The Center for Biological Diversity states they want to systematically and ambitiously use biological data, legal expertise, and the petition and citizen suit provisions of the powerful Endangered Species Act to obtain sweeping, legally binding new protections for animals, plants, and their habitats. Based on the center’s own website, they’re very proud of their 83 percent lawsuit success rate. We think frivolous lawsuits are simply the wrong approach to environmental stewardship.
Get to know their executive director Kieran Suckling and what he stands for based on his own quotes, which, in our opinion, are not only absolutely absurd but also show his deeply anti-human belief structure, extremism, aggressiveness, and disregard for private property. Yes, he actually said these things. We’ve provided attribution to quotes he has made.
Kieran Suckling on his worldview and philosophy
- Kieran Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity’s co-founder and Executive Director, contends the group is ultimately striving for a “decentering and disempowering of the human” in its efforts.1
- “The trees will make themselves felt.”—Suckling’s new world order in which trees have legal rights.2
- “It’s more than rural. I’m dealing with the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Los Angeles. Thirteen million people are used to getting their water this way, I say that’s great, but we are going to show them a different way to do it!3
- “Child abuse is illegal and so is extinction. You don’t negotiate about either one of them. People don’t sit around and have consensus groups to decide how much child abuse there should be.4
- “I began to find that technology has taken control of our lives; it has artificially filled the void of nature. There were several engineering professors who were very concerned about how little we, as a community, consider the real impact of technology on our lives. That brought me to think about the importance of living a conscious, political life. By that, I mean taking responsibility for our actions, and really looking at the long-term impacts on communities, rather than the short term profits and comforts.”5 [In 2018, Suckling made $288,443 in salary and benefits, which is more than 8.5 times the median U.S. individual income. Also, if modern technology (e.g. the internet, cell phones, and fossil fuel-based transportation) did not exist, was unavailable, or prohibitively expensive, Suckling and his organization would most likely be significantly less effective and influential, as well as successful raising the funds that provide him with his salary and benefits]
- “It is sad, but I don’t hear you put that in a direct relationship to the effect on the land. I hear you talk about the pain of the people but I don’t see you match that up with the pain of the species.” — Suckling’s response when asked whether he can achieve his goals by more humane and gentle methods that do not involve displacing rural people from the land.6
- “We need to cut [CO2] emissions to 40 to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. We need a net negative emissions policy by 2050 – less than zero.”7
- “Wilderness doesn’t just mean living with bunny rabbits. It means living with dangerous animals.”8
- “Wilderness is itself an event of deconstruction. Wilderness bewilders. The bewildering is a dis-orienting, a loss of the directionality inherent in willful subjectivity. Without centering principle, wilderness is the constitution (if such a word makes sense anymore) of every being by every other being, the co-constitution of plant, animal, virus, cloud, breeze, stream, rock and mountain. Meanings weave, unweave, proliferate and dissipate. This is the realm of the monstrous, promiscuous Pan, half-human, half-animal, everywhere alive. Socrates panics.”9
There is, however, a fundamental problem with the idea of wilderness: it is a fiction created by people to erect an artificial barrier between humanity and the non-human world. William Cronon, eminent professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, has written extensively on this problem, and here are a few of his thoughts.
- “The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that wilderness is not quite what it seems. Far from being the one place on earth that stands apart from humanity, it is quite profoundly a human creation — indeed, the creation of very particular human cultures at very particular moments in human history. It is not a pristine sanctuary where the last remnant of an endangered but still transcendent nature can be encountered without the contaminating taint of civilization. Instead, it is a product of that civilization. As we gaze into the mirror it holds up for us, we too easily imagine that what we behold is nature when in fact we see the reflection of our own longings and desires. Wilderness can hardly be the solution to our culture’s problematic relationship with the nonhuman world, for wilderness is itself a part of the problem.”10
Cronon points out that the idea of wilderness is also problematic because it is unmoored by history, including removing Native Americans from history and the landscape.
- “The removal of Indians to create an ‘uninhabited wilderness’ reminds us just how invented and how constructed the American wilderness really is. One of the most striking proofs of the cultural invention of wilderness is its thoroughgoing erasure of the history from which it sprang. In virtually all its manifestations, wilderness represents a flight from history.”11
The idea of wilderness is especially popular with people who live in urban areas, as Cronon notes.
- “The trouble with wilderness is that it reproduces the very values its devotees seek to reject. It offers the illusion that we can somehow wipe clean the slate of our past and return to the tabula rasa that supposedly existed before we began to leave our marks on the world. The dream of an unworked natural landscape is very much the fantasy of people who have never themselves had to work the land to make a living — urban folk for whom food comes from a supermarket or a restaurant instead of a field, and for whom the wooden houses in which they live and work apparently have no meaningful connection to the forests in which trees grow and die. Only people whose relation to the land was already alienated could hold up wilderness as a model for human life in nature, for the romantic ideology of wilderness leaves no place in which human beings can actually make their living from the land.”x12
Wilderness is also problematic because it leads people to advocate for unrealistic and ultimately irresponsible ideas about how the environment should be conserved, as Cronon points out.
- “We live in an urban-industrial civilization, but too often pretend to ourselves that our real home is in the wilderness. We work our nine-to-five jobs, we drive our cars (not least to reach the wilderness), we benefit from the intricate and all too invisible networks with which society shelters us, all the while pretending that these things are not an essential part of who we are. By imagining that our true home is in the wilderness, we forgive ourselves for the homes we actually inhabit. In its flight from history, in its siren song of escape, in its reproduction of the dangerous dualism that sets human beings somehow outside nature — in all these ways, wilderness poses a threat to responsible environmentalism at the end of the 20th century.”13
Kieran Suckling on his desire for federal legislation that regulates ecosystems, instead of the current approach that regulates individual species’ habitat through the Endangered Species Act
- “If this was done right, the effect of this legislation would vastly surpass the current Endangered Species Act.”—Suckling on a proposal, by the then-Biodiversity Legal Foundation, for a Native Ecosystem Act to supplant the Endangered Species Act.14
- “An ecosystem is not a legally protected entity. A plant or animal species is,”—Suckling on his desire to have legal protections for ecosystems, but for the time being he will us the Endangered Species Act to work toward his ultimate goal of ecosystem protection.15
Kieran Suckling on the Center for Biological Diversity’s strategies and tactics
- “Using one side of industrial society against itself,” is how Suckling achieves his goals.16
- “We’re crazy to sit in trees when there’s this incredible law where we can make people do whatever we want.”17 —Sucking on using the Endangered Species Act.
- “Sometimes, I sit back and I look at how aggressive we are compared with other groups, and I say, yeah, we’re radical.”18
- “Yeah, we go in with guns blazing.”19
- “Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.”20
- “They looked at it and said, ‘We aren’t going to sue a school district.’ We didn’t feel like we had a choice.”—Suckling on why the Center for Biological Diversity sued, when other groups would not, the Amphitheater Public School District in suburban Tucson, Arizona over the district’s plans to construct a much-needed high school in what was alleged habitat for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.21
- “I think the professionalization of the environmental movement has injured it greatly. These kids get degrees in environmental conservation and wildlife management and come looking for jobs in the environmental movement. They’ve bought into resource management values and multiple-use by the time they graduate. I’m more interested in hiring philosophers, linguists and poets. The core talent of a successful environmental activist is not science and law. It’s campaigning instinct. That’s not only not taught in the universities, it’s discouraged.”22
- “One of the historical and constantly repeated errors of the environmental movement is to think you’re going to get incremental change by negotiating from a position of weakness. We strongly believe that social change does not come without social stress. These agencies are not going to fundamentally change their approach to managing public lands unless they, themselves, recognize they have to change. That’s what the legal train wreck is.”23
- “Now you’ve got a crisis. Now you’ve got the train wreck. The agency is going ‘Holy mackerel, if we keep going down this road, we’ll never get anything done. We have to change the way we do business.’”—Kieran Suckling on lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service over Mexican spotted owl habitat24
- “Peter [Galvin] initiates a lot of this stuff in this chaotic, creative fashion. Peter is always thinking up the next new angle – the new point of attack, to the point where we can’t even keep up. If we could implement everything that Peter could think of, we could bring industrial civilization to its knees.”25
- “Social change comes from social stress. Our job is to intensify that stress until large-scale change results.”26
- “Our modus operandi is to take [opponents] by storm. We don’t let the industry or agencies know what we’re doing because they’ll try and stop us. But once we file a petition or lawsuit, they can’t respond quickly enough. Then we file another. It’s like boxing. We hit them once and before they have a chance to recover we hit them again, and we keep hammering away until they fall down.”27
- “It’s just a question of how many times you’ve got to whack them with the two-by-four before they wake. I guess they’re in various degrees of awakeness now. The timber people are waking up. The grazing managers are still operating in the 19th century.”28
- “The logging industry denied for years that logging damaged the land. Because they refused to acknowledge problems or change their operations, they came under tremendous public pressure, which led to a massive collapse of the industry on public lands. Thus far, the ranching industry is heading down the same path. Its obstacles will be far greater: many more species are threatened by grazing than by logging, the public is much more aware of environmental damage today than a decade ago, and activists are bringing skills and organizing abilities to the overgrazing issue which have been honed in the logging battles. Ranchers should take a long hard look at what happened with the logging industry. They should also take a long hard look at the reality of overgrazing on public lands. If the industry does not acknowledge and change, it won’t exist on public land two decades from now. Ultimately it will be ranchers, not environmentalists, who determine whether public lands grazing will continue.”29
- “With the combination of all those species together in the area, it has to be protected. It boxes them in so that they finally have to say, ‘All right, we give up. We’re going to come up with a complete plan.'”—Suckling on CBD’s strategy of petitioning to list species under the Endangered Species Act in order to force federal agencies to follow the center’s prescriptions, in this case for the San Pedro River in Arizona30
- “We are creative and manic. We have not played by the general ‘rules’ of activism. Unpredictability, speed and creative action has made it very hard for extractive industries and the government to anticipate or respond to us. By keeping everyone, including ourselves, continually moving in new directions, we have been able to destabilize the status quo of subsidized logging, grazing, mining and urban sprawl…. Many groups are hampered by the fear of upsetting their congressional connections, their funders, the media, etc. While we feel the pull of such things, we daily remind ourselves that social change comes with social tension and that our job is to create that dynamic tension, regardless of the pressure of back-down or compromise.”31
- “The law says that the best possible science is to be used in managing our public lands so we conduct our own scientific research to show that’s not happening, then we litigate. It’s an incredible amount of work, but with an honest judge you can shut down a billion-dollar development in a heartbeat.”32
- “We get our power really fundamentally from the legal system, from filing litigation. The legal system has tremendous power.”33
Kieran Suckling on help his organization receives from sympathetic employees of public agencies
- “People at every agency leak us documents. I’ll get anonymous envelopes. We use their own information against them in court.”34
- “We’ve used them very extensively because every time there is a timber sale proposed, we’re able to look at our maps and tell where the owls are. And that is important because the Forest Service routinely lies and says there are no owls, when there are.”—Suckling on using U.S. Forest Service maps on spotted owl territories, which, according to a story in the Phoenix New Times, were knowingly leaked to him by a Forest Service employee (“Robin Silver’s name, of course, is synonymous with the Mexican spotted owl, and Peter and Kieran had been skirmishing over owl territories since their owl-spotting days. Once, while in Forest Service regional headquarters in Albuquerque, a Forest Service employee showed them the maps that pinpointed about 900 spotted owl territories in every forest in the Southwest. Then with a wink, the employee told them he was going out to lunch and he left them in the room with the maps. Peter and Kieran quickly hustled the maps over to the nearest Kinko’s and made copies of them.”)35
Kieran Suckling on Cattle Ranching
- “A loach minnow is more important, than say, Betty and Jim’s ranch-a thousand times more important.”36
- Cattle “are the greatest single cause of species loss in the Southwest.”37
- “Yes, we are destroying a way of life that goes back 100 years, but ranching is one of the most nihilistic lifestyles this planet has ever seen. Good riddance.”38
- Livestock grazing “just doesn’t belong in the Southwest. Yes, we are destroying a way of life that goes back 100 years. But it’s a way of life that is one of the most destructive in our country. Ranching is one of the most nihilistic life styles this planet has ever seen. It should end. Good riddance.”39
- “I could take the easy way out and give you the BS line, which is, ranching is OK where it’s ‘ecologically sustainable.’ But what is that? That’s just a vague statement designed to keep everybody happy. Show me a national forest grazing allotment in Arizona or New Mexico that is not trashed, and I’ll sit down and talk about sustainable grazing. It doesn’t exist.”40
- “The biology is clear: We just can’t have cows along rivers in the Southwest. This is a fragile desert without excess grass or water—and our rivers are trashed by cows. Some number of cows could be kept in uplands without major damage, but is it economically feasible?”41
- “I sincerely believe that cattle ranching has done more damage to public lands in the Southwest than logging, mining, urban sprawl, or any other extractive use. While it is easy to see the scars of logging and sprawl, the denuding of groundcover, erosion of soils, and destruction of riparian vegetation is far more widespread. Numerous scientific studies confirm that species endangerment in the Southwest is more closely connected to grazing than any other single event.”42
- Cattle grazing “is the single most devastating impact on the ecosystems of the Southwest. It just doesn’t belong here.”43
- “You cannot ranch economically in the desert without devastating the ecology.”44
Kieran Suckling on the Timber Industry
- “We’ve basically crushed the timber industry” in the Southwest.45
- “Oh, sure”—Kieran Suckling’s belief that the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups can shut down logging on all federal land.46
Kieran Suckling On His Apparent Willingness to Break the Law
- “We’re monitoring the [Buena Vista Lake ornate] shrew and making sure the agribusiness isn’t de-watering the marshes. Sometimes it gets a little dicey because part of the habitat is on private land. But, shit, this species is going extinct! You think we’re not going to climb over a fence?”47
Kieran Sucking on alleged subsidies that extractive natural resource-based industries that use federal lands (e.g. livestock grazing, logging, and mining) receive. The irony and hypocrisy of his antipathy for natural resource-based industries is that recreation on federal lands loses far more money for the federal government than does grazing or logging, as documented by the Policy and Environment Research Center.48 Suckling makes no mention of this, likely because he, his organization, and presumably supporters of the Center for Biological Diversity are big proponents of recreation on federal lands.
- “Our government and its corporate sponsors have created a system of subsidies that has to be abolished. They turned the lands into a commodity. We have to get public land users off this welfare system. It is not a simple thing to break those chains.”49
- “Public lands should be managed for wildlife habitat, clean water, and low impact recreation, like camping and hiking. [Consumptive activities] cost the taxpayer, destroy habitat, and trash recreational opportunities.”50
- “As I say, it is not a simple thing. We have entire communities that have grown up in this system of land-based government subsides. To change that is not a painless thing.”51
Kieran Suckling’s views on the defamation case brought against the Center for Biological Diversity by Jim Chilton, an Arizona rancher. The trial jury found the center liable for defamation, due to promulgating a malicious lie about ecological damage caused by Chilton’s cattle, and awarded Chilton $600,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. One of the ironies of the case is that the Center for Biological Diversity claims it uses science and solid evidence in support of its work. As the Chilton case showed, however, the center is willing to manipulate data to further their anti-natural resource utilization agenda. In the Chilton case, this occurred in a number of ways, most notably the use of highly misleading photographs and accompanying captions to depict alleged ecological damage caused by Chilton’s cattle. In reality, these photos, as well as other materials, were so misleading and dishonest that they rose to the level of defamation. As a result, the jury found the Center for Biological Diversity had acted with actual malice in defaming Jim Chilton and was therefore obligated to pay Chilton damages.
- “We looked over all the photos and the entire press release, and we double-checked everything. We made sure we were on solid ground.”—Suckling on the bogus and misleading pseudo-scientific evidence with which the Center for Biological Diversity defamed Jim Chilton.52
- “But they’re not supposed to be,” Kieran Suckling stated about the photographs, with captions of alleged ecological damage caused by Jim Chilton’s cattle, which a jury found constituted defamation and awarded Chilton $600,000 in actual and punitive damages. “What law in the universe says I’m not allowed to take pictures showing [just] damaged areas?”, Suckling proclaims, completely unrepentant, despite the organization he leads being found by a jury to have defamed Jim Chilton.53
- “This was a very expensive, O.J.-like campaign against us. And the bottom line is, O.J.’s free to play golf today, and Jim Chilton’s won his lawsuit.”54
1 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
2 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
3 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
4 Quoted in: Annette McGivney, “Moses or Menace”, Backpacker, February 2003.
5 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
6 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
7 Quoted in: Tony Davis, “’Firebrand Ways’”, High Country News, December 28, 2009.
8 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
9 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
10 William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness,” The New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1995.
11 William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness,” The New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1995.
12 William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness,” The New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1995.
13 William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness,” The New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1995.
14 Quoted in: Gayle Worland, “He Walks With the Animals; Maybe Jasper Carlton is a radical—or maybe he’s just ahead of his time”, Denver Westword, June 17, 1999.
15 Quote in: B. Poole, “Group a force of nature for endangered species,” Tucson Citizen, January 29, 2008.
16 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
17 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
18 Quoted in: Heidi Walters, “Battling Extinction: Is Nevada Ready For The Center for Biological Diversity?”, Las Vegas City Life, May 25, 2000.
19 Quoted in: John Skow, “Scorching the Earth to Save it”, Outside, April, 1999.
20 Quoted in: Tony Davis, “’Firebrand Ways’”, High Country News, December 28, 2009.
21 Quoted in: B. Poole, “Group a force of nature for endangered species,” Tucson Citizen, January 29, 2008.
22 Quoted in: Tony Davis, “’Firebrand Ways’”, High Country News, December 28, 2009.
23 Quoted in: Peter Aleshire, “A bare-knuckled trio goes after the Forest Service”, High Country News, March 30, 1998
24 Quoted in: Peter Aleshire, “A bare-knuckled trio goes after the Forest Service”, High Country News, March 30, 1998
25 Quoted in: Peter Aleshire, “A bare-knuckled trio goes after the Forest Service”, High Country News, March 30, 1998
26 Quoted in: Tom Kenworthy, “Species Act Endangers Way of Life,” Washington Post, February 1, 1998.
27 Quoted in: Annette McGivney, “Moses or Menace”, Backpacker, February 2003.
28 Quoted in: Peter Aleshire, “A bare-knuckled trio goes after the Forest Service”, High Country News, March 30, 1998
29 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, “Playing Outside the Rules”, Range, Winter 1999.
30 Quoted in: Michael Kiefer, “Owl See You in Court”, Phoenix New Times, August 1, 1996.
31 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, “Playing Outside the Rules”, Range, Winter 1999.
32 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
33 Quoted in: Anne C.Mulkern, Allison Winter and Robin Bravender, Greenwire, “Brazen Environmental Upstart Brings Legal Muscle, Nerve to Climate Debate”, The New York Times, March 30, 2010.
34 Quoted in: Annette McGivney, “Moses or Menace”, Backpacker, February 2003.
35 Quoted in: Michael Kiefer, “Owl See You in Court”, Phoenix New Times, August 1, 1996.
36 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
37 Quoted in: John Skow, “Scorching the Earth to Save it”, Outside, April, 1999.
38 Quoted in: John Skow, “Scorching the Earth to Save it”, Outside, April, 1999.
39 Quoted in: Tom Kenworthy, “Species Act Endangers Way of Life,” Washington Post, February 1, 1998.
40 Quoted in: Peter Aleshire, “A bare-knuckled trio goes after the Forest Service”, High Country News, March 30, 1998
41 Quoted in: Keith Bagwell, “Pygmy owl champions crusade for humanity”, Arizona Daily Star, December 7, 1997.
42 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, “Playing Outside the Rules”, Range, Winter 1999.
43 Quoted in: Tom Kenworthy, “Land Rules Drive Out Ranchers, Washington Post, November 29, 1998.
44 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
45 Quoted in: Nicholas Lemann, “No People Allowed”, The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.
46 Quoted in: John Skow, “Scorching the Earth to Save it”, Outside, April, 1999.
47 Quoted in: Annette McGivney, “Moses or Menace”, Backpacker, February 2003.
48 Terry Anderson, “Those who pay have the say on public lands,” Bozeman Chronicle, December 3, 2007; Holly Fretwell, Public Lands: The Price We Pay, Political Economy Research Center, Bozeman, MT; 1999.
49 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
50 Quoted in: Annette McGivney, “Moses or Menace”, Backpacker, February 2003.
51 Quoted in: J. Zane Walley, Playing Outside the Rules, Range, Winter 1999.
52 Quoted in: Sarah Fenske, “The Rancher’s Revenge”, Phoenix New Times, MAY 26, 2005.
53 Quoted in: Jim Carlton, “Environment Group Loses Suit Filed By Cattleman,” Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2005.
54 Quoted in: Sarah Fenske, “The Rancher’s Revenge”, Phoenix New Times, MAY 26, 2005.