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The Planet
We Like Our Forests Wild

What We Want
Roundup From the Field

by Jenny Coyle

"If we had written this plan," said Debbie Sease, the Sierra Club's legislative director, "we wouldn't be standing here with half a million postcards telling the Forest Service to improve it."

That's what Sease told reporters at a July press conference in Washington, D.C., in response to accusations by wilderness opponents in Congress that the U.S. Forest Service let environmentalists write the agency's wild forest protection plan.

By the July 17 public comment deadline, the environmental community had doubled the number of public comments, generating an estimated 1 million pieces of written comment and inspiring more than 7,500 people to speak up at public hearings.

What's all the excitement about?

In Oct. 1999, President Clinton ordered the Forest Service to propose a way to protect the nation's last roadless areas in national forests. The agency released its draft plan in May and held hearings to gather public input.

Now let's be honest here: A document generated by a government bureaucracy is not what you'd call a sexy piece of work. Yet activists went after it with a passion, telling the Forest Service that while the plan is a good start, it needs to ban logging and other destructive activities from all roadless areas of 1,000 acres or more, and that it must include the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, currently excluded.

Sierra Club members were happy to pick up the pen and step up to the podium.

"People recognized this as a historic opportunity to protect millions of acres of wild forests, which makes it one of the greatest conservation prospects we've had for a generation," said Tanya Tolchin, who directed the response to the roadless plan for the Club's lands team.

Club organizers pulled out the stops to make sure the public was heard at hundreds of public hearings held across the country. They quickly forged coalitions with other groups, set up phone banks, sent mailings and pasted flyers around town. They made baseball caps that said "Protect Our Wild Forests," organized letter-writing parties, rented buses to drive activists to public hearings and made sure the media got the message.

"The organizing efforts exceeded all expectations," said Tolchin. "Thousands of Sierra Club members turned out at the big-city hearings and the pre-hearing rallies and press events. We also won on some of the toughest organizing ground in the country in timber towns from Alaska to Texas."

She said the main opponents of the plan to protect the nation's last wild forests were the timber industry and off-road vehicle enthusiasts, the latter of whom seemed to think - incorrectly - that the roadless initiative was about shutting down roads instead of barring the construction of new ones.

"But we estimate that we outnumbered their comments by three to one," Tolchin said. "Our activists are passionate about saving wild places. Nothing was going to stop them from broadcasting that fact loud and clear."


What We Want

The purpose for the more than 400 informational meetings and public hearings held this summer by the Forest Service was to educate the public about the agency's proposal to protect wild forest roadless areas and officially take comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the plan.

Sierra Club activists delivered a strong, unified message: The plan is a good start, but it should protect all roadless areas of 1,000 acres or more from all destructive activities. And these protections should apply to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which is currently excluded.

Tanya Tolchin of the Club's lands team said the Forest Service is now analyzing all the public input provided over the past several months, and is expected to issue a final environmental impact statement by December.

"The official comment period is over, but the decision is being made right now," said Tolchin. "Now is the time to tell President Clinton and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to make sure the final plan is strengthened to protect all of our national forest roadless areas - including the Tongass - from logging and other destructive activities."

To Take Action: Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Also write to
President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dan Glickman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
200-A Whitten Bldg.
1400 Independence, Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20250


Roundup From the Field

Idaho Falls, Idaho

from Roger Singer: A number of those opposing the proposal were big, strapping, young men who claimed they couldn't get to their favorite place in the forest if they couldn't ride their motorized toy. Ironically, on their way into the auditorium they had to pass a wheelchair-bound senior wearing a couple of the green "Roadless for Healthy Forests" stickers. Several of those testifying in favor of the proposal began their statements by noting that they were 65 or older and quite capable of getting about in the backcountry without motors.

Rapid City, S.D.

from Kirk Koepsel: Of the 100 who spoke, 52 favored protection of roadless areas, two were undecided and 46 were opposed. We could not have accomplished this strong turnout without the help of the Lakota (Sioux) tribes in South Dakota. Charmaine White Face helped organize the reservations in the state and turned out a majority of the wild-forest supporters. People from the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock reservations demanded an end to the exploitation of their sacred Black Hills.

Juneau, Alaska

from Pat Veesart: About 120 people attended the Juneau hearing. The roadless coordinator for the region said this is the largest turnout he has seen in the area on a forestry issue. Six people spoke against the issue, and of the 56 who spoke in favor of wild forests, there were two retired Forest Service biologists, a former Louisiana Pacific logger, a road engineer who spent five years surveying roads on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass, a council member from the Douglas Indian Association, two visiting tourists passing through from Illinois - and two toddlers. From one of the Illinois visitors: "Schoolchildren in Illinois are collecting pennies to save the rainforest in South America while up here in Alaska they are chopping it down."

Concord, N.H.

from Mark Bettinger: The Sierra Student Coalition made a summer project out of drumming up public comments on the roadless plan, boosting turnout at the Concord hearing to 125 people. More than 75 spoke, and it appears we outnumbered them five to one. Most interesting was the fact that fully two-thirds of the speakers were Club members - from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York chapters.

Russellville, Ark.

from Larry Freilich: More than 100 people showed up at Arkansas Technical University in Russellville (miles from nowhere) to give the Forest Service a piece of their mind. From a logging advocate, who was dead serious, "Are we thinking about our long-term interests here? I mean, what would we do without toilet paper?" And from one off-road enthusiast: "Everyone here has been talking about protecting cold, clear water. I don't know where you all live, but I get my water out of a faucet."

Boulder, Colo.

from David Schneider and Julie McGarvey: More than 40 people attended our pre-event press conference and barbecue in front of the Forest Service office. Boulder Mayor Will Toor opened with a strong statement on ending logging in our roadless areas and protecting the Tongass National Forest. Dan Ziskin with Jews of the Earth likened our wild places to the first tablet of Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. The Wilderness Society's Suzanne Jones debunked "forest health" myths and George Andromedas spoke of the spiritual renewal he feels when he is hunting for elk in roadless areas.

Seattle, Wash.

from Jim Young: The breadth of testifiers was impressive - former timber-industry workers, mountain bikers, high school students, single mothers rushing straight over from work, senior citizens, kids, hikers, river-runners, religious leaders, sportsmen, local elected officials, the owner of a llama pack-trip company, a couple of pro-roadless ORV users, and, notably, the quite entertaining singing testimony of Cascade Chapter staffer Roy Goodman (to the tune of Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana" - no really).

Cleveland, Tenn.

from Dean Whitworth: Most supported wild forests. Opponents of the plan gave standard reasons: school subsidies, employment created by logging, the need to maintain roads, the threat of wildfires, and hunting and ORV access, all of which will either be unaffected or only slightly affected by the roadless plan. Then there were the juicier comments, such as, "It's a sin to see those big old trees just fall and go to waste," and, "I'm proud to kill trees... logging has made our country what it is today."

Duluth, Minn.

from Jill Walker: At least one Minnesota activist went the extra mile for roadless areas - or more like the extra 26.2 miles. North Star Chapter member Ken Bradley ran the annual Grandma's Marathon in Duluth a few days before the Forest Service hearing on June 22. Ken's t-shirt said on the back: "Thank You for Protecting Our Forests," and he sported one of our green, embroidered "Protect Our Wild Forests" caps. He went all the way. Now, will the Forest Service?

Gainesville, Fla.

from Joe Murphy: About 350 people were there at the peak of the evening and more than 90 testified for a stronger plan, while only seven testified for no protection of roadless areas! I was quoted in the Independent Florida Alligator saying: "We're not talking about denying people access. This plan does not eliminate human activity in these areas. You can hike in, take a horse in, camp in those areas, you can paddle in, you can do just about anything that doesn't have a motor or doesn't involve a chainsaw or drill."

Milwaukee, Wisc.

from Carl Zichella: We had a family-style hearing with folks like Colleen Vachuska and her son Karl in attendance. Among those in our crowd who stepped up to the microphone were John Becker and Chris Zapf. A local snowmobiler surprised us by supporting the roadless initiative, saying ORVs had not only trespassed on her land, but cut trails across it so they could ride through the stream that runs by her property.

Roanoke, Va.

from Dave Muhly: At our rally in front of the hotel where the hearing was held, we had two activists perform a mini-drama. Brett Wilson played a timber industry official in bed - literally! - with a Forest Service employee played by Mike Kruse. Brett raised his glass of champagne and said, "I propose a toast - to profits and gullible taxpayers!" Others at the rally waved signs, chanted - and testified at the hearing.


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