Environmental Lawsuits as Psychological Warfare

| 2/2/2010 12:48:00 PM

Kieran SucklingWhen you hear someone complaining about environmentalists who file lots of lawsuits, they’re talking about organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity, the national green group famous for going to court to protect threatened and endangered species—and very often winning. Among its higher-profile clients are spotted owls, polar bears, and Mexican gray wolves. High Country News has an illuminating interview with one of the center’s feisty founders, Kierán Suckling, who doesn’t dance around the subject of legal action as the equivalent of a shock-and-awe offensive:

High Country News: What role do lawsuits play in your strategy to list endangered species?

Kierán Suckling: They are one tool in a larger campaign, but we use lawsuits to help shift the balance of power from industry and government agencies, toward protecting endangered species. That plays out on many levels. At its simplest, by obtaining an injunction to shut down logging or prevent the filling of a dam, the power shifts to our hands. The Forest Service needs our agreement to get back to work, and we are in the position of being able to powerfully negotiate the terms of releasing the injunction.

New injunctions, new species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale. When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners want to tear their hair out. They feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed—and they are. So they become much more willing to play by our rules and at least get something done. Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.

Source: High Country News (subscription required)

Image courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity.

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