ally of big government,” they write. “Most Americans will continue to honor local fights and a local zeal against waste dumps, filth and corporate depredations of public lands and resources. But they won’t honor big-time green lobbies, swollen with corporate slush, hand in glove with arrogant federal agencies, stuffing down their throats the edicts of central power.”

All of the above have led Arnold and Gottlieb to contemplate something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago; a joint book project with the Native Forest Council in Eugene, Oregon. This council is best known for bringing the zero-cut option in national forests back into play, not something most wise users will endorse. But as Arnold says, “One of the reasons I have a more friendly feeling toward people who say what their real goal is, is that then we can have a real debate . . . [and] when you have an honorable adversary you can build respect and common ground.” The feeling seems mutual. Victor Rozek, editor of Forest Voice, the council’s tabloid, says, “We both felt that the discussion needed to be elevated.”

It is also likely that the environmental mainstream’s ties to corporate America will be dragged out for further inspection by both sides. The go-ahead for green dissidents came in the October 1, 1994, issue of Counterpunch, in which Cockburn and coeditor Ken Silverstein give an endorsement to Getting Rich: The Environmental Movement’s Income, Salary, Contributions and Investment Patterns, a booklet published by Arnold and Gottlieb. “The idiom of rugged rural populism chosen by the Wise Users,” they write, “is amply justified by the material they review.”

The council is more than warming to that idiom. Cockburn was recently invited to speak at a University of Oregon Law School environmental law forum but had to bow out, making way for Arnold to stand in his place. “Cockburn couldn’t show,” says Arnold. “I think the Native Forest Council said, ‘Have Arnold there.'” As it turns out, the council did just that. To be precise, having Arnold appear was the idea of Tim Hermach, the council’s executive director. “A lot of people think the wise use movement is a big demon,” he says. “The wise use movement and environmentalists should be aligned if ‘Big Government’ is the problem.”

Arnold returned the favor to the New Conservationists by inviting St. Clair to speak on a panel with him at the annual wise use movement conference in Reno, Nevada, last July. According to Arnold, the invitation was meant to be a “historic first, an effort not so much to build bridges, but an effort in how we can reinforce each other.” And reaching out, Arnold says, is something he will continue to do. “All I can say without violating confidence is that we are expanding our contacts with radical, what I’d say are authentic, environmentalists,” he says. “We won’t dance with them on many issues, but on certain ones we will.”

But the Reno gig didn’t fully pan out: St. Clair had a family emergency and couldn’t make it. That left Arnold alone to explain his center’s new friendship to an audience warmed up throughout its Saturday session by all-star property rights advocates such as Mark Pollot, author of Grand Theft and Petit Larceny: Property Rights in America; Chuck Cushman, the fax network activist who runs the American Land Rights Association; and William Perry Pendley, author of War on the West and the president and CEO of the Mountain States Legal Foundation. The conference was dedicated to Gil Murray, the California Forestry Association president killed April 24 by a package bomb attributed to the Luddite “Unabomber,” and Sunday’s agenda featured Donn Zea, the association’s vice president for industry affairs, and firebrand Idaho Representative Helen Chenoweth, who sits on congressional task forces dealing with reform of the Endangered Species Act and with property rights and term limits advocacy.

One newcomer to the meeting was Steve Lindsey, a family rancher from Southern Arizona. The mild-mannered rancher turned a bit red while naming the forces bearing down on him: a glut of Mexican cattle coming across the border at Douglas (undermining the rock bottom prices of 30-35 cents a pound he gets for his cattle), a federal government that wants to raise the rent on the land it allows him to graze his cattle on, and, perhaps worst of all, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. The agency’s Phoenix office has told Lindsey that he will likely have to fence off pasture land on his own private property since a flower covered by the Endangered Species Act, the Canelo Hills Lady’s Tresses, is found there.

Arnold, who argued the need to reach out to New Conservationists, says the audience responded with “surprise. Shock. Some resistance.” Arnold expects as much from wise users today but says they must take the New Conservationists seriously, because, as he sees it, they are the only environmentalists who accept people as part of any equation in discussing natural resources, endangered species, habitat, etc. Of the three current types of environmentalists—the foundation-controlled, the deep ecologists, and the eco-socialists—^Arnold says, “we look for the middle ground, and that’s the ecosocialists,” whom he praises for their keen sense of economic justice. For example, while a New Conservationist may advocate a zero-cut policy in the national forests, he wouldn’t fool himself into believing that a government program could retrain lifelong loggers into software programmers. According to St. Clair, both greens and natural resource workers may realize that “it comes down to connecting people to place” and that “you do that in the communities.”

A New Conservationist may even resent the unemployment resulting from mainstream environmentalists’ activism, which, as Getting Rich documents, is a flourishing industry. For instance, the Surdna Foundation, a member of the Environmental Grantmakers Association and an Andrus family foundation built with money from gold, oil, timber, and real estate businesses, approved a donation of $35,000 in April 1992 for Environment Now, which trains activists in filing appeals to stop federal Timber Harvest Plans. The foundation has also awarded $90,000 to the Sierra Club (’91-’92), $30,000 to the Oregon Natural Resources Council (’92-’93), $197,000 to the Wilderness Society (’90-’93), $175,000 to the Western Ancient Forest Campaign (’92-’93), $100,000 to the Audubon Society (’92-’93), and $357,000 to the Natural Resources Defense Council (’89-’93)—all of which have also filed appeals for “stopping timber harvests and log supplies to mills in the Sierra Nevada market area. Thirty-six sawmills in Northern California have shut down because of log shortages since 1990, rendering 8,000 unemployed.”

“As a result,” according to Getting Rich, “timber prices on Surdna Foundation’s private lands have increased dramatically. Some of the Timber Harvest Plans that were appealed lie in the same watershed as the timberlands owned by Surdna Foundation and Andrus timber partners, yet no appeals were filed on the State Timber Harvest Plans submitted by Surdna Foundation under California law.” During 1992-1993, Getting Rich also reports, the “Surdna Foundation realized $2.7 million income from its Northern California timberlands.”

Rural populists have long objected to distant bureaucrats telling them how to be stewards of the land. Locally oriented greens alienated by groups trying to dominate all environmental politics—and making enemies of neighbors who may be ranchers, loggers, and miners in the process—may find many areas of common interest. Rozek is open to the notion. “Early on in the environmental movement we needed power and size,” he says. “Having accomplished that we saw the results of centralization.” Rozek doesn’t seem to be alone: since 1990, the Sierra Club, one of the environmental mainstream’s most powerful organizations, has lost more than 50,000 members.