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The Planet

March 1998, Volume 5, Number 2
 Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Forest Service? 


by Sarah Fallon

    The Pig Trail is safe. Not for porcine traffic, but for the loyal University of
    Arkansas fans who drive down scenic Highway 23 on their way to the
    institution,  whose mascot is a razorback.  In 1989, the U.S. Forest Service
    designated the highway as the Pig Trail National Forest Scenic Byway.  In 1997,
    the same organization announced plans to log the surrounding forest along the
    highway.

    "When we went to examine the site," said Tom McKinney, Arkansas Chapter
    conservation coordinator, "we found that one of the proposed roads would
    crisscross over Mountain Creek and severely degrade the stream. We also found
    that two of the roads slated for 'maintenance' did not exist at all."
    McKinney, along with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney Steve Volker,
    watershed science expert Bob Curry and forest specialist Bill Ferrell, asked the
    Forest Service to drop the project.

    The foursome objected to three specific roads on the grounds that the Forest
    Service had misrepresented their planned activities  -- - they'd said that
    existing roads would be maintained instead of saying that new roads would be
    created  --  in order to be able to skew soil-erosion figures.

    In response, the Forest Service dropped two of the roads from the project, and
    corrected the description of what they were planning for the third road, the
    one parallel to the Pig Trail. The Forest Service refused, however, to
    completely drop the project.

    Incensed, the Ozark Headwaters Group launched a public education program
    that linked the Pig Trail to the national forest campaign. They also relied
    heavily on the dedication of the University of Arkansas Sierra Student Coalition.
    The students dove into the fray on a foggy Saturday morning in October and
    held placards along the Pig Trail demanding that the Forest Service not log it.
    The signs were seen by hundreds of drivers over a period of only a few hours.
    They also set up a table at a turnoff and 20 people stopped at their table to
    hear their message.

    The following Wednesday, McKinney made "Logging the Pig Trail" the title of his
    weekly environmental column for the  Northwest Arkansas Times, the fourth
    largest paper in the state.  Soon after, he crashed a Forest Service press event
    and persuaded the reporters present to cover the Club's objections.  At this
    point, a few  people called their congressional delegation.

    A few weeks later, the campaign really picked up steam  --  and more than a
    few supporters  --  at the final University of Arkansas football game of the year.
    SSC students  --  Ben Bowen, Brook Lyens, Mike Anderson, Samantha Wilson,
    Lori Johnson, Laura Clift, Holly Ferguson, Mandy Hubbard, Andy Burns, and
    Jason Johnson  --  squeezed  through the crowd and collected 700 signatures on
    postcards opposing logging along the Pig Trail and the destruction of old-growth
    forests.

    A few days later, Anderson presented the signed postcards to Rep. Asa
    Hutchinson (R-Ark.) at the Highlands Trail access point just off the Pig Trail.
    Hutchinson was attending an informational meeting being held for him and the
    press by the Ozark National Forest. During the meeting, SSC members were up
    on the road holding up "Don't Log the Pig Trail" signs and getting noisy reactions
    from citizens who had heard about the project and didn't want it to go through.
    Said McKinney: "When the district ranger was trying to explain why the project
    was good for the forest, the cars and a few tractor-trailer rigs up on the road
    were letting loose with their honks and air-horn blasts in defense of the Pig
    Trail."

    The local papers started running letters and editorials about the project, most
    of them opposing the cut.  On Dec. 5, the Northwest Arkansas Times ran Sen.
    Dale Bumpers' (D) declaration across the front page: "I don't want it cut."
    The Forest Service couldn't take the pressure and the public scrutiny.  Lynn
    Neff, Ozark National Forest supervisor, announced, "We were shocked by the
    intensity of the debate on this issue."  But as McKinney counters, "What really
    shocked him was that people were paying attention to what the Forest Service
    was doing." On Dec. 11, Ozark National Forest officials withdrew the project.
    "The response to the project's withdrawal has been overwhelming," says
    McKinney. "We have been getting messages of congratulations and thank-yous
    from all over the state. This is only one small result of our EPEC program in
    Arkansas  --  small but highly visible."
     
     


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