It is not often that I turn a comment into a complete post, but this comment from Willis Eschenbach on the Trust and Mistrust article today, merits such a promotion. – Anthony

Which death is more troubling? (images: from NOAA, upper, Wikimedia, lower)

Willis Eschenbach (20:55:17) :

I am surprised at the visceral nature of the rejection of the term “environmentalist”. I had not realized it had gotten that bad. I don’t think I’d want to be one of those if that’s how people feel.

It also appears that the new preferred term is “conservationist”. But as I said, I don’t make those fine distinctions, so I’m not sure how that differs from the “e-word”.

So let me modify my statement, and say that I am a conservamentalist. I would define that as someone who thinks long and hard about the effect of our actions on the tangled web of life that surrounds us.

I was fishing herring in the Bering Sea one season. I heard on the radio that the annual killing of the Canadian Arctic fur seals had begun, along with the obligatory protests that seem to be required these days.

We’d caught about fifty tonnes of herring that day, killing on the order of a million living beings. I remember thinking how if some creature has big soft baby eyes, it gets lots of sympathy. But if a creature is slimy and has cold fish-eyes, its death doesn’t matter. People hated the seal killers for killing a few dozen creatures, while I killed millions of creatures and was ignored.

If I had to pick one word to describe my position on the ecological webs that surround us, it would be “realist”. Life eats life to live. I am not a man who eats the meat and blames the butcher.

I’ve worked a good deal as a builder. I build with wood. I cut down trees to make room for the building I live in. I grew up in the forest, my step-daddy was a timber feller, the royalty of the logging fraternity. I’ve worked killing trees on an industrial scale.

And I’ll also fight like crazy to see the logging done right. with proper roads and proper setbacks, and proper slope limits, and reforestation. I’ve seen what bad logging practices look like and do.

So for me, a conservamentalist is someone who has thought hard about and balanced the needs for wood and cleared land, balanced those needs with the way that wood is harvested. I grew up in the middle of hundreds of square miles of virgin forest. I have a deep and abiding admiration for that raw wildness. And yet, I cut down trees. I just want to see things done carefully and with forethought, see them done properly with respect for the consequences. I don’t elevate some mythical “Nature” above humans, and I don’t forget nature either.

I was a sport salmon fishing guide a couple years ago, on the Kenai River in Alaska, as I described here. Kenai River king salmon are magnificent beings, fifty pounds or more of powerful, glittering, awe-inspiring fish. When one of my clients caught a salmon, I always thanked the fish in a loud voice for giving up its life for us. Life eats life, beings die so that I can live, and I can’t ignore that. I don’t let it keep me from fishing salmon, but I won’t pretend that I am not killing a splendiferous entity. Some of my clients understood.

Heck, I apologize to trees when I cut them down. Yeah, I know it looks dumb, a grown man talking to trees. But it doesn’t stop me from cutting them down by the scores if need be, I’m a realist. Life eats life. Me, I don’t take killing anything lightly, be it redwood or herring or salmon. Someday, I’ll be chopped down in the same way.

So I’m forming the Conservamentalist Party, our motto will be,“Conservamentalists unite! You have nothing to lose but your minds”.

Now, back to the climate…


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The same sort of soppy illogical thinking is behind emotive Global Warming?. Look go eat some meat and get some protein into your diet and you may start thinking clearer.

I’m a science-based environmentalist with socialist and vegan leanings.
That is why climate change pisses me off. It distracts from humanity’s real problems.


There is a bit of a difference though. The Seals weren’t being harvisted for food during the seal fur trade heyday and the fish aren’t being killed for their skins. Many prople are also against killing Sharks for their Fins and discarding the rest. Something similar was done in the 1800’s as Buffalo were killed for their skins and the corpses being left on the prarie to rot in the sun.
Is is shameful to discard any animal for the sake of harvesting their skin. Use it all or don’t use any.


Good for you, Willis!


Environmentalism lost its soul as soon as it began to adopt the motto, “The ends justify the means.” This never has been true and never will be true.
At the risk of sounding maudlin, I’d say what is most needed is Love. If you Love the land, and Love your fellow man, you simply do not resort to the deeds people with weak understanding resort to, out of greed and sheer self-interest.
I am pretty disgusted with what fellows like Hansen and Mann have done to both science and environmentalism.

Al Gore's Holy Hologram

When they wanted to control you in your community they called themselves communists.
When they wanted to control you in your society they called themselves socialists.
When they wanted to control you in your environment they called themselves environmentalists.
What comes next?

“…a grown man talking to trees.”
That’s fine, so long as you don’t hug them.
Just kidding, I agree with everything you’ve written.

Russ Hatch

Enviromental activist or active enviromentalist, there is a big difference.

“Balanced needs” is the right phrase.
Good one, sir.


Want a COMMON SENSE approach? The great George Carlin:
George Carlin – Saving the PlanetCargado por GodIsTruth. – Las últimas noticias en video.


I myself tended to be a conservationist before the word changed meaning back in the 1970s and at thT time had a thought about the difference in philosophies:
The old school conservationist was oriented to preventing waste
The new school conservationist was oriented to keeping things the same


My Dad was a logger/high climber most of his life also, and died in the forest. I spent a lot of time in the woods and have the same reverence that Willis feels. Well stated position sir.

Susan C.

I don’t mean to nitpick Willis, but do you mean harp seals? The “seals” in your picture are Northern fur seals, which are more like sea lions, that breed in the summer in US and Russian territory.
Arctic harp seal pups are the species hunted on the east coast of Canada that draw lots of protest. The zoologist in me needs this clarified, although I realize it is hardly the point of your post.
REPLY: I chose the photo based on Willis text. I’ll leave it to him to clarify if he meant a different seal or not. -Anthony


“Conservamentalists unite! You have nothing to lose but your minds”
You just said it all buddy!, that’s like a well and newly concocted pacifist declaring war.
O My!, I pledge to God: “Help me from the GOOD GUYS that I’ll take care of the bad guys”
This is also like being a “progressivetalist”, a cheating leftist or a pseudo-marxist! or like a tea bagger drinking coffee. Wow!


So obviously, Lesley Nelson and Philadelphia Electric Company were ahead of their time when they ran an ad in the Philadelphia area back in the 80’s where Nelson was reduced to exclaiming … “… but these envionmentalists


The natives in North America always had a sustainable way of life and thanked every animal and the Earth for giving what they used or eat. They are the first Conservamentalists.
Conservamentalism is not a religion but a way of life.

Phil M

“I don’t elevate some mythical “Nature” above humans”
Are you arguing that all self-described environmentalists or conservationists ARE doing this?
In fact, what exactly is the point of this post? Besides the obvious recanting of your exploits in the fishing and timber industries?
Your blog entry [snip] and merely regurgitates material from an undergraduate environmental ethics course. Congratulations on only being 40 years behind the environmentalist movement.

John W.

Nice post, WIllis.
vboring (12:39:31) :
I’m a science-based environmentalist with socialist and vegan leanings.
That is why climate change pisses me off. It distracts from humanity’s real problems.

Just for balance, I’m a science based conservative and carnivore.
But I’m with you 100 pct. at pissed off over the way AGW has sucked all the air away from dealing with real problems.


Your comment is a keeper.
“Life eats life….Someday, I’ll be chopped down in the same way.”, conjured up, “Tuesday is soylent green day”. ;>)


“Is is shameful to discard any animal for the sake of harvesting their skin. Use it all or don’t use any.”
I’m sorry, but there is some illogic in your statement. Mind you, I used to “feel” the same way until I became a hunter at age 42.
My reasoning: Nothing is wasted in nature. Protein is a valuable commodity in every ecosystem I can think of, so there are always life forms that will eat the “leftovers”.
I am a hunter of the boreal forests of central Ontario, Canada. Mostly, I hunt deer, moose, and the occasional turkey. When we do a field dressing on a deer, and leave the majority of the internal organs on the forest floor, are we guilty of something in your way of thinking?
When I pass by a previous day’s “gut pile”, there is rarely anything left. the bears, coyotes, wolves, crows, hawks, etc. make short work of the leftovers. Scavengers don’t let much go uneaten. Bacteria take care of the rest.
So, I would say that whether sealers take the seal carcass for meat or leave it for other creatures to consume, the animal is just as dead either way. And nothing goes to waste.
And for the record, like Willis, I too say a prayer for the animal I harvest. In not too many years, we will all join in on nature’s protein recycling system.


The word was demonized by the right wing scream team. They focus on the more obscure or radical types of environmentalists, and smear everyone else by comparison. Environmentalists cannot be countenanced because their faith that industry protects them is challenged by accusations of impiety, creating pollution and such. Environmentalists in this regard are the skeptics, the right wing scream team the believers.
The right wing scream team likes the debunking process of the global warming interests, but they are speechless when then financial interests behind global warming are exposed, the same interests they trust with reverence. So they reflexively imagine hippies or tree huggers or such for AGW.


I agree with every word written here.
I am not a vegetarian because I don’t just love mammals. I also love leccuce and carrots, and they are living beings too.
It’s a fact of life that we kill each other to live.
And since we are spilling our loony innards here, I think Man’s greatest tragedy is that we are the only single species genus on the planet (as far as I know). Our cousins died out Neanderthals etc. Therefore we are peculiarly alone. I think there is a deepseated psychological need expressed by our desire to know whether there is other intelligent life in the universe.
Because as human beings we are very lonely. There is just us.
Maybe this is why we seesaw wildly between thinking we are too important and thinking ourselves too little important.

Willis: We here at Retread Resources are with you on that. Lets do it right and hopefully for the right reasons.

Michael in Sydney

I see a difference between killing a seal for its fur and killing fish so that we can have a supply of healthy food. The seal fur can be easily be substituted with synthetic garments, the fish not so easily.
I’m willing to have living things killed for my benefit so long as it is done as humanly as possible, used efficiently and there is not a non-living substitute available.

Pat Moffitt

The conservation movement died by the end of the first earth Day in 1970. There had been 3 competing environmental visions- the century old conservation and preservation movements and the growing ecosocialist movement of the 60s led by Marcuse, Bookchin and Commoner. A columnist for Berkeley’s underground paper The Rat said it best “revolutionaries must begin to think in ecological terms,” and that “an attack against environmental destruction is an attack on the structures of control and the mechanisms of power within a society.”
Sen Nelson’s goal for Earth Day set the stage for environment ideological control:
“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.”-
There would as a result of Earth Days’ success no longer be a need for a conservation science. The environment was now to be decided in the political arena where democratized science fits quite well. The philosophy of the anti war movement would control by days end- It was Commoner’s vision that the root cause of pollution was excess economic growth fostered by cheap energy.’ A vision that said all efforts must be directed at the root cause rather than fixing existing environmental problems.This was the culture infused into EPA and controls till this day.
The focus of environment was also to shift as a result of the Earth day victory away from the traditional views of wilderness and wildlife enhancement as quoted by environmentalist Mark Dowie:
“The central concern of the new movement is human health. Its adherents consider wilderness preservation and environmental aesthetics worthy but overemphasized values. They are often derided by anti toxic activists as bourgeois obsessions. People are drawn to grass roots environmental politics because they fear for their lives and those of their children”
The new movement only needed political skills and the ability to instill fear. It is difficult to amass a movement if you require the followers to spend hours in some science lab. Kafka was correct The flood of the revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.


I would favor ‘conservation-minded’. Breaking it up into two parts seems to fit the mouth better, plus it has less of a chance of implying that I want to mandate that you become ‘conservamentalistic’ or else.
We say the Outdoor Code every week at Scouts.
“As an American, I will do my best to
Be clean in my outdoor manners,
Be careful with fire,
Be considerate in the outdoors,
and be conservation-minded.”
I believe it has also cut-down on unwanted pyrotechnics at Scout camp, but I may be mistaken on that.

Rejean Gagnon

A splendid read, and a very thoughtful position. I am very supportive of Mr. Eschenbach’s realist approach.
I think the backlash on the term environmentalist has been a result of the thoughtless people that have taken up that torch. Global warming is only one of it’s preferred scare tactics, although likely it’s greatest scam to date. Not sure if that term can or should be saved in the longterm… I personally feel revulsion at it these days.

I’m sure the Easter Islanders and the Greenland Vikings thought similarly when chopping down their trees …..
We don’t stop eating fish or stop chopping down trees – but we should think about the consequences of today’s actions on our future, and maybe cut back a little here and there. And maybe put in place polices for sustainability. It’s only common sense ….. Isn’t it?


There is nature and there is also the nature of the human spirit. Conservation should extend to both. Human freedom is something which is shrinking on a daily basis in this world. It’s being ground down and thrown away as it falls to the axes of the controllers and power seekers, many of whom do their work under the flag of environmentalism.


Unintended consequences happen again. Thanx to PETA et all, the Canadian Government is not only fighting the ban of seal meat/fur from the EU, but has now set its’ sight on the Asian market for new sales. It has been estimated that this Asian market could be upwards of ten times the size of the EU market.
Let’s not forget what happened when Greenpeace tried the same thing with pelts back in the late 80’s early 90’s. By getting these pelts restricted for EU sales, they, GP, decimated a lot of northern communities, as this was their main economic source. Greenpeace quietly dropped the campaign when the results were brought to their attention.
We are in every way a part of nature. What ever we do, we do according to (our) nature. Nature has no feelings for what we do or becomes of us. Nature is a process, not an entity.


Maybe you are organic and natural? After all, you are simply behaving according to a particularly thoughtful version of human nature, and doing what natural human beings have done since the species first emerged in order to survive. I identify strongly with what you are saying. Some environmentalists embrace a gnostic vision of humanity: so long as we’re spiritual and anti-materialistic, we’re o.k. – in small doses (i.e. so long as there are not too many of us). Their position is hypocritical, since most environmentalists are evolutionary materialists. This life is all there is, so we must protect the earth in a pristine and unchanging form, free from human contamination. This denies the inevitability of environmental change or the possibility that human beings might simply be acting out a natural evolutionary role. (Yet how, if you are an evolutionary materialist, can human beings be doing anything else?)

Michael W

“I would define that as someone who thinks long and hard about the effect of our actions on the tangled web of life that surrounds us.”
I would agree with this wholeheartedly. But I think we need to be careful to not demonize people who just want to live thier lives and don’t spend much time or energy making sure they’re not overconsuming.

Layne Blanchard

You don’t see many photos of Polar Bear ripping a baby seal limb from limb either. The Polar Bears being “Barbequed” in the arctic are all doe eyed cubs named fluffy, … so kind hearted they only eat rocks.
I’m not promoting a slash and burn mentality. But environmentalists now see Earth as an untouchable shrine. It’s shutting down our economy.
Ever wonder why tobacco became what it is? I admit I haven’t looked it up and someone will probably correct me, but I’ll bet the large leaves had a lot to do with it. Who looked down from heaven and decided tobacco was for smoking?
Would you walk into a forest, select some leaves or twigs, light them on fire, and inhale the smoke? (Okay, not THOSE leaves or twigs)
So the notion of “fine tobacco” is entirely a perception. There is no such thing. There is perhaps less obnoxious tobacco that doesn’t burn as bad on the way down. (Now I’ll take a beating from the smokers)
But my point is that many things we think “normal” are just a perception.
Earth is just a rock, covered with the debris of ages. A pile of bones, dust, stone, waste and plant matter…teeming with insects. A large stand of weeds grows upon its surface. We just happen to look upon this and perceive beauty. It’s entirely in the eye of the beholder. I personally hate deserts. Some people love them.
If we dug a hole deep enough, and dumped all of man’s waste inside and then covered it, if we didn’t affect the ground water, I don’t think we’d change anything. Everything man has made came from this rock. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
We benefit from bio diversity. It’s where many discoveries are made. No question there. But environmentalism has lurched into the absurd.

Conservationist may be a new preferred term, but it’s an old world. Environmentalist is a 60s coinage, I think.
Lots of enviro-thinking is sentimental, but that doesn’t mean it’s always wrong. I’ll wager that seals have more capacity for fear and pain than fish, and clubbing them for fur poses moral issues that fishing herring doesn’t. Still, I’m not a vegetarian either. Thinking long and hard is a good idea, in this, as with many things.
Stewardship is not a concept that is popular these days because it puts humans in control, rather than surrendering our egos to Nature, but that’s where we are in reality. Do we destroy irreplaceable habitats for short-term goals, or do we think that future generations might like to have them around? That’s an important ethical basis for environmentalism, conservationism, whatever name you call it by.

Ian H

Off topic: You might like to look at what is happening in Australia right now. A one in 100 year drought has broken with a one in 100 year flood. An area half the size of Europe is under water. The farmers are dancing for joy and the outback is turning green.


Agree with your position 100%. The one thing I don’t get though, is trophy hunting, whether for sport, horns or heads. It just gets me that some folk get all excited about having a Lion’s or Bears head mounted in their “trophy room”. I don’t really have a problem with culling if it is absolutely necessary and unavoidable, but for sport – naa!

The old school conservationist was oriented to preventing waste
The new school conservationist was oriented to keeping things the same

Either you’ve confused conservationist with conservative, or I missed the memo when ‘conservationist’ changed meanings…

Rod Smith

First class article Willis, I agree 100%. Thank you.

Pat Moffitt

Perhaps conservation scientist William Royce 1985 lecture at Woods Hole says it best:
“One of the consequences of the environmental movement was to regard solution of environmental problems as entirely a political action. An example was the approach of the Sierra Club (Mitchell and Stallings, 1970). That “Handbook for Environment Activists” includes statements about the need to restructure society in a conservation revolution, and the need to deal with a system of suppression and oppression. It gave no recognition to the long history of the development of professional environmental sciences, or even to the use of science in solving society’s environmental problems.
Nor have some leading academic ecologists recognized professional con- servation science. In two comprehensive “ecology” texts (Ehrlich et al., 1977; Moran et al., 1980) there is no recognition of the conservation movement as we know it; rather, it is portrayed as a fight to save endangered species, to prevent oil drilling, to save whales, to save energy, and to reach other broad political goals. They convey no sense of the use of science in order to attain specific environmental objectives, as steps toward long-term goals. They make no mention of a century during which forest, wildlife, soil, water, agriculture, ocean, atmospheric, fishery, and other professional environmental sciences have developed in hundreds of departments in leading universities, nor how scientists in these disciplines contribute daily to civilized problem solving. They merely advocate a general environmental political movement.”


Our forest here is in a state of environmentalist waste, meaning that it isn’t in much of a useage cyce.
Our forest here should be in a state of conservationalist usage, getting the most out of a sustainable yield.
Our land here is over 80% owned by the federal government. It’s obvious what interest group is calling the shots. It does not generate sufficient revenues to pay for it’s withdrawal. It could be managed a lot better, as any usage is better that watching it go up in smoke. The lands need to be returned to the private sector.


Reminds me of that great ballad from Paint Your Wagon. Clint Eastwood sang ( ?) “I talk to the trees, but they don’t listen to me.” Laughed my *ss off.
There is a lot of soupy, maudlin stuff when it comes to nature. We use what we need; we do not need to destroy wantonly. But cutting timber is not a religious experience. Watch the series Ax Men to get a picture.
And as to herring…I LOVE herring in cream sauce.

Henry chance

I enjoy eating vegies. That may be why I enjoy eating beef steak. The angus also enjoy eating corn and vegies.


I agree with Bryan. The clubbing of harp seal pups is appalling. Hurting anything needlessly is repulsive. If you need to kill to eat, that’s one thing, but to kill for fun or unnecessary luxury fur sales is barbaric. In China, dogs and cats are skinned alive for their fur. Where does one draw the line?
All sentient beings deserve to be treated as well as possible, or left alone.
So how come the AGW folks aren’t screaming about all the rare (many on the endangered list) birds and bats being ground up in “alternative energy” wind mills and turbines? How is it that a political ideology can become so all-important that it supersedes ones own ethics and values? Do they still think the ends justify the means?
I don’t elevate Nature above Man, but I don’t elevate Man above Nature, either, and I have no tolerance for religious people who claim Man has dominion over it. This egotistical delusion based on primitive literature has caused incalculable harm for thousands of years. It is the same argument behind the AGW hubris that pretends humans can control the Earth’s climate.


Excellent post, spoken like a man who has truly spent much of his life in the wild. I suspect that most of the hard core enviros like Phil M. criticize because their only contact with the wild comes in a sterile, academic, and thus totally unrealistic sense.


Wendell Berry has some fine essays on the subject of usufruct that dovetail with Willis’s post. “Christianity and the Survival of Civilization,’ and “God and Country.” Early 90s, I believe.

Peter Dunford

There must be something wrong with me, but I don’t find the baby seals in the picture at all cute, and have no instinct to protect them.
I once refused to sign the save the seals petition of some animal rights group. The activist collecting signatures became aggressive asking “So you’re happy (word stressed) to see baby seals clubbed to death (words stressed)?”
His self righteous indignation, and the affront my refusal to sign brought out in him was so funny, all I could think of to answer him with was a simple “Yes” then smile and walk away. It is not my job to minister to those in dire need of a BJ, they were that way before I got to them. Wind them up further, I say, mock away! Let them seek their own cures.
Besides, nothing on offer convinced me that his petition was anything more than a futile waste of his time and that of everyone he persuaded to sign it.
Did i want seals to die? Baby or not, not particularly. I’ve got nothing against herring either – I don’t eat fish. But what I do enjoy is discovering more facets of Willis Eschenbach.
Willis, you really ought to write a book.


“I talk to the trees,
but they don’t answer me.”
I have to say I mostly agree with this post. I grew up in the woods and in a family that was involved in the lumber industry. I have seen what can come from good logging practices and, unfortunately, from bad. It’s always best to stop and consider before doing irreparable harm to the environment, but that goes equally for people who want to do irreparable harm to economic and social institutions

Steve Sykes

On a visceral level, I feel more for a dieing seal than a dieing fish because I am biochemically programmed to. As a social animal, I am programmed to be in tune with the suffering of my peers. Since seals are genetically similar, of course there is going to be some crossover between a seal’s and a human’s expression of suffering. And it touches me. Maybe if fish screamed more I would feel just as bad for them, but they don’t so I don’t. That is irrespective of how little of their flesh is used after the killing. Without the visceral feedback the same emotion just isn’t there.
On an intellectual level I can train myself to feel just as much for the life of a fish as the life of a seal. I’m the best self-programming machine yet. Think Pavlov, or A Clockwork Orange – I can juxtapose two ideas in order to elicit a visceral reaction in one that, previously, was only elicited by the other. If my culture is awash in the idea of animals and humans as bound peers, my culture is doing the job of ensuring that some portion of that visceral reaction normally reserved for humans is applied to other living things (even objects).
And my culture did. I realize that this isn’t everyone’s culture – that’s why the term culture shock exists. Nature is, almost, my peer. For some cultures, nature *is* a peer. There are people like me who respect/love nature in and of itself. It doesn’t have to be performing any function for me. People unlike us need some logical reason for not killing or disrupting nature, and that reason usually comes down to “Well if you do that, you’re only hurting yourself/your loved ones.”
Understanding this, it isn’t a leap of logic to understand why people like me would support an idea like anthropogenic climate change. It’s the biggest “you’re only hurting yourself” reason out there. For now.


I don’t know why this always ends in unpleasant consequences…trains, camps and millions of deaths…
The moral: Do not innovate. Meddling in nature is always like trying to change something in a very, very complex system, like changing the INI files not knowing programming.

Steve in SC

Willis you need to get over yourself.