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The Greening of America

Part I of III – How Did It Happen?

 Michael S. Coffman, Ph.D.

Since the 1960s an emerging philosophy or religion based on the belief that “nature knows best” has challenged traditional natural resource management in the United States. This new philosophy attacks the foundational principles of private property rights. Federal land management policy based on this new philosophy has caused financial hardship to outright devastation to tens of thousands of American property owners, especially in the Western United States. Those Americans that the philosophy has harmed have often asked, “How could this happen in America?” The answer will shock most Americans. It goes back decades and has its roots at the international level, especially within the international environmental community.


The greening of America started with the creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The following year an organization called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was also formed to serve as the primary scientific advisor to the UN on environmental issues. Since then, two other major international environmental organizations have also been created to serve as advisors to the UN; the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Resources Institute (WRI). All three work closely together to achieve common goals.

The IUCN has as members 81 individual nations and 111 government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and other land or water based agencies. The UN Environmental Program (UNEP), UN Development Program (UNDP) and UNESCO are also members. Following the first Earth Summit in 1972 at Stockholm, membership within the IUCN was opened to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These currently include the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and a host of other U.S. environmental organizations. Today, these environmental NGOs members number over 859; 84 of which are international organizations.

The purpose of the IUCN according to its 2006 website is:  

The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.[1]

IUCN planning sessions with government representatives, environmental activists and UN personnel take place behind closed doors, excluding the media and other interested parties. An increasing number of people are expressing great concern over this secrecy. Government officials, UN personnel and special interest NGOs should never be allowed meet together in secrecy.

Although the definition initially appears innocuous, the IUCN’s primary purpose is to influence, encourage and assist societies to change the way they view the world. This is an enormous undertaking, historically associated with religious movements. The concern with this purpose is that it does not define what is meant by the phrase to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature. Nor does it define what it means to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. What is equitable or sustainable? Such undertakings can, and have, enormous impacts on Americans and natural resource management. Yet the IUCN excludes all but its selected government, NGO and UN members from participation or even knowing what those within the IUCN are planning.








The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wildlife Fund and World Resources Institute all work with the United Nations to develop and implement a global “ecospiritual” environmental strategy that they call sustainable development. As members of the IUCN, various federal agencies, environmental and UN organizations secretly plan how to implement that strategy on the unknowing citizens of the United States. Almost every strategy in the last 30 years has originated within this unholy alliance.

People with a more traditional natural resource background have attended public IUCN meetings and were stunned at the new age, nearly religious fervor of the proceedings.[2] It was very apparent to these observers that the meaning behind the purpose of the IUCN is not how most Americans would interpret them. The actual purpose of the IUCN more closely approximates the purpose given in the IUCN’s Ethics Working Group’s publi­cation, Earth Ethics, in 1996: 

...promote alternative models for sustainable communities and lifestyles, based in ecospiritual practice and principles...to accelerate our transition to a just and sustainable future.... Human­ity must undergo a radical change in its attitudes, values, and behavior.... In response to this situation, a new global ethics is taking form, and it is finding expression in international law.[3] 

Many find the concept of ecospiritual practices and principles alarming. Most natural resource managers believe that although present resource management practices are not perfect, improvements will be made as better ways are discovered. In the meantime, resource utilization is better than it’s ever been in the history of the United States. Why does it require a radical change in humanity’s attitudes, values and behavior to be sustainable? Just what does sustainable development really mean? And how does it express itself in international law?

To most people sustainable means that we manage our renewable resources in a way that maintains them in perpetuity for man’s continued use. Dr. Steven Rockefeller is often described as the father of sustainable development within the IUCN and worldwide. Rockefeller provides an entirely different definition in his and John Elder’s book Spirit and Nature:     

Sustainable by definition, means not only indefinitely prolonged, but nourishing, as the earth is nourishing to life and the self-actualizing of persons and communities. The word development need not be restricted to economic activity, but can mean the evolution, unfolding growth and fulfillment of any and all aspects of life. Thus sustainable development may be defined as the kind of human activity that nourishes and perpetuates the fulfillment of the whole community of life on earth.[4]

 Rockefelleris professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College in Vermont. As the son of Nelson Rockefeller family, he has powerful connections. For example, he currently chairs the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. During his active tenure at Middlebury and following he was fully involved within the IUCN promoting this quasi-religious concept of sustainable development.

Robert Prescott-Allen, senior consultant to the second World Conservation Strategy project in 1990 made the connection between sustainable development and religion very clear. He said that, “Sustainability calls for a fundamental transformation in how people behave. Changes in behavior can be assisted by laws and incentives. . . to a new morality. . . and a new moral conception of world order.”[5] (Italics added) The World Conservation Strategy is a project of the IUCN, UNEP and WWF started in 1980.









The IUCN and its federal and NGO members have directly or indirectly contributed to the writing of major international environmental agreements and treaties, including Agenda 21. It has also implemented its policies through the Presidents Council on Sustainable Development and created the science of conservation biology. This web of agreements and treaties has forced major changes in the way federal laws are implemented in policy. The United States has not ratified the Convention on Biodiversity but is being implemented anyway (See Fall, 2005 Range Magazine).

Rockefeller and Elder go on todescribe the shocking actions needed to achieve sustainable development: 

Make sustainability a primary goal of economic and develop-ment policies, reflecting that goal in budget and investment decisions; establish the commit-ment to sustainability in law; make liable those who deplete biological wealth or damage the health of people or ecosystems; include environmental costs in the prices of energy, raw materials, and manufactured goods; use economic instruments to provide incentives for sustainable action; incorporate changes in environ-mental health and the stocks and flows of natural wealth in national accounting systems.[6]

This vision of how economic systems should function is explored many times in IUCN and UN documents. It is at the heart of the IUCN’s Covenant on Environment and Development (CED)[7] treaty and Agenda 21.[8] The CED treaty is written but not yet released for ratification. It is the granddaddy of all treaties and is designed to fully enforce Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is a comprehensive forty chapter United Nations set of goals that was signed by the United States at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It spells out UN requirements for sustainable development within every nation, including the United States. Not surprisingly, the IUCN had a big part in writing Agenda 21 and most other environmental treaties for the UN.

Agenda 21 and its implementing treaties provide a web of interlocking international laws that regulate virtually every aspect of human interactions with the environment. Hence, as members of the IUCN, international and national agencies and NGOs have contributed to the writing of treaties and polices that the federal agencies then enforce.

Agenda 21 was converted into United States policy in a 1996 policy document entitled Sustainable America. Sustainable America and a host of sub documents were written by the Clinton’s President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD).[9] Of the 26 appointees to the PCSD by President Clinton, nearly half represent organizations or agencies which are also members of the IUCN. IUCN members could therefore heavily influence the decisions of the PCSD to reflect those of the IUCN.

The changes required by Agenda 21 and Sustainable America represent a radical departure from America’s historic culture and the lifestyles of U.S. citizens. It would mean a complete shift from the constitutional basis of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to one of protecting nature at all costs.

This concept of sustainable development, of course, is a deeply held view for those who believe in the sanctity of “Mother Earth.” For the past thirty years, the quiet implementation of these quasi-religious policies and treaties have caused inestimable harm to tens of thousands of American citizens. None of that would have been possible, however, without the creation of a new science to justify the need for denying landowners their private property rights.  

Conservation Biology

In 1980 the IUCN released the first World Conservation Strategy in collaboration with UNEP, UNESCO, FAO and the World Wildlife Fund calling for “a new ethic, embracing plants and animals as well as people.”[10] From this evolved the holistic science of conservation biology.

Conservation biologycenters on the largely unproven assumption that nature knows best. Consequently, all human use and activity should follow natural patterns within relatively homogenous soil-vegetation-hydrology landscapes called ecosystems.. Ecosystems, however, don’t fit well within the political boundaries of man. Any single ecosystem may cross several national, state and local political boundaries as well as many property owners. To be effective therefore, environmental law had to be superior to property rights and political jurisdictions. Government had to be reinvented to apply the new science.

This largely unproven science was introduced to U.S. colleges by providing endowed chairs and grants to natural resource colleges by Rockefeller-aligned foundations.[11] As students began to graduate with conservation degrees in the late 1970s federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and others – all members of the IUCN – changed the qualifications for employment as field managers to include those holding conservation degrees.

Following the first World Conservation Strategy in 1980, Dr. Michael Soulé was tapped to create a professional society and a scientific journal that centered on the new science of conservation biology. Soulé successfully formed The Society for Conservation Biology in 1985 and published the first the Conservation Biology journal in 1987. Soulé, also the society’s first president, outlined the purpose of conservation biology in the journal’s first issue:

The society is a response…to the biological diversity crisis that will reach a crescendo in the first half of the twenty-first century. We assume implicitly that…the worst biological disaster in the last 65 million years can be averted…. We assume implicitly that environmental wounds inflicted by ignorant humans and destructive technologies can be treated by wiser humans and by wholesome technologies.[12]

In the first chapter of the textbook of Conservation Biology, Soulé further explains the initial strategy of conservation biologists: 

In many situations conservations biology is a crisis discipline. In crisis disciples, in contrast to “normal” science, it is sometimes imperative to make an important tactical decision before one is confident in the sufficiency of the data.... Warfare is the epitome of a crisis discipline. On a battlefield, if you observe a group of armed men stealthily approaching your lines, you are justified in taking precautions, which may include firing on the men.[13]

This almost unbelievable arrogance and militancy formed the fundamental understanding of right and wrong for many of these early conservation biologists. Many graduates holding to these radical ideas were hired by our federal and state agencies. It shouldn’t be surprising that those government employees holding such extremist views are quite hostile to all people using government lands for any purpose. Likewise, many of those regulating private land are naturally prone to believe that property owners must be controlled to protect Mother Nature. Although mellowed with time, many of these conservation graduates hold senior management positions today.

Tragically, the change that occurred within our natural resource colleges and government agencies did not come about from a healthy debate based on solid scientific evidence. Instead, it came from an unethical, or perhaps even illegal, collaboration between federal, NGO and UN change agents to advance their agenda. Not only were affected landowners and resource users not included in this process, they were not allowed to even be aware of it. In a very real sense, early conservation biologists declared war on traditional science and resource management without bothering to inform their alleged enemy – the general public, specifically landowners – that they were at war.  

Certainly not all federal resource managers or even many of those who graduated with a conservation degree ascribe to the militant approach taken by Soulé. Nonetheless, various degrees of this mindset have permeated our federal agencies at every level. For instance, a March 30, 1994 United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM)internal working document on Ecosystem Managementbrazenly equated human beings as merely a part of nature; “All ecosystem management activities should consider human beings as a biological resource.”[14]

The reduction of humanity to the level of a “biological resource” has had an enormous impact on the internal culture of these agencies. Many employees no longer view themselves as servants of the people and stewards of the resource, but as righteous protectors of nature from humans who they believe damage her. Nature’s welfare becomes more important than human welfare. This helps explain why many of these federal employees can often enforce regulations that harm or even destroy the lives of property owners and resource users. They honestly believe they have a moral responsibility to protect nature from man’s perceived damaging activities no matter what the cost. 

Certainly conservation biology has matured since Michael Soulé penned his uncompromising words in the 1980s. Credible scientists, without personal agendas, use methodology derived from conservation biology to investigate natural relationships. Nonetheless, conservation biology is a young science that has been politically forced to become the flagship science used in resource management decisions. There was, and still is, little justification in the adoption of conservation biology or other aspects of sustainable development as the foundation for federal policy. Every American should know that the United States is implementing international policy has caused great harm to American citizens unnecessarily.

First Published in the 2006 fall issue of Range Magazine.                                              http://www.rangemagazine.com/.  Next installment, "The Emerging Earth Religion" will be in the winter of 2007.



[1] IUCN. 2005. About the IUCN. World Conservation Union. http://www.iucn.org/en/about/

[2] McDonnell, Thomas. 1994. The American Sheep Industry. Personal communication.

[3] Rockefeller, Steven, 1996. “Global Ethics, International Law, and the Earth Charter.” Earth Ethics. Spring/Summer. Earth Ethics was a publication of the IUCN’s Ethics Working Group in 1996. It is now a publication of the Center for Respect of Life & Environment. http://www.crle.org/pub_eeindex_spr96.asp

[4] Rockefeller, Steven C. and John C. Elder. 1992. Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment Is a Religious Issue. (Boston: Beacon), p. 8.

[5] Prescott-Allen, Robert. 1990. “Caring for the World.” Address delivered at the Symposium on “Spirit and Nature: Religion, Ethics and Environmental Crisis,” Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt, September 14.

[6] Rockefeller and Elder. Spirit and Nature, p. 134.

[7] The Covenant on Environment and Development can be found at: http://www.iucn.org/themes/law/cel07.html

[8] Agenda 21 can be found at: http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/index.htm

[9] The President’s Council on Sustainable Development can be found at: http://clinton2.nara.gov/PCSD/

[10] Rockefeller and Elder 1992, Spirit and Nature,  p. 7.

[11] Anonymous. 1992. Environmental Grantmakers Association Annual Meeting. Speech given at the 1992 Annual Environmental Grantmakers Association Conference. From tape recording of this unknown speakers speech.

[12] Soulé, Michael. 1987. “History and purpose of the society of conservation biology.” Conservation Biology, 1:4-5.

[13] Soulé, Michael. 1986. “Conservation Biology and the ‘Real World.’” In: Conservation Biology; the Science of Scarcity and Diversity. Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates.

[14] BLM. 1994. Internal Working Document, Prepared for BLM Summit on Ecosystem Management. Bureau of Land Management. March 30.