NEZ PERCE NATIONAL FOREST, Idaho - Just a few years ago, Cove-Mallard, a roadless area, was a rallying cry for anti-logging activists. As bulldozers pushed into the rolling mountains above the Salmon River in north-central Idaho, protesters locked themselves to gates, buried each other under piles of slash and erected and perched in a series of tall tripods to stop road builders (HCN, 9/2/96).
Now, the woods are quiet
- no chainsaws, no arrests. Cutting has stopped in the two Nez
Perce National Forest roadless areas.
when Bruce Bernhardt, a stocky man with a New York accent, became
forest supervisor early last year. He announced that six unsold
timber sales planned for Cove-Mallard would remain unsold. The
forest, he said, has other priorities.
intact ecosystem and in terms of ecosystem restoration there are so
many other places that need to be restored," he said. Bernhardt
made his announcement to halt cutting in Cove-Mallard even before
President Clinton unveiled his plan to permanently protect roadless
areas in national forests. As an inventoried roadless area,
Cove-Mallard's 77,000 acres are included in 40 million acres up for
a fresh look by the public. Although local sawmills facing big
income cuts were disappointed, activists were
"My first reaction was just to say
Yahoo!" says Robert Amon, a 60-ish spokesman for Cove-Mallard
protesters, who has spent the past two years writing a book about
his transition from insurance executive to tree hugger. Yet Amon,
known as Ramon, says that despite the seeming victory, the war is
"We don't think we can retire just yet.
The day all eco-bozos could retire would be a good thing," he says.
"On big pensions," he adds.
Activists have been
cautious about declaring victory because they fear fickle political
"If George Bush is elected, (Forest
Service Chief Mike) Dombeck will be kicked out and logging will
continue," says Ron Mitchell of the Idaho Sporting Congress. His
group was among the first to protest timber cutting and road
building in Cove-Mallard. He sued the forest managers twice, losing
both times, but says the suits and civil disobedience delayed road
building and logging. "It definitely slowed them down. They had to
But the timber industry says the Forest
Service's decision is a big mistake. "It's a tragedy. It really
is," said Dick D. Willhite, the resource manager of the local
Shearer Lumber Co. "But once the Forest Service makes up their
minds not to do something, it's hard to make them."
Hungry from a decade-long decline of harvesting
on national forest lands, industry folks say if there ever were a
place that needed restoration through logging, it's Cove-Mallard.
The trees there, mostly mature lodgepole pines, are at the end of
their life cycles and succumbing to disease, the industry
"This forest is dying," says Willhite.
His company won the bids on three timber sales that did go forward
and would like a chance at the remaining
The motivators of
The timber industry shrugs off the
effectiveness of the activists and attributes the change at
Cove-Mallard more to Clinton's so-called War on the West. "I don't
think the Earth First!ers had any real impact," says Willhite. "But
on a national basis, I think Al Gore, Dombeck and (Undersecretary
of Agriculture) Jim Lyons did the politically expedient thing, and
that is to shut down the timber program on the national forests.
All of them."
Highland Enterprises of
Grangeville, the company that built the roads in Cove-Mallard, is
also reluctant to concede victory to the activists. "I don't
attribute one iota of it to Earth First!," says manager Andy
Hairston. But he says the group did cost his company money. "It's a
hindrance and it's a costly hindrance. They held up production," he
Forest Service officials say there were
many factors that motivated the decision to stop cuts. Listings of
bull trout, steelhead and chinook salmon as threatened under the
Endangered Species Act delayed the Cove-Mallard sales, and a
nationwide $8.4 billion road-maintenance backlog dulled the Forest
Service's enthusiasm for building more
"We've realized we have a lot of road we
need to manage, so in the foreseeable future it's hard to visualize
we're going to build any more road," says Ihor Mereszczak, a staff
officer on the Nez Perce who has been with the forest since the
cuts were first planned. "If we can't manage our roads, we can't
maintain the environment. It's a holistic process."
Dombeck's assistant, Chris Wood, says the agency
has a new outlook on roads. "I think the values and public
sentiment have shifted, and frankly, the sentiment of the Forest
Service shifted from the days of the big road projects in roadless
areas," says Wood.
That's bad news for Willhite,
who says his company's mill at Elk City will be threatened if the
flow of timber coming off the Nez Perce continues to trickle. "It's
really tough. It's hard to run a sawmill in the middle of the Nez
Perce Forest when the Nez Perce Forest doesn't sell any timber."
Willhite hopes the new emphasis on stewardship contracts - a new
method of planning that links ecosystem restoration with limited
amounts of logging - can feed the mill (see page 4). "If it comes
to fruition, it's a good way of doing things."
* Eric Barker
Eric Barker is
the environmental reporter for the Lewiston Morning Tribune in
* The Cove-Mallard Coalition, P.O.
Box 8968, Moscow, ID 83843 (208/882-9755); e-mail:
* Nez Perce National Forest, Rt.
2, Box 475, Grangeville, ID 83530 (208/983-1950); e-mail:
* Shearer Lumber Co., Rt.
1, Box 2L, Grangeville, ID 83530 (208/983-0012).