A pile of timber.

Leader of anti-conservation group speaks at timber conference sponsored by UW-Madison center

Keynote speaker at Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association conference alleged that conservation is a tool for the federal government to disenfranchise property owners.

Margaret Byfield, executive director of American Stewards of Liberty (ASL), a right-wing anti-conservation organization, delivered the keynote at this year’s Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA) Spring Celebration. The Wisconsin Examiner reported that Byfield’s speech centered around ASL’s beliefs that land conservation is about control, not conservation; that sustainable land management is not about protecting resources but eliminating industries from rural communities; that the Biden administration’s 30×30 initiative to increase the amount of protected land and water across the U.S. is an international conspiracy to prevent any human use of the land; and that there is no climate crisis.

“We are constantly having to push back against this sort of lies and misinformation and mischaracterizations of conservation work,” said Charles Carlin, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Gathering Waters, noting ASL’s intentional agenda of trying to confuse people by perpetuating the narrative that conservation efforts are a global conspiracy.

“We have to dig out of this hole of just establishing some basic facts about what we’re doing before we can even have a meaningful conversation about the merits of the project or real concerns that folks would have,” he added.

Carlin also expressed alarm that GLTPA would welcome Byfield’s narrative, especially her climate denialism and mischaracterization about sustainable land management since the timber industry is especially dependent on a healthy environment in northern Wisconsin.

“It baffles my mind that a timber professionals organization that relies on healthy, strong forests would give a platform to a climate denier,” said Carlin.

UW-Madison’s Kemp Natural Resources Station was billed as an event sponsor. “UW-Madison hosts speakers in a viewpoint neutral manner and highlights speakers with a variety of viewpoints to promote discussions on a range of topics,” said Kelly Tyrell, a spokesperson for the university in a statement.

“The speakers have covered a variety of topics in the past 10 years, including carbon credits and trends in the forestry business,” she said, also noting that GLTPA’s conference speaker is selected by a committee.

In an email, Henry Schienebeck, executive director of the GLTPA, said that he wouldn’t comment on Byfield’s speech and that GLTAPA’s members are committed to managing Wisconsin’s forests sustainably. GLTPA is a non-profit that represents the interests of the Wisconsin and Michigan forest products industry.

Featured image by Tim Abbott, 2009.

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