Sierra Club logo

Planet Main
Back Issues
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
In This Section
Table of Contents

The Planet

State of the States

Focus on Herbicides, Bears, Koa in State Forests

The Planet, June 1997, Volume 4, number 5


  • Focus on Herbicides, Bears, Koa in State Forests
  • Herbicides Halted in Vermont
  • White Pines Restored in Minnesota
  • Aloha Logging?

Focus on Herbicides, Bears, Koa in State Forests

Fighting the U.S. Forest Service isn't the only game in town; state governments play an important role in protecting -- or failing to protect -- the nation's forests. State agencies oversee land management and logging of the significant forest resources held by the states (parks, preserves and trust lands) and private landowners (ranging from industrial holdings of tens of thousands of acres to individual landowners with ten acres). This year, Sierra Club chapters in at least 17 states are working on forest-practices bills in their state legislatures or influencing rulemaking by state agencies.

Herbicides Halted in Vermont

In Vermont, overwhelming public concern about a proposal to spray herbicides from helicopters on forest lands owned by Champion International Paper Company helped persuade the state Senate to approve a bill prohibiting the use of most herbicides for forestry purposes. The Vermont Chapter has been pushing the bill and is supporting two positive amendments, one that requires stream buffers on timber-harvesting operations, another that eliminates a 300-acre loophole on the timber-gains tax. Gov. Howard Dean (D) is expected to sign the bill if it passes the House.

The governor already signed a bill that requires forest owners who want to make cuts of 40 or more acres to file with the state. The Club supported the measure, but argued that it didn't go far enough. "It fails to recommend upper limits on the size of clearcuts or the percentage of an ownership that can be clearcut over a specified period of time," says Tom Gilbert, Vermont Chapter conservation chair. He adds that even clearcutting areas under 40 acres can have negative impacts.

White Pines Restored in Minnesota

When Lynn Rogers, Minnesota's nationally known bear expert, contacted the Sierra Club in 1995 about the drastic decline of white pines -- critical sites for black bear dens -- the North Star Chapter helped draft the Restore the White Pine bill. It called for a moratorium on cutting white pines until the state Department of Natural Resources could develop a sustainable harvesting plan. "We found sympathetic legislators to introduce the bill," says Judy Bellairs, Chapter legislative director, "and our forestry committee called members in key districts urging them to contact their legislators in support of the bill." Rogers presented his slide show at a hearing in the House Environment Committee and explained the dramatic 98 percent loss of the majestic white pine. Two lumber-mill owners testified in opposition, but the bill passed nearly unanimously.

To galvanize Senate support, the chapter helped organize a field trip to northern Minnesota for senators to see the problem firsthand. At this point, the DNR got the message and established a scientific work group to recommend white pine regeneration strategies.

This year, almost two years after the Restore the White Pine bill was introduced, the governor, northern Minnesota legislators, loggers and environmentalists are calling for $750,000 a year to fund planting, maintenance and research on white pines. The DNR has agreed that the central goal of white- pine management on state land should be to enhance white-pine habitat and maintain the pines' regenerative capacity.

The DNR has also agreed to provide an annual report on the status of white pines, to allow them to grow to at least 180 years old (minor thinning would still be allowed), to double the acreage of young white-pine trees within seven years, to assure that white-pine seed sources remain and allow for public input before trees are cut. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently proclaimed: "White pines win as environmentalists, foresters bury hatchet."

Aloha Logging?

There are no major timber operations in Hawai'i simply because the state's unique native forests, public and private, have already been devastated. Now state and private landowners are looking to trees to replace the flagging sugar and pineapple industries.

Reforestation proposals concern Hawai'i Chapter Director Dave Frankel because of uncertainty on how the plans will be executed. "Will there be safeguards against erosion?" he asks. "Will the timber be pulped and exported immediately? Will the reforestation focus on quick-growing foreign eucalyptus or native hardwoods? What if endangered species decide to occupy lands reforested with native species? Will any of the little remaining native forest be bulldozed and converted to commercial plantations?"

This year, the legislature passed one bill that increased protection for endangered-species habitat and another making it more difficult to harvest trees on public land.

Ironically, the chapter initially opposed the public-land forestry bill because of a provision earmarking all revenues raised from logging for a special fund available only to the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. "We feared that this would create a financial incentive for the state agency to allow logging on public lands --- we were particularly concerned about koa, an extremely valuable native hardwood," says Frankel. To accommodate the Club's objection, the legislation added measures that would have made it more difficult to log on public lands, then later dropped the special fund provision entirely.

Other state-level forest battles include the Tennessee Chapter's attempts to legislate sustainable forestry practices, the Iowa Chapter's support of a proposed ban on logging in the state's parks and preserves, the efforts in Oregon to better regulate the type of forest practices that led to landslide damage of homes and businesses this past winter, Californians' efforts to gain protection for the Headwaters Forest, and opposition to voracious chip mills in Arkansas and North Carolina.

Up to Top