Order could halt logging on 60 million acres of public land
As a boy, said a cowboy-booted Bill
Clinton last October, "I learned by walking the Ozark and Ouachita national forests
of my home state that national forests are more than a source of timber; they are places
of renewal of the human spirit and our natural environment." The setting was the
Reddish Knob Overlook in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, but the speech's impact will be
felt throughout the Lower 48and possibly beyond.
Whether Clinton was thinking more of
his Arkansas childhood or his presidential legacy, conservationists were downright
jubilant over the sweeping national-forest initiative he announced that day. The proposed
executive orderan extension of an 18-month roadbuilding moratorium already in place
on 33 million acres of national forestwould permanently put at least 40 million
acres of federal woodlands off-limits to roadbuilding, logging, and mining, and could
ultimately extend protection to as many as 60 million acres. (The system's 380,000 miles
of existing roads, besides making it possible to log in once-remote areas, are in need of
over $8 billion worth of maintenance and repair.) Federal officials hope to have the
measure in place by the time the temporary ban expires this fall.
Clinton called the proposal
"one of the largest land-preservation efforts in America's history to protect these
priceless backcountry lands." In the 36 years since the Wilderness Act passed,
Congress has designated only 34 million acres of America's national forests as wilderness,
a status that offers similar protections to Clinton's initiative. Although a few
conservationists voiced skepticism that the new proposal would be realized, many more were
rallying to capitalize on what they viewed as an extraordinary opportunity to halt
commercial logging in America's dwindling roadless areas. "The president has set the
stage for making real conservation history," said Melanie Griffin, director of the
Sierra Club's land program.
Most of the targeted lands are
roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more. Whether to include Alaska's Tongass National
Forest, which is exempt from the temporary ban, and roadless areas under 5,000
acresessentially all of those east of the Mississippihas yet to be decided.
While a number of small U.S. Forest
Service "listening sessions" produced some vocal opposition, thousands of forest
activists and interested citizens turned out in force at a round of large public hearings
held by the agency in November and December. Many urged an end to logging, mining, and
other destructive activities in all roadless areas, including those in the 17-million-acre
Tongass. Steve Marshall, a Forest Service staffer assigned to the project, estimates that
the agency received "well over 500,000" messages on the initiative.
Pro-timber legislators wasted no
time in attacking the plan, which, as an executive order, does not need congressional
approval. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) accused Clinton of "acting outside the
law," while Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed to rescind the order if elected
president. The Club's Griffin warned that timber allies are likely to try to block the
initiative by saddling critical legislation with riders to reverse it or by withholding
Forest Service appropriations. That's why, though the formal public-comment period has
ended, messages to Congress are still crucial.
"For a century, the Forest
Service built roads to give industry access to our forests," said Debbie Sease, the
Sierra Club's legislative director. "Now it's time to stop building roads to ensure
there's a forest left for the rest of us to enjoy."
By B. J. Bergman
To take action: Call your U.S.
senators and representative via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or write them
care of U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510 or U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
20515. Let them know you want remaining roadless areas of 1,000 acres or
moreincluding those in the Tongassprotected permanently. For more information,
contact Tanya Tolchin at (202) 547-1141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turtles and Teamsters
In the past, environmentalists and union members have often been at odds, with some unions
seeing environmental laws as a threat to jobs, and some conservationists blaming workers
for their bosses' policies.
But that was then. Consider now the
scene on the streets of Seattle on the first day of last year's World Trade Organization
meeting: On the one hand, environmentalists dressed as sea turtles protested the
WTO-mandated weakening of laws protecting the creatures; on the other, Teamsters protested
the WTO's tolerance of member countries that refuse to allow workers to organize.
A spontaneous chant arose from the
turtles: "Turtles love Teamsters!" The truck drivers responded: "Teamsters
love turtles!" Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. By Paul Rauber
Salvation for the Dammed
Slowly, life returns to once-choked
rivers and streams Striped bass, alewife, herringthey're all here. They've all come
back," says Maine paddler Steve Brooke. All it took was removing the Edwards Dam on
the Kennebec River.
Since 1912, 465 dams across the
country have been taken down, mostly because of safety concerns. Last summer, however,
Edwards made history as the first dam to be demolished over the objections of its owner
because of the environmental harm it caused.
Brooke once led the Kennebec
Coalition, the group that spearheaded the fight against the dam. He can now point to the
benefits of a free-flowing river. Its banks, muddy and exposed immediately after the dam
was taken out, are now thickly covered with grasses. Osprey, eagles, and other wildlife
have returned to the water's edge. But what really excites him are the fish.
"I am constantly impressed by
the variety of habitat that the Edwards Dam removal has re-created for sea-run fish,"
says Brooke. "Paddling over the six sets of rapids created by the dam removal, you
think of the blueback herring that spawn in fast whitewater. The fast-flowing deeper
sections of water are waiting for the spring run of American shad, and the holes look like
ideal habitat for the Atlantic and short-nosed sturgeon." Atlantic salmon,
nonexistent upstream of the dam last year, have recently been spotted by anglers.
West Coast salmon are also
benefiting from dam dismantling. In Butte Creek in California's Central Valley, only 14
spawning spring-run chinooks returned to the creek in 1987. But in 1998, after four small
dams were taken out, restoring 25 miles of free-flowing river, the spring chinook run rose
to a record 20,000.
While these streams are improving,
it will likely be several years before the full environmental and recreation-based
economic benefits are realized. If there is a lesson to be learned from Edwards and the
other dams that have been pulled down in recent years, it is that restorationand
public acceptance of dam destructiontakes time.
For example, Bill Griffith, city
administrator for Sandstone, Minnesota, isn't ready to call the 1995 removal of the
Sandstone Dam from the Kettle River a success. After the dam's destruction, he says,
fishing "went to hell" because the sand that had piled up behind the dam was
washed downstream, where it filled in the riverine depressions, or "kettles," in
which the fish spawn. "What we need is a big rain—a good flood to flush the river
out," Griffith says. Once that happens, he believes, spawning areas for walleye,
northern pike, and lake sturgeon will be re-established.
The Sandstone Dam, a dilapidated,
inactive hydropower facility, posed a safety hazard to anglers and paddlers. Refurbishing
it would have cost a million dollars. Taking it down cost a fifth as much, and revealed a
set of notable rapids, ideal for whitewater kayaking. "Where there was once a dam,
you now have a waterfall," says Griffith.
Biologist Michael Hill is cautiously
optimistic about the recovery of Florida's Chipola River. In 1987, the local community
voted to take down Dead Lakes Dam. Instead of a stagnant pool, he says, "the water
levels are allowed to rise and fall naturally now, so water quality is far better than it
was with the dam." Today, 61 species of fish are found in the Chipola, as compared
with only 34 prior to the dam removal. But like Griffith, Hill believes it will take
several years and "some major local storms" to flush out the muck that had built
up behind the dam and bring the river back to full health.
In Wisconsin, many locals worried
that jackhammering the defunct Waterworks Dam out of the Baraboo River in 1997 and
draining the dam's mill pond would leave an unsightly, smelly mess. "You've still got
the pro-dam people who say it was a bad idea, that the mudflats stink, that we lost a
piece of our heritage when the dam went," says Gene Dalhoff of the Baraboo Area
Chamber of Commerce. But, he adds, some people are changing their minds as they discover
new fishing and paddling opportunities.
Two more dams are scheduled to come
out of the Baraboo in the next three years. Once this happens, the Baraboo will be the
longest main-stem stretch of river restored through dam removal in the United States. by Amy Souers
The chutzpah of corporate
image-makers can be stunning. Take Shell Oil's recent ad: The Shell logo is superimposed
over the face of an African woman; above her the copy asks, "None of our business? Or
the heart of our business?" The ad tells us that human rights aren't the "usual
business priority" for a multinational, but Shell is "committed to support
fundamental human rights." Meanwhile, in oil-rich Nigeria, where Shell and other oil
companies have substantial investments, unrest over land and oil rights in the Niger Delta
has expanded. Four years after the November 1995 execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa,
Nigeria's environment minister accused Shell and other multinationals of "heinous
environmental crimes" and alleged that their activities ultimately caused Saro-Wiwa's