REP’s role in future wilderness campaigns
By MARTHA MARKS, REP President
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech at REP’s “Wilderness for Conservatives” conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 7, 2002.
Many local, regional and national conservation organizations will be working to increase wilderness protection over the next few years, including the Wilderness Society and others represented at this conference.
I’m proud to say that Republicans for Environmental Protection intends to be an increasingly active, aggressive, and effective partner in that good effort.
This conference, which we are co-sponsoring with our “sister” foundation, is just one of many other pro-wilderness projects to come.
These are tough times, as we all know. Tough times demand energy and creativity. They try our patience and sometimes shake our faith in our ability to achieve our goals. But if we persist and don’t lose sight of those goals, tough times can strengthen us in ways that ultimately lead to the most rewarding results. I truly believe that can happen, even in the tough times that lie ahead.
So, realizing that we are going to be increasingly needed in the battle to persuade Congress to protect more wilderness, the conservative conservationists who are our members are working to enhance our unique strengths… the very special voice and message and style of activism that we bring to the debate. We have a powerful voice because we have a powerful argument. And the degree of power we bring to the debate is increasing every year… as our membership grows and our organizational strength increases.
It is our special niche to build the case for wilderness preservation so that it will become as obvious to conservative decision-makers as it is to all of us in this room today.
We conservative conservationists must use language and values that distinguish our movement from other conservation organizations.
We have to be different, sound different, and act differently. We must avoid using obscure words that have to be explained, or words that make us sound “liberal.”
Instead, as Dave Foreman said last night, we have to evoke the traditional American values of prudence, stewardship, reverence for creation, fiscal responsibility, and patriotism.
As Jim Scarantino said this morning, we have to talk about wilderness in terms of freedom.
And to that list of great conservative virtues, I would add one more: self restraint.
When we talk about protecting America’s heritage, we must emphasize that places of natural wonder are also places of national pride.
We must re-acquaint conservative politicians with the history of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, which were established by great Americans speaking the language of patriotism. We must make those conservative politicians understand that our mountains, our forests, our deserts, our rivers and—yes—our wilderness areas are living monuments to the greatness of our country… and that as such they must not be defiled.
Words matter. We conservative conservationists must find exactly the right words to convince our elected representatives of the rightness of our cause. As REP’s Policy Director Jim DiPeso says…
“We should no more ravage the wilderness for short-term gain than we should sell naming rights to the Lincoln Memorial.”
With compelling words like that, I believe we can win more than a few hearts and minds.
As we build our uniquely conservative conservation message around the subject of wilderness, REP will focus on five key things…
- We must educate the American people that wilderness is the land management strategy that imposes the least burden on taxpayers. I think people can understand that Mother Nature will manage the land for free if we will just leave her to her own devices.
- We must elevate wilderness, as Republican Congressman John Saylor did, to the status of a place where people go to be challenged, to overcome obstacles, to become stronger in a society that encourages too many of us to soften into complacency.
- We must embrace wilderness as a humbling reminder that we are a part of Creation, not the lords of Creation. We must echo the inspiring message of Peter Ilyn and others in the evangelical environmental movement. If you love the Creator, love and respect and protect the Creation.
- We must point to wilderness as a testament to all those conservative values that others have mentioned before me, and to that additional one I added to the mix: the virtue of self-restraint. Just because we can do something—like logging or mining or drilling on pristine public land—that doesn’t mean we should do it. The old saying is wrong. Might never has made right.
- We must declare that for true conservatives who seek to live according to traditional moral codes… money and consumerism are not the sum total of human happiness. Some things—like wilderness—are worth protecting simply because they are there, and because they enrich our lives in profound, spiritual ways that can neither be bought nor sold.
As for what we grassroots activists at REP will be doing over the next few years to advance the cause of wilderness protection, allow me to let you in on our thinking…
- REP will continue to grow larger, stronger and better organized each year. We currently have members in forty-eight states, with formal chapters established in New Mexico, Washington, Michigan, New York and Florida. Our California chapter is all but official and will achieve that status early in January. Next year we expect to charter chapters in at least three other states, bringing our total by this time next year to eleven. Those state chapters of REP will be working actively with their own elected representatives to further the cause of wilderness preservation.
- REP will continue to hone our unique message, at both state and national levels, and promote it through events like these, through the media, and through increased pressure on our representatives.
- REP will reach out and work with over two dozen conservative organizations, think tanks, and publications that share fiscal, religious, historical, scientific and philosophical interests in wilderness.
- REP will work with our collegues in other conservation organizations to double the size of the National Wilderness Preservation System by 2010. That’s a tall order, but we do believe it can be achieved.
I’d like to close with this last thought, which I must attribute, again, to Jim DiPeso:
“We who fight for wilderness must not approach the coming battles as supplicants seeking token crumbs from our political overlords. We must stand up and speak out as patriotic citizens demanding protection of our heritage from those who work for us. Only in this way can we hope to preserve the great American wilderness that we all treasure.”