Club Activists Pack Hearings, Demand Stronger Protections
by Jenny Coyle
"Roadless. Mindless. Clueless."
That was the message on buttons worn by friends of the timber industry at
a North Carolina hearing on the Clinton administration's proposed wild forest protection
plan in June.
But the buttons were overpowered by the sea of green Sierra Club hats that
bore the message "Protect Our Wild Forests" and by the overwhelming demand for
conservation from most of the people in the room.
"The Forest Service could not have helped but see the public outcry
for protection of our wild forests," said Club organizer Peter Baker from Asheville,
N.C. Among those who spoke was forest activist Dean Whitworth, who dressed as Teddy
Roosevelt. The local newspaper ran his photo on the front page.
The hearing in Asheville was one of about 300 the U.S. Forest Service is
holding around the country this summer to explain the proposal and take official comments.
In October 1999, President Clinton ordered the agency to develop a plan to protect as many
as 60 million acres of national forest lands that are roadless.
The draft plan, released in May, calls for a ban on roadbuilding in
roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more. But it does not call for an outright ban on logging
in these areas - helicopters can do the job without roads.
"It also fails to ban other destructive uses in these last wild
areas, like off-road vehicle use, mining and oil and gas drilling," said Tanya
Tolchin, associate representative for the Wildlands Campaign. "To top it off, the
plan does not protect the Tongass National Forest in Alaska."
But the plan can be fixed. "The president had a bold vision, and
while the Forest Service proposal falls short in its recommendations, it does include
options that call for stronger protections," said Tolchin. "That's why it's so
important for people to weigh in with their written comments and speak up at Forest
Service hearings on the plan. We want to protect all roadless areas of 1,000 acres or more
from all destructive activities."
Across the country, Sierra Club organizers are working to get the public
to do just that.
Even thousands of miles from southeast Alaska, the Club is making a big
deal about the Tongass. Joe Murphy, conservation organizer in Florida, said that at an
informational meeting in Gainesville, "Forest Service staffers expressed surprise
that so many people asked about the Tongass."
If crowds of supporters were the only factor, the Club would have it in
the bag. At a meeting in Olympia, Wash., the moderator asked 220 people in the room how
many of them favored alternative 4, the no-logging alternative. "About 95 percent of
them raised their hands," said Karen Fant, Northwest field organizer.
Jill Walker, conservation organizer for the North Star (Minnesota)
Chapter, is working on upping the numbers in her state. "I'm in manic mode right now,
an organizing whirlwind," she said. "We've done mailings, held a meeting to
explain the plan, recruited more volunteers and will arrange for a bus to get people to
the hearings. We'll be there with our green hats, stickers and postcards."
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