Book by Grand Valley author examines debate on environment

The modern-day environmental movement has gone from near universal support 30 years ago to its current status as a partisan battleground, a former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources says in a new book.

Two pivotal events changed the way environmental issues are viewed, Greg Walcher, a Grand Valley resident, says in his book, “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back,” published by the American Tradition Institute.

One of those events was the Jimmy Carter administration’s hit list aimed at killing Western water projects and the other was President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of James Watt as secretary of the interior, Walcher writes.

Carter’s hit list “set the stage for the most divisive period in the history of conservation,” and the Watt era gave environmental organizations “an enemy with a public face” that they could use as a fundraising tool, Walcher wrote.

“Smoking Them Out,” Walcher said in an interview, was written to appeal to a Western and conservative audience, but its theme isn’t one of unchecked development.

Rather, Walcher said, environmental debates have devolved to the point that the environment is rarely mentioned.

Instead, talk centers on such things as numbers of board feet of timber cut from forests, or amounts of land disturbed from mining or drilling, and the point is frequently lost.

So discussion about drilling in the Arctic tends to center on polar bears rather than on how development can be mitigated and the environment left intact, Walcher said.

“If you have an agenda other than the environment, it’s really hard to say it out loud,” he said.

His experience with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery Project was instructive, Walcher said.

His “Aha! moment” arrived as he took his place as a member of the governance committee of the recovery project and asked how many fish would have to be in the river to result in removing them from the list of endangered species.

“Astoundingly, the program had never bothered to determine how many of these fish once occupied the river, nor had anyone come close to defining what would constitute recovery,” Walcher wrote.

The U.S. Forest Service, Walcher says in the book, has to be given better tools to manage forests — and quickly.

The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies should be staffed with professionals in their fields, not political appointees, Walcher writes, noting that high-level officials frequently have no training in the fields they oversee.

The Forest Service “ought to be staffed by professional foresters, just as the National Weather Service needs trained climatologists,” he wrote.

Both sides of environmental issues tend to be easily, and inaccurately, caricatured, Walcher said, noting for instance that many environmental activists are committed to the environment, not necessarily simply frustrating development.

Caustic epithets such as “enviro-Nazis” “don’t make sense to me” after having working with several organizations, he said.

At the same time, “Some of the greatest lovers of the natural world are loggers and miners,” he said.

Walcher led the Department of Natural Resources from 1999 to 2004 under Gov. Bill Owens.


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