Reclaiming the Public's Forest

By Bergman, B. J. | Sierra, March-April 1998 | Go to article overview
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Reclaiming the Public's Forest

Bergman, B. J., Sierra

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.

Rene 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.

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