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Sierra Magazine
Lay of the Land

Loggers' Free Lunch | Black Day for Redrock | SLAPPing Back | Mojave Desert | Garbage In, Garbage Out | Brave New Forest

Loggers' Free Lunch

When will Big Timber get off the dole?

By B. J. Bergman

Were John Muir and Adam Smith to rise from their graves, the state of 20th-century logging would likely plunge them both into deepest Scottish gloom. Modern-day timber barons routinely pillage our national forests in the name of quarterly profits, exploiting sweetheart leases that amount to federal giveaways. Greedy for new frontiers (having reduced the old ones to stumps), they dispatch logging crews to bulldoze roads into virgin forests, wrecking fish and wildlife habitat as they go. To top it all off, this orgy of roadbuilding (377,000 miles and counting) is subsidized by the forests' real owners--U.S. taxpayers--either in hard cash or in the form of credits, which allow still more logging.

Environmentalists have long criticized roadbuilding subsidies as a singularly destructive form of corporate welfare. Often built in steep, remote terrain, logging roads leave in their wake heavy soil erosion, which increases the frequency and severity of mudslides and floods, and degrades water quality and fish habitat. Roads are also a leading cause of forest fragmentation, one of the deadliest threats to wildlife.

But now environmentalists are finding a surprising new ally in fiscal conservatives, including some whose interest in things green has seldom extended to conservation. These deficit hawks don't see why clearcutters should collect $50 million a year in entitlements as reward for taking publicly owned trees. The hawk squawking the loudest is Congressman John Kasich, the rock-ribbed Ohio Republican who heads the House Budget Committee.

Kasich, said to be mulling a bid for the White House in 2000, is hoisting the banner of the Stop Corporate Welfare Coalition, which aims to trim more than $11 billion in what wags have christened AFDC, or Aid For Dependent Corporations. The group, a patchwork of fiscal watchdogs and left-leaning reformers, has put forest-road subsidies at the top of its hit list. President Clinton seems to have noticed: his 1998 budget proposal would eliminate Forest Service credits for roadbuilding.

"Last year we had support from a few fiscal conservatives," notes John Leary, a forest-policy specialist in the Sierra Club's Washington, D.C., office. "This year we have a very public campaign to cut corporate welfare by the chair of the Budget Committee. That's progress."

But victory is far from assured. Last June, an amendment to end the subsidy barely passed the House by a one-vote margin. The next day, congressional opponents forced a surprise second vote and torpedoed the provision. The original measure's sponsors, led by John Porter (R-Ill.) and Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), are expected to offer a similar amendment to this year's Interior appropriations bill.

Even if House proponents prevail this time, chances of ending the roads subsidy are dimmer in the Senate, says Leary, where the timber lobby is sure to find sympathetic shoulders to cry on. Still, the industry's days on the dole may be numbered. After all, how many politicians-no matter what their party affiliation-can survive being branded not just enemies of the environment, but champions of corporate welfare to boot?

Crimes Against Nature: Black Day for Redrock

Conoco Gets Go-Ahead to Drill Utah Monument

What kind of company is Conoco? The kind, apparently, that would paint a big black mustache on the Mona Lisa. It was only last September that President Clinton--in a pre-election flourish that delighted conservationists but infuriated Utah's development-minded pols--established Grand Staircase­Escalante National Monument, thereby protecting some 1.7 million acres of the state's majestic redrock country. Or so many thought at the time. Less than six months later, the oil giant was holding a permit to drill for crude right in the very heart of the new monument.

In theory, at least, the federal Bureau of Land Management has jurisdiction over Grand Staircase­Escalante. The state, however, owns scattered inholdings, including a stretch of the Kaiparowits Plateau where Conoco plans to sink its first well any week now. All that can stop the drilling, say activists, is for citizens to express their outrage to Conoco's parent company, DuPont, which touts its "respect and care for the environment." Leave messages for DuPont CEO Jack Krol at (800) 441-7515 or via e-mail at

Conoco, meanwhile, is also seeking the green light to drill on BLM land. (Although the company holds leases on the sites, it can't drill unless the agency agrees that environmental conditions warrant a permit.)

SLAPPing back

Recent college graduates often flounder as they search for a career, but not Amelia Clarke. Cofounder of the Sierra Youth Coalition, the Sierra Club's Canadian student group, Clarke plans to pursue graduate work in forest policy. Her inspiration? A lawsuit leveled against her by the multinational paper corporation Repap.

Clarke is a member of Friends of the Christmas Mountains, one of several groups fighting to protect the last remaining old-growth forest in New Brunswick. Last summer, protesters--Clarke not included--erected a gate that stopped Repap's operations on Crown (federal) land for a week. In retaliation, Repap sued Clarke and ten others for "interfering with economic relations."

It's a classic SLAPP suit--a "strategic lawsuit against public participation." Repap found many of its victims by gleaning names from local newspapers; most weren't even involved with or present at the blockade. At first, Clarke was intimidated, but now she's vowed to stare down the pulp-and-paper giant. With luck, she'll make a career out of it.

Brave New Forest

Where will future flocks of Dolly, the cloned sheep, contentedly graze? Where else but beneath cloned trees, of course. Although large-scale cloning of animals is still in the distant future, the Michigan Champion Tree Project is already duplicating "champion" trees, the biggest of their kinds in each state.

Preserving enormous old trees through cloning is the brainchild of David Milarch, a nurseryman from northern Michigan. Milarch was distressed to learn how many fine old trees are lost each year, not just to ice and wind storms but to suburban sprawl and thoughtless development. Many of these trees, he says, have lived for hundreds of years, and have untold genetic resources for fighting insect pests and diseases, and surviving extremes of temperature. "It is a tremendous loss whenever we lose one of them," he says.

Since arborists have been cloning fruit trees for decades, he reasoned, why not champions? The simple process involves grafting a bud or scion of the chosen tree onto rootstock of the same species. Unlike a tree raised from a seedling, the result is an exact replica of its parent. Milarch eventually wants to preserve the genetic stock of champion trees from all over the country in living archives, of which Michigan State University will have the first. Within three years, he predicts, junior champions will be available in your neighborhood nursery.

I Have a Bachelor's Degree . . . in Science!

Opposing the EPA's efforts to tighten regulations on soot in the air, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) claimed in an April hearing that the risk of cancer from gargling with mouthwash was greater than the risk from airborne particles. The former cockroach exterminator also insisted that EPA Administrator Carol Browner was "misrepresenting" the peer-reviewed scientific reports backing up the new standards. "I'm a scientist myself," boasted DeLay, who got his B.S.--bachelor of science, that is -- from the University of Houston in 1970.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact for more information.

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