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Coyotes and Town Dogs

Earth First! and the Environmental Movement

by Susan Zakin

483 pages, paperback, University of Arizona Press, 2002

Coyotes and Town Dogs describes the evolution of Dave Foreman from the Wilderness Society's top Washington lobbyist to leader of the radical environmental group Earth First! The book also contains a good overview of the overall development of the U.S. environmental movement during that period. Zakin's punchy style is well-suited to her subject.

Praise for Coyotes and Town Dogs

"Zakin, a truly gifted writer, puts the reader smack into the scene . . . [and] it is this mythic element that Zakin catches so well in her evocation--an evocation of as odd a group of people, and as inspiring a collection of landscapes, as could be imagined."--Wilderness Magazine

"A vivid, comprehensive history . . . of a movement most Americans would probably consider crazy. . . . If we're still here 200 years from now, it will be due in no small part to groups like Earth First! and to writers like Susan Zakin who understand why we must heed their warnings." --Adam Hochschild

"Coyotes and Town Dogs is one of those rare treasures that ends much too quickly . . . A superb contribution to the historical conservation literature of the past thirty years . . . Approaches pure genius in perception, integration, and presentation. The bookshelves of every dedicated conservationist should have a copy."--Conservation Biology

"Zakin introduces us to the movement's principal movers and shakers, and her vivid prose captures the movement's excitement, occasional terror, and just as occasional triumph."-- Outside magazine

"In crisp, clear and often sharply funny prose, Zakin alternates the Earth First! story with a knowledgeable overview of American environmentalism and judicious tidbits of gossip. It's a fascinating, sometimes hilarious, sometimes appalling tale. Whatever you think about Earth First!, this book may well change your mind." --The Arizona Daily Star

"Zakin responds to this rowdy group in kind with her raucous, snappy, freewheeling narrative--a perfect fit with her subject. . . . [The book] contains enough speech excerpts, thoughts, facts, and inspiration to call to action the next generation of environmental rowdies." --Booklist

Quotes from Coyotes and Town Dogs

" 'We have become a force greater than geology in determining the future of evolution,' Foreman admonished college students all over the country. 'It's our decision whether the charismatic megafauna in the future will still have grizzly bears and great blue whales in it, or whether there will be cockroaches or Norway rats. It gets depressing after a while. That's why I drink as much beer as I do. If I thought about it all the time I'd go stark, raving mad. That's why I take Ed Abbey's advice a lot and get out in the wilderness and enjoy it. But we've got to encounter the problem, we've got to encounter the magnitude, the enormity of what our generation is doing to the planet. If we confront that I think then we've got to ask what can we do about it, how can we begin to deal with it? I mean, do we just give up, go home, stick something in the VCR and run out a line of coke, sit back, and forget? If we can see that grizzly bears and mosquitoes and redwoods and algae have value in and of themselves and are important just like we are, then I think we start making the first step. And after you begin to think of other things as having intrinsic value, I think the next step is emotion; to be passionate; to feel.' "

" Foreman's words gave purpose to a whole generation of college students. To disillusioned middle-class environmentalists, he handed their dreams back. To back-to-the- land dropouts, he gave a sense of community. But even in heartfelt, do-gooding entrepreneurs like Foreman there is an element of hucksterism. Despite his attempts at self-restraint, Foreman was just too damn good at creating a legend."

. . .

"When questioned on his previous advocacy of Glen Canyon Dam and the Sierra Club's long-ago support for Bridge Canyon dam, Brower replied that the current opposition to Grand Canyon dams represented an 'evolution in our own thinking.'

" 'Ten years ago I was testifying in favor of a higher Glen Canyon Dam and I wish I had been struck dead at the time,' he said. 'We found out how wrong we had been. I would just stress that over these years our own thinking has evolved, and I still hope that Mr. Udall's will.'

"Well, Mr. Udall's did, but it took more work on Brower's part. After the hearings ended, conservationists got a tip that dam supporters might try to railroad through a piece of legislation. Brower was convinced that his opponents were running scared. He decided to press his advantage. On June 9, 1966, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times all carried full-page ads placed by the Sierra Club. Each paper split its press run so that Brower could see which idea worked better, his straightforward open letter to Stewart Udall, or the ad written by San Francisco consultants Howard Gossage and Jerry Mander. It was Mander and Gossage's splashy ad, hands down. 'NOW ONLY YOU CAN SAVE GRAND CANYON FROM BEING FLOODED . . . FOR PROFIT' read the ad. The body copy went into more detail, but the ending came back to the issue's emotional core. 'Remember, with all the complexities of Washington politics and Arizona politics, and the ins and outs of committees and procedures, there is only one simple, incredible issue here: This time it's the Grand Canyon they want to flood. The Grand Canyon.' "

. . .

"In one way, at least, Watt was a true democrat. He gave equal time to all the West's vested interests. That included ranchers. Cattle grazing on federal land became a major topic at the anti-Sagebrush conference, marking the first time environmentalists seriously took on the task of ranching reform. Overgrazing had caused an environmental disaster in the West, but generations of conservationists had felt compelled to tiptoe pragmatically around the problem. Foreman and some of the others who attended the conference, like Howie and Bart and Johanna Wald of the Natural Resources Defense Council, were unhappy that the environmental movement had taken, at best, a defensive position.

"The most effective action on grazing had been taken by an outsider, journalist Bernard De Voto. In 1946 De Voto received an assignment to travel to the West. With his wife and son, he drove his old Buick from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the landscape of 'dry grass and stiff sage' which he had fled many years before. Now that he was middle-aged and successful, De Voto fell in love with the West he had once despised. In typical reporter fashion, he managed to squeeze a few lucrative travel articles out of the trip. He also scored an investigative coup by uncovering a plot by stockmen to privatize federal grazing lands. One of their more subtle maneuvers was the introduction of a bill that would have shifted ownership of federal grazing land to the states. It was a slick move that would have allowed states to auction off public land. Almost singlehandedly, De Voto turned back this attempted coup with a series of powerful, well-documented articles in the pages of Harper's, including the aptly titled 'Sacred Cows and Public Lands'."

. . .

"Paranoia was only one of the problems surfacing as a result of Earth First!'s radical tactics. Newspaperman Pete Dustrud had already resigned as editor of the Earth First! Journal after a dispute about monkeywrenching in 1982. Dustrud, a Vietnam vet, objected to a feature submitted to the 'Dear Ned Ludd' column on devices that reminded him of pungee sticks used by the North Vietnamese. It was an exaggeration-- Dustrud wasn't nicknamed 'Prickly Pete' for nothing--but monkeywrenching was starting to cause divisions in the group.

"At the Earth First! Rendezvous that year, Louisa Willcox spent a long time discussing it with the poet Gary Snyder. Monkeywrenching ran counter to her Quaker background. What bothered Louisa most was the idea that someone might get hurt by mistake. As a Buddhist, Snyder had problems with it, too. But Snyder's problems with monkeywrenching were as much tactical as moral. Personally, he got a kick out of fantasizing about doing some highly strategic monkeywrenching of his own. But he felt that Dave Foreman was upping the ante without enough in the bank. The group couldn't have it both ways--they couldn't deny endorsing monkeywrenching to cover their asses legally while making a virtual fetish of tree spiking and bulldozer burning. Either you were a kamikaze or you weren't. Even in a casual conversation, Snyder weighed each word. Words were powerful. It was important to take responsibility for them."

Table of Contents of Coyotes and Town Dogs

  1. The Education of an Environmentalist
  2. EAST: Burn On
  3. WEST: Phantoms
  4. Coyotes and Town Dogs
  5. West Meets East
  6. Trouble Waiting to Happen
  7. Desert Heart, Devil's Highway
  8. "Dear Monkeyfucker"
  9. The Road Show
  10. Bart Rides Out
  11. The Oregon Trail
  12. The Crackdown
  13. The Lost Boy
  14. Vineland
  15. Splitting the Sheets
  16. High Noon

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