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Sierra Magazine
Lay of the Land

Public Forests | Oil and History | Out of the Frying Pan | Wolves Overruled

Reclaiming the Public's Forests

How do you scare a timber baron? Just say "bipartisanship."

When Sierra Club members endorsed a sweeping 1996 ballot initiative calling for a ban on commercial logging on federal lands, one result was all too predictable. From California to Capitol Hill, apologists for Big Timber leapt at the chance to charge the Club with "environmental extremism."

While the Club's opponents managed to generate some short-term heat, the rest of the country is starting to see the light. A U.S. Forest Service poll found that a majority of Americans support this "radical" new policy, and the logging ban was introduced in Congress last fall as H.R. 2789, the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act. As disturbing to the industry as the legislation itself was the bill's unmistakably bipartisan nature. Its principal sponsors: a Democrat from Atlanta, Cynthia McKinney, and a Republican from the nation's heartland, Iowan Jim Leach.

Appearing at the bill's unveiling with the authors was Chad Hanson, who spearheaded the 1996 initiative effort and now sits on the Club's Board. "You can literally stand on a ridgetop in national forests in the western United States and other places in this country, look 360 degrees around you, and not see a single standing tree," Hanson said at the Washington, D.C., press conference. "It's time to turn the corner and protect what we have left and allow these forests to recover."

That, supporters hope, is what H.R. 2789 will do. "It's the beginning of the end of a hundred years of abuse of taxpayer-owned forests," says John Leary, the Club's forest policy specialist. At press time, 12 other legislators, including New York Republican Michael Forbes, had signed on to the bill. Club activists are lining up further support in Congress, with a goal of 100 cosponsors by the end of this year.

René Voss, an Atlanta-based volunteer who was also instrumental in getting the ban on the Club ballot, calls the McKinney-Leach bill "historic," and believes it "will take years off the campaign to end logging on public lands."

"We've changed the debate," says Voss. "The issue is no longer how much we should log in our national forests, but whether we should log in our national forests. The timber industry doesn't want to debate us on those terms."

Under the McKinney-Leach bill, timber sales would be phased out over two years on all national forests, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management lands. The bill would bring an immediate halt to new timber sales, and would revoke those already made in roadless areas or under the 1995 salvage rider, the Gingrich-Dole Congress' thank-you gift to its benefactors in the logging trade.

Conservationists and fiscal conservatives alike have condemned the federal timber-sales program. "The U.S. government is the only property owner I know of that pays private companies to deplete its own resources," observed Leach in November. A Sierra Club analysis has found that timber sales cost taxpayers nearly $800 million in 1996. McKinney projects future savings from her bill at $300 million a year.

Instead of subsidizing the destruction of publicly owned forests, H.R. 2789 would redirect taxpayer funds toward retraining displaced workers and promoting environmentally sound wood substitutes. The bill would also begin a scientifically based restoration program for federally managed forests.

It was during a visit last June with Voss and Hanson that McKinney, a two-term representative whom the Club endorsed in both her races for Congress, agreed to take up the cause in the House. Hanson later asked Iowa volunteer Sheila Bosworth, who had met several times with Leach on other issues, to speak with him about making the bill a bipartisan effort.

Within weeks the rural Republican had joined the urban Democrat as an original cosponsor. Though his midwestern state ranks dead last in federal acreage, its residents, like all Americans, have a big stake in the forest issue. "The thing about Iowa," explains Bosworth, "is that people in Iowa travel." With any luck, they'll find more than stumps when they get there. —B. J. Bergman

Mixing Oil and History

The Alaska pipeline snakes its way into the national archives.

Kids across America visit the Smithsonian Institution to see real American icons like the Apollo 11 space capsule and Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Now, thanks to a $300,000 grant from Alyeska, the consortium of seven oil companies that built the 800-mile Alaska pipeline, they can also get a look at real American whitewash.

To "celebrate" the 20th anniversary of the pipeline's completion, Exxon, Arco, British Petroleum, et al. sponsored "Oil From the Arctic," an exhibit that runs through April at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Not surprisingly, the exhibit focuses on the engineering savvy that went into the pipeline's construction and gives short shrift to the pipeline's effects on the land and wildlife around it over the past two decades.

A timeline of Alaska's oil history briefly mentions the battles in Congress that preceded the pipeline's construction, and makes passing reference to charges, sustained by congressional investigations, that the oil companies ignored safety violations, covered up defects in construction, and blacklisted whistleblowers. One sentence in the exhibit is devoted to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, the largest oil spill in history, while four sentences herald the safety measures the oil companies have implemented since the grounded tanker dumped 11 million gallons of pipeline-transported crude into Prince William Sound.

No mention is made of the ongoing scientific debate over the pipeline's effects on wildlife. For visitors who don't have time to read between the lines, the visual centerpiece of the 1,200-square-foot show is a massive section of surplus pipe and a 21-foot-long display of oil cans emblazoned with the logos of all your favorite oil companies.

Alyeska says that it simply wants to mark the pipeline's anniversary, but the show comes at a time when output from North Slope oil fields is waning and the oil companies are seeking approval to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which lies just east of the pipeline. Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) certainly saw the exhibit's value. At the opening ceremony, he repeated his state delegation's commitment to opening the refuge to drilling.
—Reed McManus

Out of the Frying Pan

Perverse responses to global warming.

"There are more ways to kill a cat," said the English philosopher J. L. Austin, "than drowning it in butter." While most people now realize that burning fossil fuel is making the world hotter, some are engaged in a frantic attempt to avoid the obvious solution of burning less of it. The nations of the world agreed in Kyoto to reduce greenhouse gases, but those who got us into this mess are still deep in denial.

The single biggest step the United States could take to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions would be to increase the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks. Yet U.S. automakers strenuously resist that simple approach. "In the hysteria over global warming," complains Chrysler Chair and CEO Robert Eaton, "the automobile is once again being set up as the bogeyman." He griped that the developed world—which is, after all, responsible for the majority of global-warming gases—is being asked to do more about solving the problem than the developing world.

While his colleagues were blaming India and China, however, Exxon Chair Lee Raymond was urging them to burn more fossil fuel. In an astonishing speech to the 15th World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, Raymond advised developing countries not to worry about global warming and, if possible, to increase their use of fossil fuels.

The gospel of hydrocarbons was also preached in The Wall Street Journal, the corporate chieftains' bible, by Arthur and Zachary Robinson of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine: "No other single technological factor is more important to the increase in the quality, length, and quantity of human life," they wrote, "than the continued, expanded, and unrationed use of the earth's hydrocarbons, of which we have proven reserves to last more than 1,000 years." (Curiously, the Robinsons' sanguine view of global warming does not extend to other disasters: among their previous publications is Nuclear War Survival Skills.)

The global warmers are oddly conflicted about technological progress. They're gung ho when it allows them to extract more oil from depleted fields, but suddenly skeptical when it applies to producing passenger vehicles that get more than 15 miles per gallon. Last October's Tokyo Motor Show was instructive: U.S. automakers showed off their gas hogs (like Dodge's 8-liter, V-10, 10 mile-per-gallon Viper), while the Japanese introduced cars like Toyota's battery-gas hybrid, Prius, which gets 66 miles per gallon. Ford design chief J. Mays explained the discrepancy to USA Today by noting a "certain thread that runs through an American that Japan can't duplicate—optimism."

For years U.S. automakers have poor-mouthed their ability to raise the fuel-efficiency of their auto fleets. "If they put a deadline on new technology development," wailed a Chrysler spokesperson in The Wall Street Journal, "it could force us to use what [technology] we have and balance the rest of our vehicle fleets with small cars." Suddenly in January, however, they decided to cover their bets by introducing somewhat less-polluting sport utility vehicles and prototypes of fuel-efficient cars. Unfortunately, the high-mileage vehicles won't be ready to market until 2001. Meanwhile, orders for Toyota's Prius have far exceeded expected sales.

There is one major industry that takes the challenge of global warming very seriously: the nuclear industry. Promoting nuclear as "The Clean Air Energy," the Nuclear Energy Institute warns that meeting the commitments made at Kyoto "will be impossible without emission-free nuclear power plants."

Despite calls by Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) for a "sweeping expansion" of nuclear power in the United States, the prospect remains very unlikely. Its real growth potential is overseas. Two General Electric­built nuclear plants have just gone on-line in Japan, with another 20 to follow soon. Taiwan has ordered two plants, and China may build as many as 30.

Of all the bad ideas for dealing with global warming, this may be the worst. As the Sierra Club's Dan Becker puts it, "Switching from fossil fuel to nuclear power is like giving up smoking and taking up crack."

Even further out on the fringe are bizarre techno-fixes that promise business as usual, for a price. Rockets could spread metallic chaff in the upper atmosphere, reflecting more sunlight away from the earth, or iron filings could be scattered in the ocean to promote algal blooms. Theoretically the algae would soak up CO2 and then sink to the bottom of the sea; in practice they die on the surface and release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. Tests are continuing.

Meanwhile, of the ten warmest years on record, all have occurred since 1980, and 1997 was the warmest this century. If we keep ignoring the obvious, we soon won't even need a stove to melt the butter.
—Paul Rauber

Wolves Overruled

Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, some ranchers have tried nearly everything to eradicate them. But the ranchers' most lethal weapon against Canis lupus may turn out to be a law they despise-the Endangered Species Act.

A federal judge ruled in December that wolf recovery efforts in Yellowstone and central Idaho violate the 1973 act, which explicitly aims to restore imperiled wildlife populations. How? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated all wolves in the area, including those that have migrated from Montana or Canada, as "experimental," which exempts them from full ESA protection. This second-class status entitles ranchers to shoot any wolves that threaten their livestock.

Ranchers argued that the migrants were not part of the experimental group, and thus qualified for full ESA protection; because that protection was being denied, they contended, the entire program was illegal. The judge agreed, and ordered all wolves removed from the recovery area. He stayed his own order pending appeal.

"If the ruling stands, we have three choices," says Betsy Buffington of the Sierra Club's Montana office, decrying the "cynical" use of the ESA by opponents of the recovery effort. "We can move the wolves. We can shoot them. Or we can give them full protection."

The Sierra Club is calling on Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to extend full protected status to all wolves in the area. Babbitt has said he'll consider doing so if the judge's order is not overturned. Call him at (202) 208-7351.
-B. J. Bergman

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