The Righteous and the Ugly
HSRA and the Prospect appear in Muirland Journal 121411
A local reader alerted the Prospect to a mention of our publication in a regional conservationist journal, the Sierra Nevada Alliance Sierra Newsletter (link).
We reviewed the newsletter for November and were astonished to discover that the Prospect is a tool of the Tea Party.
In an article about how the good ecocentric, Earth loving peoples of the world are under attack by the minions of rampant capitalism, including, oddly, the Prospect, various “experts” discussed the problem; one expert was Stevee Duber.
The SNA publication even had a quote from the Prospect (no link was provided) which actually quoted a response from a resident in the county to a Prospect Poll. The response was:
“This is an organization with an incredibly malicious agenda being driven by an inherently unstable misanthropic idealogue.”
Does the statement appear in the Prospect? It does, in a story about a Prospect Poll on HSRA. Is it an editorial statement? No, it isn’t. Does it reflect editorial opinion? It’s harshly stated, and ad hominem, but we understand the sentiment.
However, that was one of several remarks, and while none very much favored HSRA, most were more specific as to the problem with the group in the county. A good example:
“HSRA could be a very valuable tool to support what is best for the county. Working in a consulting role, with practical, realistic solutions would be more beneficial. The tactics used, border on extortion and appear to be more self-serving, than legitimate cause for the good of all citizens in Sierra County.”
Does the Prospect have an anti-green bias? Is the publication a tool of the Tea Party? I’m betting our many Tea Party readers would complain that the Prospect isn’t Tea Enough. We generally support the world view of Occupy, who see the richest 1% to be grossly benefiting over the average person, rather than the Tea Party who seem to see the richest 1% as demigods. We generally support green technology, provided it is actually green and not “green washed”. We do drive a gas hog SUV, but support biofuels and high mileage vehicles; besides, we live in the freaking snow, not down in Sacramento.
Clearly, someone somewhere decided to use the most extreme quote about HSRA that they could find, and since we still believe in the 1st Amendment, we provided it by reporting the results of the poll.
We called the Sierra Nevada Alliance and we’d like to tell you they were rude, unreasonable, and completely extremist in their views, but they weren’t. They were polite and reasonable. The author of that article had moved to another agency, and they couldn’t be sure how the person got the information. They agreed it seemed to be taken out of context, and said they’d be glad to look at the original article and asked if I wanted some kind of action out of them. Our discussion was, for my part, pleasant, and not the formalized bullshit a reporter so often gets from regional organizations.
The Prospect can hardly blame someone else for shooting from the hip on a story, or squeezing the evidence to prove a point. They had already offered to do the action I would have chosen: read the Prospect and see if we’re far right. I maintain if we are right of SNA and left of the Tea Party we must be middle of the road.
It certainly is fair to say that the editorial position on High Sierra Rural Alliance has gone from favorable in 2009 to very unfavorable in 2010. I love the idea of what the organization says it is, I just hate the way it’s played out on the ground. It isn’t “staying rural” to herd the county’s residents into population zones; it’s a little like herding protestors into “free speech areas”. It’s that kind of “rural”.
Indeed, where the managing editorial position on the Prospect stands is a distance from the core of SNA, and I did mention during the discussion with the folks at Sierra Nevada Alliance that they are Muirish folk. Here’s an example, taken from the Executive Director’s letter, in which ED Joan Clayburgh says:
“The Sierra is our heart and center, where we can rejuvenate and recover together, both today and 20,000 days from now.”
Rejuvenate? We live in the Sierra, in the real Sierra, and every winter takes years off your life. The heart and center of the Muirish view is that the wild lands are godly, they are damaged by human interaction, they are pure and virginal and most of all they are the remnants of Eden, needing to be preserved from the touch of sinful humans. What crap!
It isn’t about the wilderness, it’s about culture, and in our case, it’s about survival.
A major allegation against HSRA, and one I presently sign on to, is that some members have found a way to do what most of us want to do: make a living in the Sierra, but they’ve done it by preying on their neighbors, on just plain people who want to make reasonable use of their land.
HSRA, and for that matter, SNA and other area non-profits are just examples of a new bureaucratic niche, the “eco-director” and the “eco-coordinator.” It doesn’t make these folks bad, and indeed, I agree they fill a semi-useful niche, to organize and encourage the funding of projects which support a general philosophy of doing good for the environment. They enjoy the social cache’ of “doing well by doing good.” Still, let’s not forget these are bureaucrats, people inhabiting an administrative system, and the system needs feeding and the food is money.
Indeed, Ms. Clayburgh’s letter was about funding, how it was being reduced, but how the organization still sought to do good at the same level, please send money. The people who have the most money to give her are people who like to have their emotional “do good” center massaged, most often people who don’t rely on timber, mining or high altitude agriculture, people, in fact, who want their Muirish buzz. They want to feel they’re returning us to the Garden. That bit of stroking hardly makes Clayburgh a bad administrator, or bad eventual old age pensioner.
But, isn’t that the same complaint we have about HSRA? Making money doing good no matter who it hurts? These eco-bureaucrats are reshaping our communal view of the mountains, of the watersheds, and of traditional rural lives.
As the author of most of the Prospect’s editorial and opinion pieces I don’t believe we’re anti-environmental, nor anti-salmon, nor anti-watershed; indeed, the “environment” is my home. I live in the woods, I make my mark on the environment and it makes its mark on me, not in a Muirish, dreamily philosophical way, but in a hard knock way. Here’s the head’s up: the Garden doesn’t care if you’re there or not.
No, I object to people mythologizing the woods and rivers, and particularly I object to non-profits, and to the grant trough feeders, who claim to represent rural people, but don’t. I object to skeezers who spin yarns that feature hardworking men and women as villains. They want to do so much good we can’t live here. No wonder a lot of rural people genuinely feel that “urban environmentalists” are trying to drive them out of existence. Some local people worry about Sierra Business Council and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy because they have “Sierra” in the name. The Prospect values SBC as a positive attempt to make both the Sierra livable and Sierrans able to live. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy has struggled with its identity, but the County Supervisors on the board keep it off the shoals of Muirdom. Still, local people and landowners have reason to fear the “Sierra” organizations, particularly if they are part of an “alliance”. No one wants the rivers cleaner and the hills more productive than we do, but we’d also like to live.
Unlike HSRA, the Prospect really is pro-rural. But that doesn’t mean mad dog anti-environmentalist. Our message is simple: you want to turn our mountains into your Eden? Fine, but you seem to forget, like the first Europeans who claimed these mountains forgot, there are already people living here.
Elsewhere in the same SNA newsletter is an article featuring HSRA. They list some lawsuits we will recognize, and some assumed benefits we think are bunk. As with the quote from the Prospect, the article is pretty much out of context. It’s a reflection of the story the group tells itself about itself, about how it’s doing good for people who don’t understand the good it’s doing them, how it’s working for the future generations, saving the land for the children of the ignorant rural people who now live here.
I’m getting pretty weary of people who feel like that, and the non-helpful non-profits who have arisen to feed on the Sierra.
All that notwithstanding, I encourage readers to check out the Sierra Nevada Alliance newsletter. Not everything about SNA is bad, and even mislead Muirish folk get it right sometimes, besides, there are some great photos.