by B. J. Bergman
Congress' War on the Environment, public lands division, took to the
road is summer. Thanks largely to the organizing efforts of Sierra Club
volunteers and staff, the tour was a bust.
We're on the front line of defending the idea of wilderness and national
parks," said Minnesotan Ginny Yingling, who was instrumental not only in
rallying Midwesterners to the cause, but in arranging their transportation
to a spirited hearing in remote International Falls, near the Canadian
border. To Yingling, chair of the North Star Chapter's public lands committee,
and other Club leaders, congressional hearings in Minnesota and Utah were
intended as reconnaissance missions for anti-environmentalists.
'These are test cases," said Lawson LeGate, the Club's regional representative
in Utah. "They're the first steps in destroying the integrity of our national
park and wilderness systems."
But if anti-environmentalists weren't quite stopped in their tracks,
their momentum was slowed down considerably. From International Falls to
Salt Lake City, members of Congress--who may have believed they had a mandate
to sell off parks and seen wildlands to development--discovered that U.S.
citizens not only want their wilderness, but are willing to fight save
it. They also learned, to their dismay, that Americans have gotten wise
to the true meaning of "wise use."
Spearheaded by Rep. James Hansen (R-Utah), Congress' campaign against
public lands began in earnest on two major fronts. In Minnesota, Hansen
was in attendance at a field healing on efforts to open Voyageurs National
Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to intensive recreation
and development [see alert, July/August 
Planet]. In Utah, he conducted hearings on a so-called wilderness bill--a
collaboration between his state's congressional delegation and its development
interests--that conservationists have dubbed "the Utah Wilderness Elimination
Club activists helped ensure that congressional field hearings were
packed with opponents of the Utah delegation's bill, which, said LeGate,
"is brimming with violations of the wilderness ideal" as expressed in the
1964 Wilderness Act. But Utahns took their opposition a step further. They
not only showed up in force at Hansen's hearings, but also held their own.
Under the auspices of the Utah Wilderness Coalition--comprising some 35
conservation groups, including the Sierra Club--about 400 state residents
turned out at a "citizens' hearing" to voice their support for America's
Redrock Wilderness Act, H.R. 1500, by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y). in
stark contrast to the Utah delegation's bill--which offers weak protection
for just 1.8 million acres of wildlands, and releases millions more to
mining, oil drilling and other forms of destruction -- Hinchey's would
designate as wilderness the full 5.7 million acres identified in the Coalition's
Rudy Lukez, chair of the Club's Utah Chapter, called the legislation
by Hansen, Sen. Orrin Hatch and other Utah Republicans "the first big anti-wilderness
bill" introduced in the 104th Congress. If approved, he said, "it would
fundamentally damage the National Wilderness System."
In Minnesota, activists are doing everything they can to make sure anti-wilderness
measures never get that far. With help from Midwest staff director Carl
Zichella and D.C. staffer Ann Riley, Yingling led the charge against efforts
to loosen restrictions on snowmobiles, houseboats and other forms of motorized
recreation designed to make Voyageurs more economically productive."
"The Wise Use movement is using Voyageurs as a test case to see how
far they can go in dismantling national parks," said Yingling. Faced with
widespread public opposition to the idea of selling off the parks, she
said, "They backed off and said, 'Okay, we'll give you wilderness, but
it's not going to be real wilderness, we'll allow more motorized use and
hunting.' The real value that those lands were set aside for is totally
As the hearing date approached, Rep. Rod Crams (R-Minn.) and others
"whipped up the Wise Use movement to a lather," Zichella said. Environmentalists,
meanwhile, were setting up phone hanks, generating letters and phone calls
to Congress, working the media, and making sure wilderness proponents could
get to the joint House4ienate field hearing some six hours by car from
the Twin Cities. There, with strong backing from Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.),
they sent Congress the unmistakable message that wild means wild.
"Neither the hearing organizers nor their Wise Use backers were prepared
for the number of wilderness supporters or the intensity of their feelings,"
said Marvin Roberson, chair of the Club's Wild Planet Strategy Team. For
those unable to attend the hearing, Club activists staged a noontime rally
outside Grams' office in Anoka. "We made a lot of noise and got a lot of
press coverage," said Yingling. A second hearing on Voyageurs is planned
for the Twin Cities area in late September or early October.
Up to Top