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Wednesday, 22 November 2017 15:49

The Naturalist's Corner: Missing the point

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I received a few emails after the story of Brent Martin’s departure as Southern Appalachian Regional Director of the Wilderness Society (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/21079). I must say that most were supportive of Martin and/or saddened about the circumstances of his departure from the Wilderness Society.

But some wanted to focus on the pros and cons of the MOU (you can see it here (www.mountaintrue.org/text-of-mou/), but that’s missing the point. I personally believe the MOU makes a lot of sense and is just the kind of consensus building that the U.S. Forest Service said was mandated for its Plan Revision. If John Wilson, Fred Stanback and others disagree, that’s certainly their prerogative, and not at all the focus of the story of Martin’s fate.

Others felt I was naïve and suggested I don’t really understand how things are accomplished in environmental/political circles. Well I’ve certainly never been director of any kind of environmental organization; never had to try and marshal support and/or resources to promote or protect wildlands or address policy or practices that are environmentally degrading, but I have had to report on non-profits and for-profits and governmental entities, and legalities, ethics and transparency were always primary concerns. Legalities, to my chagrin, seem to always take precedent when considering the action of for-profit entities. Legality is, of course, paramount when considering the action of non-profits and/or governmental entities as well, but ethics and transparency are large factors.

Perhaps quixotic would be a better modifier than naïve. I mean most people in today’s society realize that way too much policy and way too many decisions are made behind closed doors. As I mentioned above, we’ve largely come to accept this modus operandi when it comes to for-profit entities. But when it comes to non-profits and/or governmental entities, we raise the bar — and for good reason. It should be obvious (maybe it’s not) that government at any level is supposed to represent its constituents (that’s you and me.) Non-profits also fall into this purview because non-profits have no owners, only stakeholders — non-profits are organizations that belong to you and me.

And, as I put my armor on (see that windmill over there), I have to divulge that I am decidedly not of the opinion “the end justifies the means.” If we accept this philosophy, there is no justice; there is only who, by whatever means possible, achieved his or her goal, leaving the spoils to the victor and declaring that policy will be whatever those with the greater resources want it to be.

As I mentioned earlier, I have no problem with the fact that John Wilson, Fred Stanback and others opposed the MOU. I have no problem that they contacted Jamie Williams (president) and The Wilderness Society (TWS.) I have a problem with what happened next.

Williams met with Wilson and met with Stanback, in private. After those meetings, TWS, with no consultation or dialogue with Martin, decided to pull all information regarding the MOU off its website. They asked Martin if he would consider renegotiating the MOU with input from Wilson. Martin agreed and met with Wilson but noted, “John was clear that it was his way or the highway regarding these two areas [Harper Creek and Lost Cove], and expected me to take his position before going back to the table. I would not, but did let him know that I was starting with a blank slate again with it all. This did not satisfy him, so he went back to the TWS president, who changed our position without even talking to me about it. This ultimately cost me my job, as I refused to simply switch positions and stab the multiple partners who had worked so hard on this in the back.”

From my naïve quixotic point of view this certainly looks like an instance where influence and money, behind closed doors, dictated policy to a non-profit that is supposed to be accountable to its stakeholders. I am not the only one that thinks power and money have no place dictating policy when it comes to public policy. One environmental organization points to this kind of collusion in a paragraph titled, The puppet master oil and gas industry. The paragraph reads in part, “Dig into any of the politicians and advocacy groups pushing the public land takeover agenda, and you’ll find oil and gas money financing lobbyists and politicians at the state and federal levels. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a membership organization for state legislators, is funded by Exxon-Mobil and the energy and mining billionaire Koch brothers. They have drafted model legislation that land takeover proponents, such as Montana state Rep. Jennifer Fielder and Idaho state Rep. Judy Boyle, have introduced in state legislatures.”

A pretty strong condemnation of money and influence peddling, don’t you think? The organization that wrote that paragraph? The Wilderness Society.

(Don Hendershot is a naturalist and a writer who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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