THE 25TH commemoration of Earth Day finds the organized opposition to the environmental movement in Washington at the peak of its power. The Wise Use movement, a grass-roots property rights coalition, mobilized public support for the environmental provisions of the "Contract With America." But while the anecdotes of regulatory excess and the movement's corporate funders are coming under increasing scrutiny, one fellow traveler in the new anti-environmental movement has thus far escaped scrutiny: Lyndon LaRouche.

For decades LaRouche has been huffing and puffing at the margins of American politics, usually to little effect. But LaRouche now has his first policy victory: the mortal wounding of the biodiversity treaty. Last summer, one of his associates, Rogelio Maduro, successfully influenced some members and leaders of the Wise Use movement to block the treaty, an international agreement with wide bipartisan support that would help protect and enhance the world's biological resources. Maduro's effectiveness is a cautionary tale for Earth Day optimists, reflecting the power of organized ignorance in contemporary Washington.

The biodiversity treaty was one of three treaties that won widespread support at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero. Since then, 73 nations have signed it. As of last June, U.S. ratification of the treaty was considered a near certainty. After a diverse coalition of business and green groups lined up behind it, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty by a 16-3 vote. Today, the biodiversity treaty is virtually dead, killed not least by Maduro's knack for fear-mongering rhetoric and for making alliances with apparently gullible private property rights advocates.

Maduro, active in LaRouche's political movement since the late 1970s, is a Panamanian-born writer perhaps best known as the co-author of "The Holes in the Ozone Scare." His book, an attack on the theory of global warming, has been touted by Rush Limbaugh. It was published by 21st Century Science Associates, a LaRouche organization. Maduro is also an associate editor of 21st Century Science and Technology, a nominally independent publication edited by the same people who produced Fusion, LaRouche's now-defunct science magazine.

LaRouche, who operates out of headquarters in Leesburg, espouses a bizarre political philosophy that combines a high-tech faith in Star Wars and nuclear power with a raging paranoia about Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, the environmental movement and the queen of England (who LaRouche says is complicit in drug trafficking. But the perfidy of Buckingham Palace wasn't on Maduro's mind when he approached Tom McDonnell of the American Sheep Industry Association in Denver last year. Instead Maduro issued a dire warning: The Senate was about to approve a treaty that would turn the United States over to the United Nations, which would dictate its environmental, social and moral standards. The biodiversity treaty, Maduro later wrote, "effectively mandates signatory nations to turn nature worship into their state religion -- in direct opposition to the Judeo-Christian outlook of the American Founding Fathers, that man is created in the image and likeness of God."

This was a novel interpretation as far as treaty-watchers were concerned. But it was also entirely consistent with the views of LaR\ouche, who's been warning for years that environmentalists are out to kill off a significant portion of the world's population in the name of protecting plants and animals. McDonnell says that he did not know that Maduro was a LaRouche sympathizer.

McDonnell -- who had been following biodiversity issues for years -- began contacting leaders of other groups in the Wise Use coalition. Wise Use partisans generally oppose environmental regulations and favor relaxed controls on land use. McDonnell urged them to start urging their congressmen to reject the treaty, and many did.

"There are strong concerns concerning the affect {sic} of this treaty on our national sovereignty as well as our unalienable {sic} constitutionally protected rights," Ruth Kaiser of the Utah-based National Federal Lands Conference wrote in a July letter to Sen. John Chafee, echoing Maduro's warnings. Kaiser says she wrote the letter after being contacted by McDonnell.

That same month, the Alliance for America, a group based in Caroga Lake, N.Y., that is associated with the Wise Use movement, sent out a letter to its members urging them to oppose the treaty. The letter lifts language verbatim from Maduro's report.

Later in July, Maduro was invited to talk about the treaty at a national conference of Wise Use groups in Reno, Nev.

"Protection is not the objective" of the biodiversity treaty, Maduro warned, according to a Greenpeace researcher who attended the conference. "Power and control is the objective. The treaty shifts the power to the U.N. We cannot allow this. If it passes, we are really in trouble. We will be governed by New York City and the United Nations. Get a fax alert going."

Maduro disputes the accuracy of the Greenpeace account but did not respond to requests for comment about what he told the conference.

The Wise Use rank and file mobilized. In July congressmen reported being deluged with calls and faxes from irate constituents, demanding that the treaty be killed. Many of the messages repeated fact-lite soundbites from Maduro.

Some Maduro assertions that gained currency include his claim that "extremists cannot name a single species that has gone extinct in the past several years."

In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared 21 of the 728 species on its endangered species list extinct since 1982, including the Tecopa pupfish, the blue pike and the Santa Barbara song sparrow.

Maduro also claimed that "drug cultivation is the leading cause of tropical forest deforestation."

Wrong again. In 1994 the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters estimated that 560,000 hectares are used for the cultivation of illegal drugs. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that tropical rain forest losses averaged about 15 million hectares per year during the 1980s. Thus, even if all growers of illegal drugs cultivated entirely new land every year, they would account for only about 3 percent of the loss of tropical rain forests.

Leaps of logic are another Maduro specialty. The treaty calls on, but does not require, developed countries to provide undeveloped countries with resources to be used to protect biodiversity and genetic materials. Maduro interpreted this to mean the treaty "offers developing countries an equitable distribution of wealth" and "requires that the productive apparatus of developed countries be torn down in order to offer developing nations opportunities to sell their products in those formerly productive countries. The entire U.S. economy will be placed in jeopardy should this treaty be signed."

Somehow these alleged dangers were missed by executives from pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. and agribusiness conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland. Their companies were just two of the many that publicly endorsed the biodiversity treaty.

Nevertheless, Maduro's efforts appear to have had a powerful impact. Not only did local Wise Use groups deluge Congress with protests, some of the larger trade associations loosely affiliated with the Wise Use network felt obliged to go along. Leaders of the National Cattlemen's Association and the American Farm Bureau, for example, had never much liked the biodiversity treaty but hadn't actively opposed it -- until the phone calls and faxes started in July.

Then Republican senators fell in line. On Aug. 4, the Senate Republican Policy Committee -- which had been silent on the treaty -- circulated an "issue alert" advising its members of some problems with the treaty. The authors of the alert relied in part on comments made by the three Republican Foreign Relations Committee members who had voted against the treaty in June.

But they also raised arguments made first by Maduro. For example, none of the three Republican senators who voted against the treaty in committee raised questions about whether it would undermine U.S. sovereignty. That became an issue in the Senate only after Maduro suggested to the Wise Use conference that it be used as an argument against the treaty.

The next day, Aug. 5, Farm Bureau leaders called on senators to delay treaty ratification until some of their questions were answered. At the same time, then-Senate minority leader Bob Dole circulated a letter raising questions about the treaty. It was signed by 35 senators, more than the one-third of the Senate needed to block ratification.

The Clinton administration responded with a five-page memorandum of record signed by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, answering the questions and concerns of critics.

That satisfied the Farm Bureau, at least temporarily. On Aug. 19, it withdrew its request for a delay in the treaty, only to reconsider after it was inundated with angry calls and faxes from people, again making the arguments articulated by Maduro.

"The treaty was being maligned by people who hadn't even read it," recalls John Doggett, the Farm Bureau's director of governmental affairs. "They were full of misinformation."

But the bureau's leaders were reluctant to come out in favor of the treaty not knowing for sure how many of its members were opposed. So in the end they equivocated, telling senators they wanted them to oppose it unless five conditions were met, including an assurance that the treaty wouldn't violate private property rights, one of the main tenets of the Wise Use movement. The Cattlemen's Association officials wrote a similar letter. It's impossible, of course, to track every bit of information reaching every U.S. senator. But a review of the chronology of events shows that most Senate Republicans did not express any opposition to the treaty until after the campaign Maduro initiated.

Maduro's campaign was "the key to triggering the masses," the Farm Bureau's Doggett says. "It touched a nerve with a lot of people."

James Cubie, former chief counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee, says that the faxes and letters generated by Maduro "had a serious effect, slowing the treaty down and eventually stopping it."

Maduro has taken credit in print. In the Executive Intelligence Review, a LaRouche publication, he described the paper that he wrote for the Sheep Industry Association as "an important factor" in blocking the treaty.

Dan Barry, director of Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research, a green think tank in Washington, agrees.

"Maduro's participation was central to fomenting opposition and was the major element in defeating the treaty," he says.

That doesn't mean that opponents of the treaties are LaRouche sympathizers, merely that they unwittingly joined forces with one. Ron Arnold, one of founders of the Wise Use movement, says he didn't know that Maduro was going to speak at the Wise Use conference in Reno last summer. Supporters of LaR\ouche are not welcome at future Wise Use conventions, he says.

For their part, LaRouche's associates are savoring their victory.

"We're happy to take credit for defeating a treaty that would give all species equal rights," wrote Marjorie Hecht in the winter issue of 21st Century Science and Technology. "We are increasing the frequency of the magazine \. \. \. so that we can win more such victories on behalf of the world's population." Ryan Ross is a correspondent for the Natural Resources News Service.