If an expansive clearcut with a few standing dead trees can be deemed a "wildlife clearing" by the U.S. Forest Service, then perhaps the agency would also call the parking lot at a shopping mall "a world-class symphony hall."
But "wildlife clearing" is what the sign said in front of a 40-acre logging site in Virginia's George Washington National Forest where Dave Muhly, a forest organizer in the Sierra Club's Southern Appalachian Highlands Ecosystem, took a couple dozen people who wanted to see what a clearcut looked like.
Thinking along the lines of sprawl activists who host "Tours de Sprawl," and hog-and-chicken factory activists who guide "Tours de Manure," Muhly billed this outing as a "Tour de Cut."
"I explained how the Forest Service logs, how it gets away with these massive cuts, what the timber sale program means to taxpayers," he says. "It may prove to be a highly effective way to recruit activists, too. Folks identify with an issue when they get close to it, and you can't get close to a clearcut by sitting in someone's living room talking about it."
Muhly's November tour came near the end of what was a busy and successful year for the ECL campaign.
The 2001 call to action came in early April when 70 volunteers from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., for National Forest Protection Week, during which they were trained how to design and lead an ECL program at the local level. Then they descended on Capitol Hill and made a total of 225 visits to senators and representatives.
Their hard work paid off when H.R. 1494, the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, was reintroduced with a record 73 original co-sponsors. Since then, the list of co-sponsors has climbed to 105 -- setting another record for the campaign. Rep Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), who introduced the bill with Rep Jim Leach (R-Iowa), paid a visit to volunteers at the gathering to meet, greet and pose for pictures.
The Sierra Student Coalition got in on the action when it held a Public Lands Summit in February that drew 150 youth who learned about public-lands protection and lobbied decision-makers.
Still more forest activists gathered for a training in north Georgia in September. Many of those who received training went on to organize a fall outreach event -- a rally in Atlanta: Della Ross worked with the media and arranged for Winterhawk Johnson to play music and speak at the rally, Debi Waterman designed T-shirts, Carol Berger organized phonebank support and Natalie Killeen and John Walsh worked on rally logistics. Two other trainees -- Mark Alexander and Mike Kenton of the Metro Atlanta Group - helped plan and present an ECL program at a group meeting.
"The support and enthusiasm of these volunteers builds incredible momentum for the campaign in this region," says Muhly, who works with the activists.
Meanwhile, 54 volunteers from Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Mississippi gathered for a training in Arkansas in September and swapped strategies -- and enjoyed an evening bonfire and banjo picking on the lawn of Fayetteville mayor Dan Coody. (ECL organizer Randy Zurcher, a member of the Fayetteville City Council, pulled that one off.) According to Texas ECL organizer Ayelet Hines, the weekend program also included "campaign history, a crash course in Forest Service fuzzy math, media training and a moving testimonial by Sierra Club board member Chad Hanson."
Coming at the issue from yet another angle, the ECL campaign released a report on forests and fire management called "Forest Fires: Beyond the Heat and Hype." And in Utah, college student Jim Steitz worked with ECL campaign director Sean Cosgrove and other staff members to organize comments in favor of the proposed ECL alternative in the Wasatch Cache National Forest Plan revision.
"About 3,000 sent in comments," says Cosgrove, "and the Forest Service was expecting only 1,000. I'd say they have a good feel for what the public wants." The decision is pending.
New Year's Resolution: Cosgrove notes that in the year 2000, more than 2.5 billion board feet of timber was logged from national forests. "We resolve to keep that figure below 1.5 billion board feet in 2002 -- for the first time since the late 1920s," he says.
Sideline: "Folks identify with an issue when they get close to it, and you can't get close to a clearcut sitting in someone's living room talking about it." --Dave Muhly