Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.


Catherine Ashcraft

Second Advisor

Keith Peterson


Environmentalism in the United States manifests itself in numerous ways. While American environmentalists have been grouped into broad camps over the years, observers have struggled to accurately classify the different components of the movement. Lately, environmentalists have been characterized based on their chosen modus operandi. Environmentalists who employ typical interest group tactics of policy advocacy and accept the notion of political compromise can generally be called 'mainstream.' Alternatively, those environmentalists who employ non-conventional strategies like direct action and take a no-compromise stance on environmental issues are typically described as 'radical.' Despite these distinctions, both radical and mainstream environmentalists are parts of the broader American environmental movement. Understanding the relationships between these wings becomes integral to any firm understanding of the movement. This study approaches the relationship between mainstream and radical environmentalists by tackling the following question: How do mainstream environmentalists perceive that radical environmentalists affect their level of success? When do they perceive radicals to be helpful in advancing their goals and strategies, and when do they think they interfere? Two case studies were undertaken: the Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign of the 1980's-1990's and the ongoing debate over development in the Maine North Woods. The cases are augmented by 17 elite interviews conducted with representatives of mainstream groups, policy makers, and grassroots environmentalists. The study concludes that mainstream environmentalists perceive that radicals hinder their success when they engage in violent action, but, surprisingly, find non-violent action to be helpful in some instances.


American Environmentalism, Environmental Interest Groups, Interest Group Politics, Environmental Philosophy, Mainstream Environmentalism, Radical Environmentalism