Wilderness, Inc. - Episode 033

Wilderness Podcast episode with Scott Silver, Executive Director (rtd.) of Wild Wilderness

Wilderness, Inc. | Scott Silver | Wild Wilderness | Ep. 033

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Scott Silver, Executive Director (rtd.) of Wild Wilderness

Release Date: May 25th, 2020

In this episode, we discuss Scott’s background, what Central Oregon was like back in the 1980s, being a gardener vs. letting nature take its course, the Oregon Malheur (Owyhee) Bill, about his organization, Wild Wilderness, Fee Demo (lifting the prohibition of charging user fees for outdoor recreation), the influence of the American Recreation Coalition and the RV Industries Association, the Wise Use Movement, The Blue Ribbon Coalition, the history of motorized recreation on public lands, commercialization and privatization of America’s public lands, promoting undeveloped recreation, the problem with industrial strength recreation, experiencing wilderness through transcendence, the dark side of Recreation.gov, Central Oregon Wilderness Reservation System, envisioning a dystopian future of tracking people in Wilderness and the death of the American environmental movement. 

"Wilderness is a place, a path, and a portal through which those who are willing to throw off their encumbrances are able to connect with their humanity."

"When Big “W” Wilderness is treated like little “w” wilderness and little “w" wilderness is treated like parks and parks are treated like playgrounds, the battle for the wilderness will be lost.” 

Quotes by Scott Silver

Scott Silver's Bio

Scott Silver has worked as founder and Executive Director of Wild Wilderness since 1991, a non-profit 501(c)(3) environmental organization that seeks to ensure that Wilderness areas, roadless areas and other areas now substantially free of development will continue to provide outstanding opportunities for high quality, non-motorized, recreation.  In this capacity, Silver has focused his efforts upon educating the American public about changing attitudes in federal lands management philosophy are are leading toward increased "commercialization, privatization and motorization" of our nation's forests, deserts, mountains, rivers and streams. Frequent themes in Silver's work are what he calls "The Disneyfication of the Wild and the Corporate Takeover of Nature". 


In 2006 Silver ran for the US House of Representatives in Oregon's Second Congressional District.


Earlier in Silver's career he was a Senior Scientist or Staff Scientist with several prominent biotechnology companies. He has made significant contributions in the fields of large scale enzymology and bio-rational insect control. Silver received his Honours Degree from the University of Manchester, England in 1975.

Outdoor Recreation in America:

 Three Competing Visions


Vision One: The Traditional


You bounce down a wash-boarded forest road for what seems like an eternity until you come upon your favorite lake. Once there, you are treated to a magnificent setting, a pit toilet, a few rustic tent sites and maybe a hiking trail that leads into the backcountry. The lake itself is totally peaceful and so pristine that you can easily imagine this is how it's always been. That afternoon you'll do a little fishing from your canoe, or maybe go for a swim, or a hike, or simply enjoy a picnic while you marvel at the setting. Later that evening you'll set up your tent, get out your cooler and camp stove and prepare for a night under the stars and a rare opportunity to become one with the Great Outdoors as nature provided them.

Vision Two: Industrial Strength Recreation


You race down a freshly paved forest road in your $150,000 RV to that same lake; having first made reservations for a premium site at the new KOA campground. The old tent sites have all been freshly upgraded and turned into pull-through ribbons of concrete, complete with water, sewer, electrical and internet hookups (which you'll use to make your next night's reservations). Once you've leveled your motorhome, you unhitch the trailer, unload the ATVs, put on your helmet and go for a look around. Perhaps later on you'll play a quick round of golf before enjoying cocktails at the marina. You might even rent a jet-ski for an hour before returning to the RV and microwaving a quick dinner. After dark, if you've the energy, you may visit the amphitheater and listen to Ranger Rick's wilderness presentation.

Vision Three: Industrial Tourism


You cruise down that same paved road, this time stopping frequently to explore hardened nature trails and to learn how active forest management creates wildlife habitat and maintains healthy ecosystems. After several stops you'll reach a parking lot and pay $19.95 to take the monorail to the lakeside visitor's center. At the center you'll purchase reserved seats for the 3:00 PM showing of "The Lake." While you wait you'll visit the gift shop, eat in the restaurant, capture a few Kodak moments at the Kodak Photo Stop and perhaps look at still more interpretive displays. Years later even with your memories, photos and home videos to remind you of that wonderful visit, you will note with sadness that nothing can begin to  compare with having seen "The Lake" in person, on the giant IMAX screen.

The Chainsaw is Not Our Only Enemy 

By Scott Silver - 1998

Assaults upon our public lands by those whose concept of 'multiple use'
means 'extractive abuse', are nothing new. The current wave of industry
supported, and privately financed attacks being waged upon the very Concept
of Nature, is unprecedented.

It used to be our right-wing Western States Congressmen and their corporate
partners wanted to strip our lands of whatever public riches they held.
Today they want more, more than the land itself. They seek to reshape the
ways in which we perceive Nature and relate to the natural environment.

To accomplish this task, they have developed a brilliant and cunning
strategy. It is called "themed, motor-sport oriented, industrial strength
recreation". It's a new brand of recreation that has been carefully defined,
thoughtfully packaged, and comes with a very strong take-home message.

Those who visit our forests, deserts, mountains and rivers of the future
will no longer be encouraged to discover Nature for themselves. Wild, raw
nature will have been tamed and domesticated. Future visitors to America's
public-lands will find an assortment of recreation experiences constructed
for their consumption. More ominously, these experiences will have been
fabricated, not just to enrich the concessionaires providing the experience,
but to instill and disseminate the corporate message saying: "Trust us, we
know how to Manage Nature" . and to control you!

Every element of our daily existence has become imbued by the omnipresent
forces of commercialization. From the moment we open our eyes to our last
thought of the day, we cannot escape the fact that we exist to consume the
goods and services of the multinational corporations that now control our

Some of us won't have a clue about what I am speaking. Many of us no longer
concern ourselves about this trend. Years ago we might have worried that we
had become little more than insignificant cogs in a giant machine, but we've
made peace with the system and willingly embrace it, so long as it can
adequately satisfy our material needs.

Another fraction of the population wish to escape the system, and adopt one
of the increasingly popular alternative lifestyles, such as "voluntary
simplicity". A few have actually taken the plunge, purchased the
authoritative how-to book, quit their high paying jobs and moved to the
country. Many within this category are discovering that they can not live as
simply as their voluntary poverty requires.

And finally there's the category where, I believe, the majority of Americans
now fall. This is the group which has developed a dynamic coping mechanism
involving maintenance of a meta-stable equilibrium. We willingly, even
passionately, run the maze each day, and with only the occasional tinge of
guilt, consume like there's no tomorrow. But we willingly participate and
thrive within the system because we know, or at least believe, that a more
pure and less commercially proscribed alternative exists. For urban
environmentalists, that special refuge is often the idea of Wilderness; for
others, that special place is the more utilitarian 'great outdoors'.

Once or twice a year we throw the old backpack into the new SUV and head
into the backcountry for a revitalizing romp in the wild. And after spending
three or four days and nights of 'roughing it' we find our spiritual
batteries adequately recharged and we're ready to once again immerse
ourselves in our normal life. Others might prefer to spend a long weekend
peacefully camped by the lake while fishing or just plain relaxing. Whether
you've been sleeping on the ground or in your heated RV, that brief return
to nature is enough to refresh you, to lift your spirits and to provide
fortitude sufficient to last until your next nature fix.

Unfortunately, that link to sanity is, at this moment in time, under intense
attack by the very same powers that dominate our daily lives. Perhaps the
multinational corporations have simply discovered that there is an enormous
profit to be made from providing 'institutionalized recreation' to a nation
that requires it with the need of a heroin addict. More worrisome, is the
possibility that these corporations have realized that the path to total
domination is to dominate totally. As the cattle barons of the American West
discovered, to control the bottomlands did not assure success. To gain
domination and total power you needed to control the watershed.

America's wild and scenic places are the watershed from which our strength
and resiliency springs. We will tolerate, even accept, being treated as
cattle so long as we have plenty to eat and are permitted free access to the
stream. If made to drink instead from galvanized stock tanks, we become
dependent upon the owner of those tanks for our very survival. Free access
to raw nature is too important a human resource to institutionalize and turn
into just another commodity.

Unfortunately for all of us who care about wild and natural places, they are
now in greater danger than at any time in recent history, because the newly
stated goal of federal land-managers is to turn leisure into a 'product,' to
create, market, and sell 'brands' of institutionalized recreation, and to
operate like profitable businesses instead of as public resource managers.

Unless we can halt the rush toward public/private partnerships for the
management of our public lands, the 'great outdoors' will soon be little
more than a series of highly structured, 'eco-tainment' theme-parks. Through
the growing use of corporate sponsored 'educational interpretation' and
similar 'visitor services', our public lands themselves will become the
final vehicle through which our concepts of nature will be defined and
redefined to advance the agenda of Corporate America. We will have no option
except to drink from their contaminated stock tanks.

In contrast to my message of doom and gloom, I am increasingly finding my
mailbox filled with jubilant messages from environmental groups. These are
congratulatory statements explaining how such-and-such forest was saved from
clear-cutting. These are optimistic messages, suggesting that through ever
more diligent work, additional lands may be saved in 1998. But I am sorry to
say, that while my friends may save more trees in 1998, we will almost
certainly begin to lose the very land and ecosystems upon which these trees
now grow.

Not even during the Reagan years, did James Watt present a threat equal to
that which we now face. America's wild and scenic places are less in danger
of classical extractive industry abuses than of a concerted effort to
"commercialize, privatize and motorize" them to the maximum extent possible.
This effort is largely being orchestrated by dominant recreation and
entertainment corporations and facilitated by anti-environmental Western
States Congressmen. It is being coordinated within the US Forest Service by
Francis Pandolfi, a former recreation industry insider, now Chief of Staff
to Michael Dombeck. And it is being implemented by land-management
bureaucrats who, quite frankly are sick and tired of fighting with us enviro
nmentalists on extraction issues and are glad to be moving on to something

Most environmentalists are keenly aware of the unprecedented, yet largely
unsuccessful, attack waged upon federal lands by the 104th Congress. But the
105th Congress, having learned from its mistakes, has renewed its attack
with increased vigor, and with substantially greater tact and stealth.

And who is going to stop them? Certainly not our President or a populous
myopically fixated upon the next promised tax cut. And I say with sadness,
not the environmental community as it's now structured and currently

These are very tough times for the environmental community. It's not that we
're incapable of coping under conditions of adversity. On the contrary, we
are at our finest when the forces of darkness are most apparent. James Watt
did more to expand our ranks, and fill our coffers, than did any of our
actual successes. In fact, the mere suggestion that we are gaining the upper
hand, would probably send the movement into recession.

But that is not the problem we face in 1998. It's far worse than that. Those
of us working at the grass roots level know what we want to accomplish and
why we dedicate our lives to activism. We are close enough to our issues,
and operate on sufficiently low budgets, that we can pursue our visions
faithfully, without distraction and without feeling compelled to settle for
less than we know is right.

Not so for the large national environmental organizations who have developed
a much greater sense of political savvy and requirement for significant
funding. And certainly not so for the ever growing number of fallacious
corporate-sponsored groups who profess to represent 'the new
environmentalism.' Also not so for the hundreds of astro-turf organizations
sprouting up everywhere; groups with names suggesting green, but who are
anything but.

The reason 1998 is going to be such a tough year for the environmental
movement is because the general public has become lost amongst the
increasingly discordant cacophony of environmental issues. They haven't a
clue which threats are real, which can probably be ignored, which could
shrink their wallets, or which will cause their early demise.

Even we, in the environmental community, are finding it increasingly
difficult to tell friend from foe, especially when we see bona fide
environmental groups joining highly questionable coalitions having obviously
anti-environmental members or leaders. I can usually quickly identify a fake
environmental group. But when I see coalitions forming between groups that I
actively support, and those that I actively oppose, I become totally

It also disturbs me to find that although my beliefs and values systems
have, over the last ten years, remained rock solid, I find my position
drifting, relative to the mainstream. In reality, the middle is moving so
quickly to the right, that 'absolute' positions become disconnected from
previous landmarks. And with the introduction of so much ardently
anti-environmental, yet green sounding chaff, the battleground has become
chaotic indeed.

Amongst all of this confusion, the issues facing the environmental movement
have shifted radically. So the purpose of my writing this article is to
impress upon my readers the simple fact that an important paradigm shift in
public lands management has already occurred. There is a major new issue
before us and it will deserve much more attention and scrutiny than it is
now receiving.

That's not to say that the battles with the extractive industries have ended
or that federal land-management agencies now suddenly share our views. But
starting in 1998, we will find that the industries most threatening the
environment will no longer be those we've grown accustomed to fighting.
Furthermore, the federal land-managers who we've so diligently watch-dogged,
will become seemingly more disinterested in defending their newest timber
sales or mining projects.
However, to mistake their apparent retreat for evidence that our righteous
efforts have finally paid off, would be the biggest of all possible

While this management shift has been occurring for several years, in 1998 it
will become painfully clear that the new business of the USFS, the BLM and
other federal agencies is "industrial strength recreation". From now on,
trees will be rented by the hour instead of sold by the board foot. And
while that might sound like a step in the right direction, it is absolutely
not. The sad truth is that this recreation agenda is being driven by
corporate and wise-use forces whose mission is to 'privatize, commercialize
and motorize' our public lands to the highest extent possible.

The new environmental enemy is not so different than the old. The
Congressmen behind the recreation agenda are the same people we have fought
for years: notably Senators Frank Murkowski, Ted Stevens, Larry Craig, and
Representatives Don Young and Jim Hansen. The corporate powers however, are
quite different, and may be unfamiliar to many. They are, with few
exceptions, singularly united within an easily identified, high profile
target. And it is this target, this coalition, that we must defeat in 1998.
The name of the enemy is the American Recreation Coalition. Its leader is
Derrick Crandall, and its membership consists of over 120 high-powered
recreation-industry corporations and associations.

In 1998, the American Recreation Coalition will attempt to pass Senator
Murkowski's upcoming Recreation Superbill Initiative. And while it pains me
to see so many of our national environmental groups now rallying behind
Senator Murkowski on a related recreation issue, I am confident that there
could be no political gain so great as to have the environmental movement
support this particularly dreadful legislation. In 1998, please help me to
defeat Murkowski's Recreation Superbill Initiative. And more importantly,
please take the time to become more familiar with the threats to our wild
lands now being codified through the current shift to industrial strength

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