by Sarah Fallon
In 1994, a naturally occurring forest fire in the Thunder Mountain region of
Washington's Okanogan National Forest prompted the U.S. Forest Service to step
in to begin looking for someone to clear out the debris. A local environmental
group, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, was the highest bidder for the nearly 2.5
square miles of wilderness -- home to grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and 50 of
the last 200 lynx in the continental United States -- but its bid was refused
because it would not agree to log the area upon purchase. Eventually, after some
cajoling, the Forest Service sold the logging rights to Double A Logging, which
then sold the trees to a Montana log-house building company. Double A paid
$29,000 for the sale. It cost the Forest Service $300,000 to prepare the sale
and carve the roads.
Cascade Chapter volunteers Mary Pat Larsen, Mark Lawler, Peter Henry, Steve
Matera and others tried unsuccessfully to stop the sale by showering the Forest
Service with letters during the public comment period. They failed to stop the
sale, but did draw attention to the skewed priorities of the Forest Service, and
the nearby Dog Creek area was consequently not offered for resale.
"What we did here in Washington is happening all over the country," says Lawler,
chair of the Club's Forest Reform Campaign Steering Committee. "Local activists
are working in their communities to put pressure on the Forest Service to act as
stewards of the forests instead of selling them off. It's no secret that the
Forest Service sells trees from federal lands to private logging interests, but
when it sells trees in the name of maintenance and 'forest health,' the general
public doesn't usually realize that, as in the Thunder Mountain case, the agency
effectively pays corporations to log our forests."
But if activists want to go up against the Forest Service -- to hold the agency
fiscally accountable, to protect watersheds and to stop new roadbuilding --
there are key times to strike. Every 10 to 15 years, the agency is required to
revise forest management plans and open the process to public review. This
comment period is a clear window of opportunity. For example, when the plans for
the Chattahoochee and Oconee national forests were up for review, René Voss,
Gary Ludi, Jennifer Chiofalo, Suchi Patton, Ed Nicholson and other Georgia
Chapter members worked with 22 other conservation groups to generate more than
2,500 letters to the Forest Service.
They were able to collect an additional 2,800 signatures simply by printing a
petition in the chapter newsletter. More letters were received on behalf of the
Chattahoochee and Oconee than all of the Southern Appalachian forests combined.
Voss says that when the comment period ends two years from now, the Forest
Service will be forced to consider an alternative plan that bars commercial
"We presented the agency with a viable way to manage our forests without
commercial logging," he says. "The regional foresters will have to seriously
consider our alternative. And we have to keep the pressure on."
In Georgia, support for the forests was almost entirely local, but that need not
always be the case. In Alaska's Tongass National Forest, for example, where the
Ketchikan Pulp Company was seeking a 15-year extension on its logging monopoly,
the Alaska Rainforest Office recruited more than 19,000 citizens to voice their
objection to the plan. Roughly three-quarters of the comments came from outside
In Vermont, where Club volunteers are fighting both state forestry practices
(see "State of the States,"
page 6) and the national Forest Service, things
turned ugly in efforts to protect Lamb Brook in Green Mountain National Forest.
These 5,561 roadless acres comprise the most significant black bear denning
habitat in Vermont. The Sierra Club was one of the parties that brought a suit
against the Forest Service for failure to adequately consider the environmental
impacts of the timber sale evaluation. According to Club volunteer Jad Daley,
Vermont Forest Service workers were trained on how to create the documentation
necessary to support a "Finding of No Significant Impact," or FONSI, on their
environmental assessment. A FONSI precludes the need for further study, and the
Forest Service does not have to perform a more extensive and costly
environmental impact statement. This information was kept out of the trial, a
real sign, says Daley, "that the Forest Service is playing dirty." The Forest
Service lost the first round and was prohibited from building a road through
Lamb Brook, but they built one anyway claiming it was for recreational use. "The
Forest Service is a renegade organization. It's not 1947 anymore. Forests are
scarce and the agency doesn't get it."
Unfortunately, the fight for Vermont's national forest doesn't end there; just
recently, the Forest Service announced plans to log the Robert Frost Mountain
Area, yet another pristine wilderness in Green Mountain National Forest.
In some cases, the Club is helping to buy forests in order to protect them. The
Upper Valley Group and a dozen other New Hampshire conservation organizations
are collaborating with the federal and state governments, local communities and
private individuals to protect 5,200 acres of land. This includes 3,400 acres
(including 315-acre Lake Tarleton) currently under private ownership to add on
to White Mountain National Forest. The state would acquire a critical shoreline
for $950,000, and private citizens will buy another portion for $525,000. The
remainder would be acquired through the Forest Legacy Program and used for
timber harvesting on a long-term rotation.
"We worked hard to get people to give small sums to the land trust to show
public support," says Bob Norman, Chapter transportation chair, who journeyed to
Concord with five other Club members to lobby for funding. "We've demonstrated
that support to the House, and we got a 12 to 8 committee vote for full funding.
Now we're gearing up for a floor fight."
As daunting as the struggle is for Club activists in the United States, those
working to protect forests in Canada face even tougher obstacles. The world's
largest exporter of forest products, Canada has even fewer protections for
forests than its southern neighbor.
Even though 94 percent of Canada's forests are publicly owned, the public has no
rights to challenge forest management decisions and Canada has no endangered
species legislation. Clearcutting is virtually the only logging method used and
it is applied without differentiation across ecosystems -- whether aspen, boreal
or old-growth temperate forests.
This fall, Key Porter Books, with Sierra Club Books, will publish "At the
Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada's Forests," by Sierra Club of Canada
Executive Director Elizabeth May. The book is based on two years' worth of
research, and it documents overcutting and the subsequent loss of critical
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