Ironically, ranchers, under assault from environmentalists for destructive grazing practices, have reflexively aligned themselves with some of the more vicious incarnations of the Wise Use movement, such as the Colorado-based People for the West!, long funded by mining and
oil interests. These companies were glad to have the ranchers on their side, since the rancher puts a publicly pleasing, almost mythological face on the nefarious motives of their political movement.
The ranchers, the Wise Use groups, and the corporations that back them fanatically pushed for passage of NAFTA in 1993. It is worth noting that many of the mining companies now preying on western mountains, rivers, and deserts are Canadian firms (such as Echo Bay, Noranda, and Barrick) devoted to unrestricted transborder operations.
Some of the big environmental groups are also cheering. Anything that does down a rancher is okay with them. That's one of the reasons groups like the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council shilled for NAFTA--they said the agreement would push inefficient industries out of business. Let them wait till the Interior West vanishes under ranchette driveways, toxic cyanide piles from heap-leach gold mining, or ends up in the hands of J.R. Simplot, now 92 years old and as of November 1995 a major stockholder of Boise-Cascade, the largest purchaser of timber from the national forests.
Into this fray now strides Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), brandishing legislation that will lock in many of these trends. Domenici claims his bill is meant to be the salvation of the family rancher. In reality it will seal their fate and doom the public lands at the same time. The bill exempts ranchers from compliance with environmental laws and even goes so far as to exclude the public from access to national forests leased for grazing. The measure also mandates that ranchers keep a maximum number of cows on their allotments, a disastrous scenario that during times of glut will merely feed the foreclosure frenzy. This is not surprising. Domenici, the chairman of the Senate budget committee, has long labored for the banking and mining industries. Among his biggest campaign contributors are Phelps Dodge and the Texas Farm Credit Bank.
So the bills for NAFTA are coming due. Under its stipulations polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are now being trucked into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico for the first time. Imported Mexican tuna, caught with fishing techniques deadly to dolphins, will lead to the probable destruction of the dolphin-safe tuna labeling legislation passed in the U.S. in 1989. Canadian forests are being logged at a vicious pace at subsidized rates by multinational corporations such as James River, Champion International, and MacMillan Bloedel. This lumber is being dumped on already depressed U.S. markets, resulting in the loss of 35,000 mill jobs. Lead-spewing trucks from south of the border are now legal, thanks to a ruling from the GATT tribunal.
Claims of job gains north of the border are transparent fictions. South of the border two-thirds of the Mexican population are far worse off than they were four years ago. The environment? It has been ravaged from the Yukon to Chiapas.