By Michael Howell
Brock Evans, nationally renowned environmental activist, lawyer, lecturer and writer, and current President of the Endangered Species Coalition, gave a talk in Hamilton last Wednesday at the Hamilton Community Center. Evans is author of a new book called “Fight & Win: Brock Evans’ Strategies for the New Eco-Warrior,” which has been billed as a how-to action guide for up and coming environmental activists. His talk at the community center had the tone of a locker room pep talk from the coach – strong on encouragement, inspiration, and incitement.
Evans was born in Ohio and got a degree in History from Princeton University, followed by a degree from University of Michigan Law School. He served a hitch in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1959 to 1961.
A few years later, while working on his law degree, he made his first trip out West and describes it as a kind of conversion. Driving on a long stretch of Montana highway he commented to a companion that he had never seen such a huge mass of clouds hanging so low on the horizon in otherwise clear skies. It turned out to be the Rocky Mountain front. He said it struck a chord in him that provoked the thought, “this is your home.” He ended up working for two summers at Glacier National Park before going to work for the Sierra Club in 1965 as its northwest field representative, based in Seattle.
This soon led him to visit the Bitterroot Valley where some of the country’s most important environmental work was going on at the time as Bitterrooters like Doris Milner, Dale Burk, Guy Brandborg and his son Stewart were fighting significant environmental battles that were going to make history.
“Montana is holy ground for environmental activists,” said Evans. He talked about the inspiration he gained from the landscape here and from the people. It was the kind of inspiration he would find all over the Northwest where love of the land sponsors strong support for preservation and conservation among the “folk.”
It was a kind of feeling that would soon sweep across the nation, touching people in all walks of life with all kinds of politics and leading to landmark legislation such as the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. It generated such a wave of public support that the Endangered Species Act was passed by a vote of 355 to 4 in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 92 to 0 in the Senate.
Evans told the group that the environmental movement was facing hard times and big challenges these days in the political arena with wilderness designations coming to a standstill and the Endangered Species Act under being viciously attacked. But there is no reason to give up hope, he said, and he remains an optimist. It’s not like these attacks are anything new, he said. He described how our landmark environmental laws have faced and survived crisis after crisis over the years, from the Energy Crisis of 1973, the assault led by Secretary of the interior James Watt in the early 1980’s when they were going to “Bomb the Bob” with seismic testing for the oil and gas companies, when Newt Gingrich sponsored the salvage rider in the House of Representatives that doubled the timber harvest on national forests. He said the laws weathered the conjunction of a hostile Senate and House under President G.W. Bush and another wave in 2005-6.
“There are two kinds of political power,” said Evans, “there is the power of big money and there is the power of the people.” He said harnessing the power of the people was the key to the continuing success of the environmental movement. And the way to harness that people power was to draw a line around the place that must be preserved, the place everyone loves, and make a stand.
“Plant a banner and people will flock to it,” said Evans.
He said that’s what he did at Hell’s Canyon and it worked. He said that is what Doris Milner did here in the Bitterroot when she planted a banner at the Magruder Corridor and won a battle that even he thought, at the time, was hopeless.
Evans said that he emphasized four simple principles and axioms for up and coming activists in his new book. Don’t be afraid. Never quit. Know your facts. Stay politically active. He calls it “endless pressure, endlessly applied.”
He also revealed the real secret behind the principles, what holds them together and sustains the effort. He said it is found in the human heart: love of the earth.