“Environmentalism” has been hijacked by nativism

Our family contributed to several mainstream environmental organizations for decades.  We were Sierra Club members because we wanted clean water and clean air.  We were Audubon Society members because we care about birds and other wildlife.

About ten years ago, we learned that these organizations were actively participating in projects demanded by native plant advocates to destroy our non-native urban forest and fence the public out of its public parks in order to turn our parks into native plant museums.  When we learned about the huge quantities of pesticides used by these projects that was the last straw.

The Berkeley Meadow is a 72-acre native plant garden on a former garbage dump on landfill.
The Berkeley Meadow is a 72-acre native plant garden on a former garbage dump on landfill.

We spent several years trying to convince these organizations that they were making a mistake by supporting projects that are doing far more damage to the environment than any theoretical benefit of native plants.  Much of our effort was directed to the Sierra Club because they claim to be a democratically run organization.  After several years of futile attempts to change the policies of these organizations, we quit because we did not want to contribute to the damage they are doing to the environment.

Logo of The Nature Conservancy.
Logo of The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy was the only environmental organization to which we were still contributing.  Below is our “resignation” letter to The Nature Conservancy, which explains why we finally gave up on them as well.  This was not an easy letter to write because we care deeply about the environment and the animals who live in it.  We believe that environmentalism has an extremely important role to play in society and we would like to participate in an organization that is focusing on the environmental issues of our time, particularly climate change.

September 2016

Mark Tercek, Executive Director
The Nature Conservancy

Dear Mr. Tercek,

We have been contributors to The Nature Conservancy for decades.  In the past few years we increased our donations because of the publications of TNC’s former Chief Scientist, Peter Kareiva.

While other mainstream environmental organizations were actively supporting destructive and restrictive ecological “restorations,” Mr. Kareiva was questioning that conservation strategy.  In his publication, “What is Conservation Science?” Mr. Kareiva said, “Our vision of conservation science differs from earlier framings of conservation biology in large part because we believe that nature can prosper so long as people see conservation as something that sustains and enriches their own lives.  In summary, we are advocating conservation for people rather than from people.”  Mr. Kareiva was also articulating that revised mission for conservation in presentations around the country (which we attended), in TNC’s publications, and in mainstream media.

As you know, Kareiva’s viewpoint was in conflict with the old guard of conservation biologists who subscribe to the tenets of invasion biology.  This conflict resulted in a confrontation of the old guard against TNC that was reported by the New Yorker in 2014.   TNC resolved that conflict by making a commitment to quit publishing Mr. Kareiva’s viewpoint in mainstream media and by restoring eradication of “invasive” plants to its budget.  That agreement foretold Kareiva’s departure from TNC.  Not publishing is tantamount to career suicide for scientists.  Mr. Kareiva has left TNC, as any self-respecting scientist would who has been deprived of his freedom to publish.

While this battle between competing visions of conservation played out, the country’s foremost invasion biologist, Daniel Simberloff, conducted a survey of TNC project managers to determine what, if any, impact Kareiva’s leadership was having on TNC’s conservation strategies.  Most survey respondents (95%) reported that they “manage” non-native species and nearly all reported that they would devote more effort to that task if more resources were made available.  Project managers devote a “substantial proportion” of their resources to “managing” non-native species and they expressed skepticism about “academic research and the invasion management controversy in particular.”  Simberloff did not ask project managers what methods they are using and so we have no insight into the use of pesticides by TNC.  This is probably information that Simberloff would rather we not have. Invasion biologists prefer to ignore the destructive methods that are used in the fruitless attempt to eradicate non-native plants.

Ecological “restorations” are damaging the environment by destroying useful habitat, poisoning open spaces with pesticides, and killing animals perceived to be competitors of native animals.  These projects are usually futile because the plants and animals that are being eradicated are adapted to current environmental conditions that are not reversed by their elimination.  The “native” ranges of plants and animals must change in response to changes in the environment, most notably climate change.  So-called “invasive” species are symptoms of change, not causes of change.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, our urban forest is being destroyed because it is predominantly non-native.  Native plant advocates have fabricated an elaborate cover story to mask nativism because widespread destruction of plants and animals does not appeal to the public.  Our public lands and open spaces are being poisoned with pesticides to kill vegetation and prevent trees from resprouting after they are destroyed.  We are unwilling to support that agenda by contributing to organizations that engage in these projects.

Therefore, we will not renew our TNC membership and we will not contribute further to TNC.  If and when TNC abandons its attempts to eradicate plants and animals that are performing valuable ecological functions, we would gladly renew our contributions.


[Former Members of The Nature Conservancy]

Referenced sources:

  • D.T. Max, “Green is Good,” New Yorker, May 12, 2014
  • Sara Kuebbing and Daniel Simberloff, “Missing the bandwagon:  Nonnative species impacts still concern managers,” NeoBiota , April 14, 2015


8 thoughts on ““Environmentalism” has been hijacked by nativism”

  1. Thanks for the good news! Peter Kareiva’s “humans first” attitude was the most insane, scientifically dishonest attitude of any so-called “environmental” organization. Of course, the use of chemicals is an entirely separate issue, and is a mistake.

  2. There is really no way that I see to change the methodology or philosophy of these organizations. They are highly entrenched and do not want another view. I feel for you. I thought if I got more involved with my local land conservancy, I could speak up and they might listen. That did not work.I quit. Other people higher up in the organization who also felt the same were ‘let go’. They clearly did not want another opinion. One friend of mine from the Sierra club told me, “round-up is an environmental herbicide”. I have used this in farming and I know the side effects. He was pretending they do not exist. Think of your members health for god’s sake Nature Conservancy. These are young people who are horribly misguided by their leaders belief system that nature needs fixing in some twisted way.
    Thank you for posting this.

    1. We get discouraged from time to time, but we won’t give up. We are encouraged by small victories around the edges of the issue. Two local communities have banned the use of herbicides on their properties, for example. And the science moves inexorably forward, making it progressively less likely that undergraduates will be exposed to the ideology that drives these projects. Perhaps most compelling is the mounting evidence of conspicuous failure of their projects.

      I may not live to see it, but I firmly believe that nativism will die of its own dead weight.

  3. Million trees better live to see nativism die of its own weight. In the meantime there is a opportunity to participate in the Restore America Estuaries Conference in Dec. 2016 in New Orleans. They have just added a workshop on invasive species. Unclear who is going to participate, but I’m hoping that there will be people who can get together to create a workshop, posters etc. that will present the point of view of Fearless Fund and Million Trees and others. This conference could be important because it is focusing on coastal restoration. Check out the Conference web site, and lets see what can be done. https://www.estuaries.org/2016-workshops-and-special-offerings

  4. Thank you so much, again. What would we do without you and a very few others who care, who tell the truth? It’s a travesty that the organizations with power and money they gained from pretending to be for the environment are now part of gutting it for fanaticism and money.

    Yes, we might not live to see the change, but you’re right, this mess will have to end.

    In the meantime, you give us hope and do so much to help.

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