What We Want
Roundup From the Field
by Jenny Coyle
"If we had written this plan," said Debbie Sease, the Sierra
Club's legislative director, "we wouldn't be standing here with half a million
postcards telling the Forest Service to improve it."
That's what Sease told reporters at a July press conference in Washington,
D.C., in response to accusations by wilderness opponents in Congress that the U.S. Forest
Service let environmentalists write the agency's wild forest protection plan.
By the July 17 public comment deadline, the environmental community had
doubled the number of public comments, generating an estimated 1 million pieces of written
comment and inspiring more than 7,500 people to speak up at public hearings.
What's all the excitement about?
In Oct. 1999, President Clinton ordered the Forest Service to propose a
way to protect the nation's last roadless areas in national forests. The agency released
its draft plan in May and held hearings to gather public input.
Now let's be honest here: A document generated by a government bureaucracy
is not what you'd call a sexy piece of work. Yet activists went after it with a passion,
telling the Forest Service that while the plan is a good start, it needs to ban logging
and other destructive activities from all roadless areas of 1,000 acres or more, and that
it must include the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, currently excluded.
Sierra Club members were happy to pick up the pen and step up to the
"People recognized this as a historic opportunity to protect millions
of acres of wild forests, which makes it one of the greatest conservation prospects we've
had for a generation," said Tanya Tolchin, who directed the response to the roadless
plan for the Club's lands team.
Club organizers pulled out the stops to make sure the public was heard at
hundreds of public hearings held across the country. They quickly forged coalitions with
other groups, set up phone banks, sent mailings and pasted flyers around town. They made
baseball caps that said "Protect Our Wild Forests," organized letter-writing
parties, rented buses to drive activists to public hearings and made sure the media got
"The organizing efforts exceeded all expectations," said
Tolchin. "Thousands of Sierra Club members turned out at the big-city hearings and
the pre-hearing rallies and press events. We also won on some of the toughest organizing
ground in the country in timber towns from Alaska to Texas."
She said the main opponents of the plan to protect the nation's last wild
forests were the timber industry and off-road vehicle enthusiasts, the latter of whom
seemed to think - incorrectly - that the roadless initiative was about shutting down roads
instead of barring the construction of new ones.
"But we estimate that we outnumbered their comments by three to
one," Tolchin said. "Our activists are passionate about saving wild places.
Nothing was going to stop them from broadcasting that fact loud and clear."
What We Want
The purpose for the more than 400 informational meetings and public
hearings held this summer by the Forest Service was to educate the public about the
agency's proposal to protect wild forest roadless areas and officially take comments on
the draft environmental impact statement for the plan.
Sierra Club activists delivered a strong, unified message: The plan is a
good start, but it should protect all roadless areas of 1,000 acres or more from all
destructive activities. And these protections should apply to the Tongass National Forest
in Alaska, which is currently excluded.
Tanya Tolchin of the Club's lands team said the Forest Service is now
analyzing all the public input provided over the past several months, and is expected to
issue a final environmental impact statement by December.
"The official comment period is over, but the decision is being made
right now," said Tolchin. "Now is the time to tell President Clinton and U.S.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to make sure the final plan is
strengthened to protect all of our national forest roadless areas - including the Tongass
- from logging and other destructive activities."
To Take Action: Write a letter to the editor of your
local newspaper. Also write to
President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dan Glickman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
200-A Whitten Bldg.
1400 Independence, Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20250
Roundup From the Field
Idaho Falls, Idaho
from Roger Singer: A number of those opposing the proposal were big, strapping, young men
who claimed they couldn't get to their favorite place in the forest if they couldn't ride
their motorized toy. Ironically, on their way into the auditorium they had to pass a
wheelchair-bound senior wearing a couple of the green "Roadless for Healthy
Forests" stickers. Several of those testifying in favor of the proposal began their
statements by noting that they were 65 or older and quite capable of getting about in the
backcountry without motors.
Rapid City, S.D.
from Kirk Koepsel: Of the 100 who spoke, 52 favored protection of roadless areas, two were
undecided and 46 were opposed. We could not have accomplished this strong turnout without
the help of the Lakota (Sioux) tribes in South Dakota. Charmaine White Face helped
organize the reservations in the state and turned out a majority of the wild-forest
supporters. People from the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock
reservations demanded an end to the exploitation of their sacred Black Hills.
from Pat Veesart: About 120 people attended the Juneau hearing. The roadless coordinator
for the region said this is the largest turnout he has seen in the area on a forestry
issue. Six people spoke against the issue, and of the 56 who spoke in favor of wild
forests, there were two retired Forest Service biologists, a former Louisiana Pacific
logger, a road engineer who spent five years surveying roads on Prince of Wales Island in
the Tongass, a council member from the Douglas Indian Association, two visiting tourists
passing through from Illinois - and two toddlers. From one of the Illinois visitors:
"Schoolchildren in Illinois are collecting pennies to save the rainforest in South
America while up here in Alaska they are chopping it down."
from Mark Bettinger: The Sierra Student Coalition made a summer project out of drumming up
public comments on the roadless plan, boosting turnout at the Concord hearing to 125
people. More than 75 spoke, and it appears we outnumbered them five to one. Most
interesting was the fact that fully two-thirds of the speakers were Club members - from
New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York chapters.
from Larry Freilich: More than 100 people showed up at Arkansas Technical University in
Russellville (miles from nowhere) to give the Forest Service a piece of their mind. From a
logging advocate, who was dead serious, "Are we thinking about our long-term
interests here? I mean, what would we do without toilet paper?" And from one off-road
enthusiast: "Everyone here has been talking about protecting cold, clear water. I
don't know where you all live, but I get my water out of a faucet."
from David Schneider and Julie McGarvey: More than 40 people attended our pre-event press
conference and barbecue in front of the Forest Service office. Boulder Mayor Will Toor
opened with a strong statement on ending logging in our roadless areas and protecting the
Tongass National Forest. Dan Ziskin with Jews of the Earth likened our wild places to the
first tablet of Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. The Wilderness
Society's Suzanne Jones debunked "forest health" myths and George Andromedas
spoke of the spiritual renewal he feels when he is hunting for elk in roadless areas.
from Jim Young: The breadth of testifiers was impressive - former timber-industry workers,
mountain bikers, high school students, single mothers rushing straight over from work,
senior citizens, kids, hikers, river-runners, religious leaders, sportsmen, local elected
officials, the owner of a llama pack-trip company, a couple of pro-roadless ORV users,
and, notably, the quite entertaining singing testimony of Cascade Chapter staffer Roy
Goodman (to the tune of Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana" - no really).
from Dean Whitworth: Most supported wild forests. Opponents of the plan gave standard
reasons: school subsidies, employment created by logging, the need to maintain roads, the
threat of wildfires, and hunting and ORV access, all of which will either be unaffected or
only slightly affected by the roadless plan. Then there were the juicier comments, such
as, "It's a sin to see those big old trees just fall and go to waste," and,
"I'm proud to kill trees... logging has made our country what it is today."
from Jill Walker: At least one Minnesota activist went the extra mile for roadless areas -
or more like the extra 26.2 miles. North Star Chapter member Ken Bradley ran the annual
Grandma's Marathon in Duluth a few days before the Forest Service hearing on June 22.
Ken's t-shirt said on the back: "Thank You for Protecting Our Forests," and he
sported one of our green, embroidered "Protect Our Wild Forests" caps. He went
all the way. Now, will the Forest Service?
from Joe Murphy: About 350 people were there at the peak of the evening and more than 90
testified for a stronger plan, while only seven testified for no protection of roadless
areas! I was quoted in the Independent Florida Alligator saying: "We're not talking
about denying people access. This plan does not eliminate human activity in these areas.
You can hike in, take a horse in, camp in those areas, you can paddle in, you can do just
about anything that doesn't have a motor or doesn't involve a chainsaw or drill."
from Carl Zichella: We had a family-style hearing with folks like Colleen Vachuska and her
son Karl in attendance. Among those in our crowd who stepped up to the microphone were
John Becker and Chris Zapf. A local snowmobiler surprised us by supporting the roadless
initiative, saying ORVs had not only trespassed on her land, but cut trails across it so
they could ride through the stream that runs by her property.
from Dave Muhly: At our rally in front of the hotel where the hearing was held, we had two
activists perform a mini-drama. Brett Wilson played a timber industry official in bed -
literally! - with a Forest Service employee played by Mike Kruse. Brett raised his glass
of champagne and said, "I propose a toast - to profits and gullible taxpayers!"
Others at the rally waved signs, chanted - and testified at the hearing.
Up to Top