Earth First!

Earth First! (EF!) is a network of environmental activists, living mostly in the United States, committed to preserving wilderness and biological abundance.

Earth First Journal logo. (Courtesy of Earth First Journal. Reproduced by permission.)
Earth First Journal logo.
(Courtesy of Earth First Journal. Reproduced by permission.)
It was founded in 1980 by Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, and a number of other environmentalists who were disillusioned with so-called mainstream environmentalism. Foreman and the others previously worked with Washington, D.C.–based environmental groups. According to EF! founders, however, these organizations were always willing to compromise their ultimate goals to be active players in the policy process. The founders of EF! sought to provide principles and a loose organizational structure for people who were no longer willing to compromise in their efforts to protect nature. The group's motto is "No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth!"

EF! is unique within the environmental movement for its philosophical orientation, political strategies, and organizational structure. EF! expounds the principles of deep ecology. At the heart of this view is the belief that all living things have intrinsic value, and thus one should protect the environment for the well-being of all creatures, not simply human beings. Put differently, deep ecology espouses a biocentric (life-centered) rather than an anthropocentric (human-centered) orientation.

A defining feature of EF! since its inception has been the commitment of many of its members to direct action and civil disobedience as ways to halt and call attention to environmentally harmful practices. Earth First! activists have occupied trees, blockaded roads, sabotaged bulldozers, and pulled up survey stakes to halt logging and mining in forests. Additionally, they have chained themselves to earthmoving equipment, cut down billboards, and otherwise harassed developers in attempts to stop specific instances of environmental destruction. These actions, often called "eco-tage" or "monkeywrenching," aim to disrupt forces of environmental harm in an immediate and dramatic manner. In its largest circulating publication, Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal, Earth First! activists continually debate the merits of direct action with those who argue for symbolic forms of protest. This debate became extremely heated in the early 1990s when the popular Earth First! tactic of tree-spiking—driving nails into trees to damage logging equipment—came under fire after a saw operator was badly injured by a spike. Many renounced tree-spiking as a tactic, although monkeywrenching remains a signature tactic of EF! In addition to these more militant actions, Earth First! activists undertake ecological studies, debate environmental principles, sue corporations and agencies, and work to educate the public about threats to biological diversity and other environmental problems.

EF! describes itself as a movement rather than an organization. It shuns the corporate organizational structure of mainstream environmental groups, and thus has no hierarchical pattern of leadership. Rather, EF! consists of autonomous but cooperating elements through which people share information and coordinate action on various campaigns and projects. These campaigns include efforts to stop mining, grazing, and logging on public lands, and to end the discharge of pollution into coastal wild lands.

EF!'s achievements are matters of debate. Their direct actions have certainly raised business costs for developers, loggers, miners, and ranchers; its banner has enabled previously detached environmentalists to find comrades and likeminded supporters; its philosophical orientation has motivated many to become more radical in their commitment to environmental protection; and its mere existence has allowed more mainstream groups to appear more reasonable to legislators. At the same time, EF! has alienated some of the more mainstream environmental groups, and has inspired backlash from antienvironmental forces.



Manes, Christopher. (1990). Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. Boston: Little Brown and Company.

Davis, John, ed. (1991). The Earth First! Reader: Ten Years of Radical Environmentalism. Salt Lake City, UT: Peregrine Smith Books.

Wall, Derek. (1999). Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement. New York: Routledge.

Internet Resource

Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal. Available from .

Paul Wapner

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