Earth First! is a radical environmental movement, founded in 1979. Like many movements, Earth First! has been through a number of mutations since its initial founding, moving from a group of deeply committed fringe activists to a more mainstream collective which also includes extremely radical members. Many members take an ecocentric view based in deep ecology, arguing that all living organisms are inherently valuable. Members work to defend the environment in a wide range of ways, from permitted marches to monkeywrenching.
Allegedly, the organization was founded in a van traveling the American Southwest in 1979. Dave Forman, Mike Roselle, Bart Koehler, Howie Wolke, and Ron Kezar were frustrated by the direction of the environmental movement, and they decided that it was time to take aggressive and decisive action, inspired by authors like Edward Abbey and Rachel Carson. The men agreed on “no compromise in defense of Mother Earth,” and the tagline "Earth First!" came into being. The first logo for the organization featured a crossed wrench and mallet, indicating the organization's commitment to ecotage, sabotage undertaken in defense of the environment.
In the early years, members undertook an assortment of publicity stunts, proposed new methods of land management, and engaged in mild ecotage. In the mid-1980s, the organization began to promote tree sitting as an effective method of civil disobedience. By the late 1980s, however, the organization had taken on a distinctly violent bent, which was an issue of concern for many early members, who later disassociated themselves from the group. Organizers began to promote a more anarchist method of organization, with a number of regional cells and no central leadership.
Within Earth First!, there was a great deal of debate about the direction of the organization. Events like Redwood Summer promoted more dialog, ultimately creating the Earth First! of today. Individual cells attempt to defend the environment through legal means such as appeals to timber harvest plans and marches, and through civil disobedience such as tree sitting and ecotage. Many cells promote more measured and thoughtful action, counseling legal recourse before civil disobedience. Members who felt that the movement wasn't doing enough split off to form the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), while the movement attracted more moderates who were concerned about saving the earth.
Earth First! terms itself a movement, rather than an organization, arguing that anyone who cares about the environment can be considered a member. Numerous other nations have their own ecological movements, with members who vary from radical extremists to moderate members of the community.