By Alston Chase
The present era of downsized government is hard on folks with big ideas. If your specialty is social engineering on a grand scale, who’s going to hire you? The pharaohs aren’t erecting pyramids anymore. The Russians aren’t moving entire populations around the way they used to, and even in America, central planning seems dead.
Today, our leaders don’t talk about the “new frontier” or “great society,” they argue over fine print in “contracts” and “covenants.” So, if your expertise is moving colored pins on a map — where each tack represents say, 10,000 people or 1,000 woodpeckers -what are you going to do? Well, fear not. Uncle Sam still has a job for you. It’s called “ecosystems management,” and as part of the administration’s next Great Leap Forward, it offers limitless career opportunities.
President Clinton’s infatuation with this profession first became apparent with his “solution” to the controversy over Pacific Northwest old-growth forests, known as “Option 9.” Introduced in June 1993, this plan gave new meaning to the word “hubris.”
Geared for unlimited expansion, it was designed to last forever, promising, “our approach involved complex projections … over the next 50 to 100 years or more.” Spreading government’s safety net under virtually every creature that crawls, oozes, swims or photosynthesizes, it established Babylonian layers of bureaucracy — a labyrinth of validation steering committees, a Regional Interagency Executive Committee, a Regional Ecosystem Office, a Research and Monitoring Committee and Province Teams.
And, before the ink on Option 9 was dry, Clinton extended the concept eastward. In July 1993, he directed the Forest Service “to develop a scientifically sound and ecosystem-based strategy for management of eastside forests” — i.e., public lands east of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington. A year later, he proposed a third scheme, for the upper Columbia River drainage in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada and eastern Washington, called the Upper Columbia River Basin.
But Clinton failed to tell many folks about the Upper Columbia program, and when some found out, they complained. In response, the administration belatedly agreed to conduct an environmental impact statement on it.
This was a terrible inconvenience to planners. As they already knew what was best for us, they didn’t want the public butting in. Besides, the political climate was turning against them, and this was a golden opportunity to accomplish something truly Orwellian. So to minimize debate over decisions already made in December they put the Upper Columbia scheme on a fast track, announcing a blitzkrieg public hearing itinerary and giving interested parties until March 15 to respond.
Like Option 9, both the Eastside and Upper Columbia schemes would impose “ecosystem management strategies” controlling or limiting activities on public lands in order to sustain “ecosystem health.” This is a convenient goal because, being totally meaningless, it offers limitless opportunities for empire building.
“Ecosystem health,” according to the government’s description of the Upper Columbia strategy, means “ecosystem resiliency.” And “resiliency,” it says, is “biological integrity.” And what is “integrity?” Why it’s ecosystem health, stupid!
This circularity is no accident. Such concepts are intentionally value-laden. From the start, the purpose of ecology has been social engineering, not understanding. When, early in this century, biologist Frederic Clements first conceived of things being parts of “super-organisms” — the forerunners of today’s “ecosystems” — he did so, notes historian Peter J. Bowler, because the idea “allowed him to present ecology as a science that would show us how to manage natural productivity of an entire region.”
Big-time ecology got started after World War 11, when the Atomic Energy Commission set up ecology departments at Oak Ridge, Hanford and Savannah River to aid in planning the development of nuclear energy. And ever since, government has been virtually the sole supporter of this science, which it groomed as a tool for social planning.
Bowler summarizes: “Where Clements had once justified government control of the environment by appealing to the image of society as a super-organism, the new systems theory offered the prospect of social control.” And this in turn enhanced the influence of ecologists themselves. As historian Joel B. Hagen observed, they “emphasized the important role that ecologists could play in shaping public policy.”
Such is the role they now play in the Northwest. But they won’t stop there. There is no limit to the number of ecosystems needing “management.”
Once, kids tinkered with erector sets and built dams and bridges after they grew up. Today, the young play ecology games and hope to dismantle dams and bridges. Thus does one generation provide jobs for the next and ensure that “experts” can always find excuses to limit liberty. Vocational fashions come and go, but the desire for power is eternal. §
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