When Conservative ikon Ronald Reagan assumed the Presidency in 1980, he appointed James G. Watt as his Secretary of the Interior. The Republican strategy, since the mid-1960's, has consistently been to undermine Federal agencies, by appointing avowed enemies of departments they occupy, who use their power to "eat the host from the inside out"--and then use the record of the agency's "failure" as "proof" that "government doesn't work."
Watt, like the administration that hired him, "hit the ground running." He immediately set about turning over Federal lands for mining, timber harvest, oil & gas development. He fought attempts to create new national parks, and even resisted private donations for preservation! Before his appointment, Watt had created the Mountain States Legal Foundation, an organization designed to promote and defend the rights and privileges of extractive industries and private owners on public and private lands. Watt was, in effect, the wolf invited into the hen-house, to feast on his former opponents. It would be as if the U.S. were to hire a Muslim Al-Quaeda terrorist to run our domestic security programs. Watt himself, always the loose cannon, eventually was fired by making intemperate comments about affirmative action. For those of us who wanted to be rid of him, it was like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. It didn't matter what strategy you had to employ, as long as the culprit was nailed.
I was reminded of Watt this week, reading about the embarrassment suffered by California Fish & Game's head Daniel Richards, who posted a picture of himself posing--Hemingway-style--over his fresh-kill mountain lion on a dude ranch in Idaho, grinning from ear to ear with pride and ghoulish delight. Richards was appointed by former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The "Governator" was using the same tactic as Reagan had two decades before, to appoint an avowed enemy of conservation and wildlife preservation, to a position of trust, to an office whose primary purpose was diametrically opposed to his views. It was Mr. Watt all over again.
Have you ever met one of these gun-happy "wild-life management" types in the flesh? They're really brave souls. They like to stalk their prey in little bands, mowing down helpless mountain lions with high-calibre rifles from a safe distance. Dude ranches are their playgrounds, and they get off pumping lead into "targets." They look on nature as a game-board in which humankind gets to "control" animal populations through eradication or sport.
Once upon a time, the North American Continent was full of game, and it existed in a fine ecological balance within the context of it geographical limits. The native indian populations respected its resources, for the most part, and might have gone on doing so for centuries, had not the Europeans come to lay claim to this bounty. As populations have exploded, humankind has pushed much of the wild kingdom into extinction, and many of the surviving populations are endangered. Corporate energy and extraction industries oppose all preservation and regulation, and they've teamed up with the hyped-up hunters and gun-freaks to hold the line against animal rights activists and "tree-huggers."
Watt said he wanted to open up all the Federal and private lands to exploitation, "mine more, drill more, cut more timber." He always grinned when he said this, openly defying his enemies, provoking them with cheek. "Screw you," he always seemed to be saying. Discussing his theory of environmental management before the Congress, he testified "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations."
As an environmental steward, Mr. Richards is shoulder to shoulder with James Watt. Comrades-in-arms in the struggle to ravage the earth in the most efficient manner, for the benefit of corporate shareholders and hysterical gun-nuts. State legislators have called for Richards's head, as well they might. But Richards, true to his type, is standing firm: "my activity . . . [to hunt mountain lions in Idaho] . . . is none of your business." Richards isn't stupid; he knows his constituency admires his crack-brained tenacity in defying public indignation. It's just what they like about him. Preservation of wild-life?--to hell with it! Shoot the bastards!
Beside the beautiful wild feline he has just killed, Richards looks like a pipsqueak. He might as well be jacking off in a skin parlor, or stumbling around in a padded cell. There's nothing admirable, or noble, or dignified about what he's done. He's just another pathetic jerk playing with a dangerous toy, perpetrating sanctified mischief at the world's expense, an environmental terrorist getting his jollies by offing endangered species.