Along with animals, Foreman loved the New Mexico wilderness. His father was a member of the military, so the family moved around a great deal, but every Christmas they would return to Albuquerque. "Being able to see the Sandia Mountains, it is sort of this beacon of wilderness. I just loved the mountain and looking at it," Foreman recalls. While his surroundings and friends changed from year to year, the New Mexico wilderness was a constant, an annual dose of stability.
His affinity with the Southwest drew him to the works of Ernest Thompson Seton, a trapper, naturalist and illustrator. It was while reading one of Seton's books that Foreman came to a sudden realization. "When my family moved to New Mexico at the turn of the century there were wolves in Mexico, and when I was born in 1946 they were gone," Seton says. He felt as though he had been cheated out of something and recalls being struck by "a sense of loss."
Years later, after stints working for more mainstream environmental organizations, Foreman co-founded Earth First! His experiences as an activist had thus far been frustrating and disheartening. Compromise was considered a necessary step for success, but after each small victory, the large-scale logging and resource-extraction carried on as always. "You thought well, we can't get more than that," says Foreman. "But with Earth First! We said screw that, we're going to ask for what we really want."
Initially the founders liked to refer to themselves as "Rednecks for Wilderness," a slogan that was quickly picked up by the media and caught the attention of many young people, including Irwin. It was a different breed of environmentalism, one focused on revelry and humor rather than elitist self-righteousness.
Indeed, the group's first successful action of the group had comedy at its core.
On March 21, 1981, a clear crisp early spring day, five people, struggling under the weight of a carefully rolled heap of black plastic, stumbled to the center of the Glen Canyon Dam and cast one side over the edge. The sheet was so long that it nearly reached the bottom of the dam, taking more than 20 seconds to unfurl. From a distance, the gray concrete of the dam now appeared to be "cracked" down the middle by a tapering width of black. The image would become an icon of the radical environmental movement.
But while the tactics of the organization were at first humorous, the group grabbed national attention through a type of industrial sabotage known as monkeywrenching . The term is a reference to The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey's 1975 book about radical environmentalists in the Southwest.
By the time 1985 rolled around, Earth First! had gained notoriety for pouring sand into the crank cases of bulldozers, spiking trees with nails to ward off loggers, and pulling survey stakes to prevent road building. Adding to the discussion was Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, a 1985 book, edited by Foreman, that detailed various techniques and encouraged their use.