“Overzealous Environmentalism” Hurts Poor Poaching “Misunderstood Outcasts”

(p. 17) In the journalist Lyndsie Bourgon’s telling, . . ., the poachers are not quite villains. Instead, they are responding — if not justifiably then at least predictably — to a lack of economic opportunities and the perception that the rules governing forests are arbitrary and heavy-handed.

Bourgon puts herself in the poacher’s shoes, and the result is a refreshing and compassionate warning about the perils of well-intentioned but overzealous environmentalism.

. . .

. . . she regards the history of the American conservation movement with something approaching scorn. It was hatched, she writes, to serve the whims of wealthy urban vacationers who wanted access to lands unspoiled by their longtime inhabitants. National parks were conceived as vehicles to resist “any attempt to turn to utilitarian purposes the resources represented by the forest,” as one booster put it.

At times, the motives were even less pure. Bourgon describes how ultrarich environmentalists in the early 1900s saw conservation — and in particular the protection of California’s redwoods — “as part of a mission to enshrine a white, masculine dominance over the wilderness.” Some conservationists, she notes, were “eugenicists who saw parallels between environmental destruction and the decline of Nordic supremacy.”

. . .

This is the backdrop for Bourgon’s depiction of “tree thieves” as misunderstood outcasts. “I have begun to see the act of timber poaching as not simply a dramatic environmental crime, but something deeper — an act to reclaim one’s place in a rapidly changing world,” she writes, tracing that desire back to 16th-century England, where poachers in royal forests were celebrated as folk heroes.

Bourgon immersed herself with a small handful of these men in the Northwest, and a picture emerges of a fractious band of down-on-their-luck crooks. A number abuse drugs. The poachers acknowledge that what they’re doing is illegal, but they frame it as principled, akin to stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families.

. . .

On the one hand, unemployed loggers and others who are suffering economically because of stringent enforcement of conservation laws are facing poverty. On the other hand, the damage that poachers are inflicting on forests appears to be, in the grand scheme of things, modest.

For the full review, see:

David Enrich. “No Clear-Cut Villains.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 24, 2022): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June [sic] 21, 2022, and has the title “When It Comes to Timber Theft, There Are No Clear-Cut Villains.” Where the online version has “misunderstood poacher’s” [sic], the print version quoted above has “misunderstood outcasts.”)

The book under review is:

Bourgon, Lyndsie. Tree Thieves: Crime and Survival in North America’s Woods. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *