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The Planet

Bankhead National Forest: Alabamans Raise Hell Over Clearcutting

More than 200 years ago, two Native American tribes, the Creeks and the Chickasaws, fought a bloody battle in an Alabama forest. Those who didn't survive were thrown down a sinkhole in a canyon. This area, known as Indian Tomb Hollow, became sacred to Native Americans in the region.

The story might have ended there. But in 1991 the Forest Service allowed a clearcut in the heart of Indian Tomb Hollow, now part of Bankhead National Forest. The clearcut exposed an archaeological site under a bluff, and looters descended on the area. Locals were outraged.

They channeled their anger -- and inspired activism -- through a publication called the Bankhead Monitor. Lamar Marshall, a self-described Alabama woodsman, launched the Monitor with members of the Blue Clan of the Echota Cherokee and other locals in order to publicize the connection between Bankhead National Forest and the people who have traditionally relied upon it for sustenance, shelter and recreation. From humble origins as a four-page, photocopied newsletter, the Monitor has grown to a 100-page magazine with a circulation of about 5,000.

"Here in Alabama it's hard to save a forest in the name of environmentalism or biodiversity," said Marshall, a three-year veteran of the Sierra Club's Southern Appalachian Highlands Ecoregion task force who runs a trading post-cum-conservation center near the forest. "But people respond when you say, 'Your great-grandparents were buried in those hills, and if the hills are destroyed, so is your cultural heritage'."

The determined band of Alabamans succeeded in gaining permanent protection for Indian Tomb Hollow, and thanks to a lawsuit filed by the group in 1993, the Forest Service dropped plans to clearcut dozens more sensitive streamside areas in the Bankhead.

A forest plan revision sponsored by Marshall and two Alabama attorneys would ensure that the Forest Service emphasizes conservation and recreation over logging in its management of Bankhead National Forest. Dr. Reed Noss, editor of the scientific journal Conservation Biology, is overseeing research for the plan, while the Monitor is publicizing it and giving readers the "ABCs of how to get involved," said Marshall.

"We are raising a large constituency that has close ties to these hills," he said. "People want change. They want more recreation in their forest, and more preservation of their forest."

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