Andy Wiessner needs no defense from me or any other conservationist to support his environmental credentials over many years. However, I do want to correct the erroneous and libelous comments in Ben Twight's letter (HCN, 5/24/99) about the Mountaineers and my role in the Forest Service-Plum Creek land exchange.
I have been a member of the Mountaineers Conservation Division since the early 1970s. I was president in 1976, when the Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill passed and actively lobbied for that milestone legislation. I was also active in lobbying for the 1984 Washington wilderness bill. I have participated in many other wilderness activities, including planning numerous wilderness conferences in my role as vice president of the Washington Wilderness and Parks Conference. I have been on the board of five environmental organizations and president of two of them. I invite comparison of my record to Twight's recent role as an "environmental gadfly."
Contrary to Twight's letter, there was no "secret letter of commitment" supporting the exchange. I prepared a draft comment letter on the draft EIS which was circulated to the Mountaineers' entire Conservation Division a week before its regular meeting. The letter was extensively discussed at the regular monthly meeting and was passed subject to minor changes. That motion was made by Mike Shurgot, the co-chair of the Mountaineers Forest Watch committee. After that official committee action, the letter went through several more drafts, which included comments and suggestions by various members of the Conservation Division. At the 1998 Wilderness Conference in Seattle, the chair of the Conservation Division, the two co-chairs of the Forest Watch Committee, and several other members of the Forest Watch Committee went through the letter with me line by line and agreed on a final version. This final version was then approved unanimously by the Mountaineers Board at its next monthly meeting and signed by the president.
If Twight did not get a chance to review the letter, he was just about the only one. It was only after this letter was approved by the Mountaineers Board that the Mountaineers officially took a position supporting the general outlines of the land exchange. Some "secret letter of commitment'! I invite any other group that commented on the land exchange to document the same rigorous process that their comments went through before their position was made public.
Certainly, I talked to Andy Wiessner on several occasions. He was a key source, often having information not available elsewhere. I also talked to the Forest Service, Plum Creek, other environmental leaders, the Council on Environmental Quality, and members of Congress and their staffs. Talking to people is how you gather information, come to a decision, and act on a proposal. I am proud of the role that the Mountaineers and I played in supporting the final land exchange proposal. As a result of the land exchange, almost 20,000 acres of contiguous old-growth forest will be consolidated in Forest Service ownership in the Snoqualmie Pass area (the largest stand of old growth on the east side of the Cascades). Many miles of streams will also be consolidated under Forest Service ownership, and watershed protection values will be dramatically increased. Many species of wildlife will also benefit from the consolidation of lands in the exchange. Twight is entitled to his opinions; your readers are entitled to an accurate portrayal of the facts.
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