Meanwhile, Closer to the Ground...

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, March 1994

Meanwhile, Closer to the Ground...

Eight reasons to believe that smaller might be bigger
By Kiki Yablon

Around the country, and especially in the West, there's been an evolution in the revolution. Focused but not myopic, this generation of grassroots groups runs on the proverbial shoestring ($15,000 to $300,000, in the case of those we've highlighted here), with tiny staffs and vituallly no overhead, so they give more bang for your buck. You won't get anything in the mail from them unless you ask for it--which you may well want to do.

Northwest Resource Information Center

Founded by Ed Chaney, a former employee of the Oregon Fish Commission who, after witnessing a massive kill of salmon and steelhead in the ladders of a Columbia River dam in 1968, was instructed to keep it under his hat. Instead he quit to work for NWF in Washington, D.C., where he became further disillusioned and left, founding NRIC in 1976. The streamlined four-person staff is currently battling six government agencies in federal courts to save Columbia fish. It also recently began working with ranchers and the EPA on riparian grazing issues and with American Indian tribes on watershed restoration in the Pacific Northwest. Box 427, Eagle, ID 83616; 208-939-0714.

Predator Project

Dedicated to protecting the higher ranks of the Rockies food chain, mostly by watching state and federal agencies like a hawk. Recently, the project forced the federal Animal Damage Control program to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before exterminating predators--a requirement that had somehow slipped off the agencies' agendas for 13 years. It also forced local BLM and Forest Service offices to actually write the environmental impact statements they're supposed to under federal law. In the works: a program to get national clothing manufacturers to use wool from sheep ranches that don't kill predators. Box 6733, Bozeman, MT 59771; 406-587-3389.

Native Forest Council

Conceived eight years ago by disgruntled Sierra Club members, NFC singlemindedly advocates a total ban of timber sales on public land. Like Earth First!, it carries a no-compromise torch, but it eschews guerrilla theater in favor of more conventional ways of raising public awareness and broadening debate. It also serves as the hub of a loose network of forest groups nationwide. With their help, NFC gathered enough signatures from Sierra Club members to put a first-ever absolute anti-clear-cut policy up on the group's ballot this spring and is now hitting up select donors to help fund an ambitious $7 million professional ad campaign against timber sales. Box 2171, Eugene, OR 97402; 503-688-2600.

RESTORE: The North Woods

Founded by a former Wilderness Society regional director and an Outward Bound instructor, RESTORE wants to bring back to ecological health a big chunk of turf that most have written off: New England. It has called attention to ignored species like the eastern timberwolf and filed a petition to have the Atlantic salmon, whose numbers have slipped to 5,000, declared endangered. On the wider horizon, with Dave Foreman's Wildlands Project it will try to persuade the government to buy 13 million acres of private land for an ecological reserve system. Box 440, Concord, MA 01742; 508-287-0320.

Environmental Law Foundation

A cadre of low-paid lawyers and scientists, ELF steps in where big groups generally decline to tread--specifically, in poor urban communities all over California. Now in its third year, it has filed and won the state's biggest right-to-toxics-information case, as a result of which the manufacturers of lead-leaching faucets are changing their ways. ELF is now in the process of matching up a state map of toxic hot spots with a map of poor neighborhoods to see where it can strike next. 1736 Franklin St., Eighth Floor, Oakland, CA 94612; 510-208-4555.


The National Healthy Air License Exchange was set up last year to make the most of the Clean Air Act's pollution trading provision. The group buys and sits on EPA-issued sulfur-dioxide emission allowances--each of which lets the owner contribute a ton toward the national limit--at an annual auction on the Chicago Board of Trade. The rest of the time, it makes deals with companies that want to sell or donate their credits--cleaning up their images along with the air. Certificates cost just $5, $10, or $25, and the entire price goes toward purchasing the allowances. Founder David Webster, a lawyer who hatched the idea in 1990 while working on debt-for-nature swaps, hopes to acquire 5 to 10 percent of the market over the next five years. Box 14148, Cleveland, OH 44114; 216-575-6040.

Northern Alaska Environmental Center

This is a NIMBY with a ridiculously large backyard--which happens to include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where it served as first alarm and bloodhound for the national groups. In 1987 it sued to get the BLM and the Park Service to crack down on placer mining pollution; in 1990 it pushed through a landmark statewide mine-reclamation bill. Currently the center is fighting a federal legal loophole under which the state could start building roads through ANWR, Denali National Park, and other unfurrowed wildernesses. 218 Driveway St., Fairbanks, AK 99701; 907-452-5021.

Range Watch

The six documentaries produced so far by Jane Baxter, a 50-year-old B&B owner who roves the western Sierra Nevada videotaping signs of damage from grazing on public lands, have recently earned her an audience in the U.S. Senate and served as key evidence in several green lawsuits. Baxter, who now works out of a Rube Goldbergesque four-wheel-drive truck mounted with a tiny pop-up conference area and editing studio, also wants to document exemplary ranching techniques but says she has yet to find an exemplary ranch. R.R. 1, Box 465, Posey, CA 93260; 805-536-8668.

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