DanDaggetShades2Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about liberalism I’ve learned from an unexpected source – nature. Some of the clearest and most instructive of those lessons have come from a U. S. Forest Service “study area” in the central Arizona high desert.

In 1946, the U. S. Forest Service erected a fence around a portion of an area exhausted by human overuse and misuse in this arid rangeland to demonstrate one of the core principles of modern liberal environmentalism — that the best way to restore damaged land to ecological health is to protect it from the impacts of humans. Today, the Drake Exclosure (The Drake) has been under the beneficent care of nature alone for more than 66 years, but…

Rather than the revived Eden one would expect to find after 66 years of environmental protection, much of the Drake, today, is as bare as a well-used parking lot. (photo: DrakeInside10/2012)

“Actually, it looks pretty much the same as it did back in 1946,” said a Forest Service scientist studying the area, “but the trees were smaller.”



Drake Transect


Studies show that 90% of the plant species that lived within its boundaries before it was protected no longer live there. In fact, much of the land supports no plants at all, and, judging from the lack of tracks and dung, not much wildlife either.

When I bring environmentalists here and ask them what they would do to remedy this apparent failure of one of their most basic principles, invariably, they say they would continue to protect the area even though that policy has failed for 66+ years.

Some even say that they would extend this failed policy beyond the Drake’s protective fence.

This is where things become even more revealing.

Outside the fence a local rancher has applied the basic conservative principle that

doing nothing is not always the best remedy for doing the wrong thing, and…

If something doesn’t work, do something else. Better yet, if something does work — emulate it.

This rancher manages his cattle as Nature manages her own grazers — in herds moving regularly in response to natural conditions and allowing the land to recover before they return. On the land managed in this way, Nature’s “Yes” is as obvious as the “No” she has made so clear inside the Drake. Outside the Drake’s protective fence, on the land grazed by the conservative rancher’s cattle, a healthy stand of native grasses has repopulated the land; the plant species that have ceased to exist within the Drake can still be found; and there is plenty of evidence of wildlife as well as livestock.



Monitoring success of the conservative approach


Environmentalists react to this unexpected anomaly in a way that is revealing precisely because it isn’t surprising. First, the fact that the “protected” land inside the exclosure is essentially morbid and desertified, doesn’t shake their faith in their prescription for a second. In fact, they don’t really seem to care about the condition of the land inside or outside the exclosure

What they do seem to care about is that this inconvenient failure might put their liberal prescription — that we ought to protect as much of nature as possible — in jeopardy.

The Drake shows in the most concrete terms I have experienced that liberals really do believe that applying a liberal policy is the one and only way to solve a problem, any problem. According to liberal doctrine, the Drake, as barren as it is, is healed because it is protected. There’s no reason to do anything else. There is nothing else liberals are able or willing to do. In fact, there is nothing else they can do without contradicting their dogma.

Even when the results of that policy are so far off the mark that there is no doubt it is a failure, as in the case of the Drake, our national debt, the War on Poverty… liberals will continue to apply that policy, even try to expand it, until someone stops them, because that’s what liberals do — they apply policies that embody a doctrine and increase their own power. Problems, for them, are nothing more than opportunities to apply this political ratchet.

Conservatives contend that liberalism has never worked anywhere it has been tried, but if you accept liberal dogma as I’ve stated it, as liberals believe it, liberalism can’t fail. It always works, by definition. If it happens to get the wrong results, that’s someone else’s fault, somebody else (George W. Bush) screwed it up.

That is why, if you tell a liberal that what he or she is doing doesn’t work, you are treated as if you have uttered an absurdity, as if what you have said reveals you are so uninformed you don’t deserve a reply.

It is also why liberalism fails as often as it does -— because it is flying blind. It is unable and unwilling, to monitor and correct itself because doing the “right thing” according to liberal doctrine, always gets the “right” results — whatever they are.

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Why does someone change from being an “ecoradical” to a conservative environmentalist?DanDaggetShades2

Because it works better.

I had no problem with the ecoradical label when I was fighting strip mines in Ohio in 1973 and, for me, leftist politics was the only politics. In the early ‘80s when a friend told me someone named Dave Foreman was going to found an environmental group named Earth First! that would be so far to the left it would push the entire debate in that direction, I reacted with sign-me-up enthusiasm.

However, as I became older and gained my own base of experience on which to base my point of view, I became aware that the left-lean of conventional environmental politics was neither good for the environment nor for environmentalism. Now, I believe it is time to free the movement I have been a part of for 30+ years from its exclusive connection to the left.
The main reason for this change of mind and heart is I’ve become convinced the private-sector really is more effective than government at producing just about anything, including healthy ecosystems. I came to this conclusion for the usual reasons-the failure the Soviet Experiment, Euro-socialism and a mountain of other public-sector flops. More important, however, was the fact that, in thirty years of activism, the most impressive environmental successes I have encountered were achieved by private individuals operating according to principles that make up the conservative playbook. In each of those cases individual initiative, personal accountability, the free market, and rewards for results were more effective healing damaged ecosystems, at saving endangered species, even combating global warming (if you believe in such a thing.) than the government alternative — regulation and protection.

These successes even got me to thinking that the reason environmental problems seem so hard to solve may be because the leftist methods we use to deal with them are so ineffective.

And isn’t Nature a conservative? After all, she rewards success not compliance.

Put all of this together, and it adds up to a significant question: Why have environmentalists chose the leftist approach, which is a confirmed loser and unnatural to boot, over an approach based on conservative principles that is proven to be more effective?

The answer came when I took my list of conservative success stories to my environmental peers.

I knew how most environmentalists feel about everything conservative, so, when I told them what I had discovered, I wasn’t surprised that they were defensive. What did surprise me was their total lack of interest in how people they normally think of as adversaries had succeeded in dealing with problems that had stymied them for decades.

After a few years of this, I was the one who finally got the message. I concluded that many of those who call themselves environmentalists are more interested in installing leftist prescriptions than in achieving success on the ground. For them, environmental issues are a means to achieve liberal political ends rather than the other way around. In fact, that’s how many environmentalists measure success—in the number of acres brought under government control, in laws passed, in regulations created, and in the election of politicians committed to increasing all of the above. My environmental listeners weren’t interested in the successes I described to them because those successes didn’t further leftist agendas.

That realization convinced of the need for a conservative alternative to liberal environmentalism. Liberals deal with problems by applying policies—income redistribution, affirmative action, universal health-care. Conservatives, on the other hand, work to create a situation in which people can use their creativity and initiative to produce a product for which there is a demand and, therefore, a reward. An environmentalism based on conservative principles would determine success and dispense rewards for achieving results — environmental results, not for applying policies.

That would change the face of the environmental debate entirely. Among other things, it would expand the number of people involved in environmental issues in a proactive way. It would do so by giving people on the right, many of whom are as concerned about environmental problems as liberals, an environmental strategy to support that did not require them to sign on to something they oppose—increased regulation and bigger government. It would also provide them with an alternative to what currently passes for a conservative environmentalism—discounting environmental problems so it can be claimed that increased regulation is unnecessary.

Creating an environmentalism that is truly conservative would provide all of us a means to set goals in terms of environmental criteria—healthier habitat, more functional watersheds, and refersing desertification. And it would provide an effective way to reward those who were able to achieve those goals. Doing so would add a degree of competition, accountability, diversity, and effectiveness to our efforts to deal with environmental problems that, at present, is sorely lacking.

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Dan Dagget will give you good reason to…

“Dan Dagget is a ‘must-hear’ for anyone who cares about this magnificent land that we inhabit. Whether you are a rancher, environmentalist, farmer, gardener, nature lover, meat eater, or vegan, Dan’s message of sharing, healing and action is as good as public speaking gets.”
Courtney White, Executive Director , The Quivira Coalition, Santa Fe, New Mexico

“In 24 years of keynotes at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Dan Daggetʼs presentation at the 2008 Gathering was the best weʼve ever had.”                         Waddie Mitchell, cowboy poet and one of the founders of the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.


In Dan Daggetʼs 30-plus years as an environmental activist he has worked with some of the most radical environmental groups and some of the most conservative. Dagget started out fighting coal strip mines in southeastern Ohio, then he moved to Arizona where he worked to designate wilderness, fought to increase protection for mountain lions, and helped initiate a campaign to ban uranium mining in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. His involvement in that latter campaign included helping to organize some of the first direct actions of Earth First!. In 1992 he was designated one of the 100 top grass roots activists in the United States by the Sierra Club.
Since those early radical days, Daggetʼs approach has changed. ”In thirty years of activism,” he says. “the most impressive environmental successes I have encountered have been achieved by private individuals operating according to the principles of conservatism. In each of those cases individual initiative, personal accountability, the free market, and rewards for results were more effective at saving endangered species, healing ecosystems, and restoring natural function than the tools of contemporary liberal environmentalism — regulation and protection.
That realization convinced Dagget of the need for a conservative alternative to liberal environmentalism. “Liberals deal with problems by applying policies–a living wage, affirmative action, universal health-care. Conservatives, on the other hand, work to create a situation in which people can use their creativity and initiative to produce a product for which there is a demand and, therefore, a reward. An environmentalism based on conservative principles would make determining success and allocating reward a matter of achieving results not applying policies.”
Dan Dagget may be contacted regarding presentations at

Dan Dagget Books and Presentations
Dan Daggetʼs newest book — Gardeners of Eden, Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature has been called “the most important environmental manifesto since Aldo Leopoldʼs Land Ethic,”
His first book, Beyond The Rangeland Conflict, Toward a West That Works was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been called one of the classics dealing with environmental issues of the American West..
The content of these books, combined with a speaking style that has been called “as good as public speaking gets,” has made Dagget a speaker in high demand to a diversity of audiences:
▪    • 2012 Society for Range Management, Arizona Section Annual Conference, Tucson
▪    2010 EquiKnox Lecture at Knox College Galesburg, Illinois
▪    2010 Congress on Western Rangelands — concluding keynote
▪    2009 Working Landscapes Seminars at several venues in Northern California
▪    2008 Keynote at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada
▪     2006 Sun Valley Sustainability Conference — keynote
▪    The State of the Rocky Mountain West at Colorado College— keynote
▪    The First National Conference on Grazing Lands— keynote
▪    Bioneers — keynote and workshops
▪    Quivira Coalition Annual Conference — several times
▪    California Rangeland Conservation Association— keynote
▪    California Native Grasslands Coalition— keynote
▪    Society for Range Management, Arizona Section Annual Conference — keynote
▪    PERC * National Woolgrowers Association — keynote
▪    Sierra Nevada Deep Ecology Institute
▪    The Nature Conservancy
▪    Sierra Club
▪    The Colorado Cattlemenʼs Association
▪    The Arizona Cattle Growers * The Garden Clubs of America
▪    People for the West
▪    Universities of Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Boise State, Colorado State. Chico State, CA, University of California, Berkeley, Cal Poly, Humboldt State, Northern Arizona University, Colorado College
▪    Malpai Borderlands Group
▪    The Thatcher School at Ojai, California
▪    and many more.

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