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Sierra Magazine
Lay of the Land

Roadless Warrior | Turtles and Teamsters | Salvation for the Dammed | Shell Game

Bill Clinton, Roadless Warrior

Order could halt logging on 60 million acres of public land

As a boy, said a cowboy-booted Bill Clinton last October, "I learned by walking the Ozark and Ouachita national forests of my home state that national forests are more than a source of timber; they are places of renewal of the human spirit and our natural environment." The setting was the Reddish Knob Overlook in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, but the speech's impact will be felt throughout the Lower 48—and possibly beyond.

Whether Clinton was thinking more of his Arkansas childhood or his presidential legacy, conservationists were downright jubilant over the sweeping national-forest initiative he announced that day. The proposed executive order—an extension of an 18-month roadbuilding moratorium already in place on 33 million acres of national forest—would permanently put at least 40 million acres of federal woodlands off-limits to roadbuilding, logging, and mining, and could ultimately extend protection to as many as 60 million acres. (The system's 380,000 miles of existing roads, besides making it possible to log in once-remote areas, are in need of over $8 billion worth of maintenance and repair.) Federal officials hope to have the measure in place by the time the temporary ban expires this fall.

Clinton called the proposal "one of the largest land-preservation efforts in America's history to protect these priceless backcountry lands." In the 36 years since the Wilderness Act passed, Congress has designated only 34 million acres of America's national forests as wilderness, a status that offers similar protections to Clinton's initiative. Although a few conservationists voiced skepticism that the new proposal would be realized, many more were rallying to capitalize on what they viewed as an extraordinary opportunity to halt commercial logging in America's dwindling roadless areas. "The president has set the stage for making real conservation history," said Melanie Griffin, director of the Sierra Club's land program.

Most of the targeted lands are roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more. Whether to include Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which is exempt from the temporary ban, and roadless areas under 5,000 acres—essentially all of those east of the Mississippi—has yet to be decided.

While a number of small U.S. Forest Service "listening sessions" produced some vocal opposition, thousands of forest activists and interested citizens turned out in force at a round of large public hearings held by the agency in November and December. Many urged an end to logging, mining, and other destructive activities in all roadless areas, including those in the 17-million-acre Tongass. Steve Marshall, a Forest Service staffer assigned to the project, estimates that the agency received "well over 500,000" messages on the initiative.

Pro-timber legislators wasted no time in attacking the plan, which, as an executive order, does not need congressional approval. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) accused Clinton of "acting outside the law," while Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed to rescind the order if elected president. The Club's Griffin warned that timber allies are likely to try to block the initiative by saddling critical legislation with riders to reverse it or by withholding Forest Service appropriations. That's why, though the formal public-comment period has ended, messages to Congress are still crucial.

"For a century, the Forest Service built roads to give industry access to our forests," said Debbie Sease, the Sierra Club's legislative director. "Now it's time to stop building roads to ensure there's a forest left for the rest of us to enjoy."

By B. J. Bergman

To take action: Call your U.S. senators and representative via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or write them care of U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510 or U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515. Let them know you want remaining roadless areas of 1,000 acres or more—including those in the Tongass—protected permanently. For more information, contact Tanya Tolchin at (202) 547-1141 or tanya.tolchin@sierraclub.org.


Turtles and Teamsters

In the past, environmentalists and union members have often been at odds, with some unions seeing environmental laws as a threat to jobs, and some conservationists blaming workers for their bosses' policies.

But that was then. Consider now the scene on the streets of Seattle on the first day of last year's World Trade Organization meeting: On the one hand, environmentalists dressed as sea turtles protested the WTO-mandated weakening of laws protecting the creatures; on the other, Teamsters protested the WTO's tolerance of member countries that refuse to allow workers to organize.

A spontaneous chant arose from the turtles: "Turtles love Teamsters!" The truck drivers responded: "Teamsters love turtles!" Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
By Paul Rauber


Salvation for the Dammed

Slowly, life returns to once-choked rivers and streams Striped bass, alewife, herring—they're all here. They've all come back," says Maine paddler Steve Brooke. All it took was removing the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River.

Since 1912, 465 dams across the country have been taken down, mostly because of safety concerns. Last summer, however, Edwards made history as the first dam to be demolished over the objections of its owner because of the environmental harm it caused.

Brooke once led the Kennebec Coalition, the group that spearheaded the fight against the dam. He can now point to the benefits of a free-flowing river. Its banks, muddy and exposed immediately after the dam was taken out, are now thickly covered with grasses. Osprey, eagles, and other wildlife have returned to the water's edge. But what really excites him are the fish.

"I am constantly impressed by the variety of habitat that the Edwards Dam removal has re-created for sea-run fish," says Brooke. "Paddling over the six sets of rapids created by the dam removal, you think of the blueback herring that spawn in fast whitewater. The fast-flowing deeper sections of water are waiting for the spring run of American shad, and the holes look like ideal habitat for the Atlantic and short-nosed sturgeon." Atlantic salmon, nonexistent upstream of the dam last year, have recently been spotted by anglers.

West Coast salmon are also benefiting from dam dismantling. In Butte Creek in California's Central Valley, only 14 spawning spring-run chinooks returned to the creek in 1987. But in 1998, after four small dams were taken out, restoring 25 miles of free-flowing river, the spring chinook run rose to a record 20,000.

While these streams are improving, it will likely be several years before the full environmental and recreation-based economic benefits are realized. If there is a lesson to be learned from Edwards and the other dams that have been pulled down in recent years, it is that restoration—and public acceptance of dam destruction—takes time.

For example, Bill Griffith, city administrator for Sandstone, Minnesota, isn't ready to call the 1995 removal of the Sandstone Dam from the Kettle River a success. After the dam's destruction, he says, fishing "went to hell" because the sand that had piled up behind the dam was washed downstream, where it filled in the riverine depressions, or "kettles," in which the fish spawn. "What we need is a big rain—a good flood to flush the river out," Griffith says. Once that happens, he believes, spawning areas for walleye, northern pike, and lake sturgeon will be re-established.

The Sandstone Dam, a dilapidated, inactive hydropower facility, posed a safety hazard to anglers and paddlers. Refurbishing it would have cost a million dollars. Taking it down cost a fifth as much, and revealed a set of notable rapids, ideal for whitewater kayaking. "Where there was once a dam, you now have a waterfall," says Griffith.

Biologist Michael Hill is cautiously optimistic about the recovery of Florida's Chipola River. In 1987, the local community voted to take down Dead Lakes Dam. Instead of a stagnant pool, he says, "the water levels are allowed to rise and fall naturally now, so water quality is far better than it was with the dam." Today, 61 species of fish are found in the Chipola, as compared with only 34 prior to the dam removal. But like Griffith, Hill believes it will take several years and "some major local storms" to flush out the muck that had built up behind the dam and bring the river back to full health.

In Wisconsin, many locals worried that jackhammering the defunct Waterworks Dam out of the Baraboo River in 1997 and draining the dam's mill pond would leave an unsightly, smelly mess. "You've still got the pro-dam people who say it was a bad idea, that the mudflats stink, that we lost a piece of our heritage when the dam went," says Gene Dalhoff of the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce. But, he adds, some people are changing their minds as they discover new fishing and paddling opportunities.

Two more dams are scheduled to come out of the Baraboo in the next three years. Once this happens, the Baraboo will be the longest main-stem stretch of river restored through dam removal in the United States.
by Amy Souers


Shell Game

The chutzpah of corporate image-makers can be stunning. Take Shell Oil's recent ad: The Shell logo is superimposed over the face of an African woman; above her the copy asks, "None of our business? Or the heart of our business?" The ad tells us that human rights aren't the "usual business priority" for a multinational, but Shell is "committed to support fundamental human rights." Meanwhile, in oil-rich Nigeria, where Shell and other oil companies have substantial investments, unrest over land and oil rights in the Niger Delta has expanded. Four years after the November 1995 execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigeria's environment minister accused Shell and other multinationals of "heinous environmental crimes" and alleged that their activities ultimately caused Saro-Wiwa's death.


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