Nearly 400 West Coast forest activists who gathered in Ashland, Ore., last month were faced with a sobering civics lesson: Their foes in Congress and statehouses throughout the West had captured the populist high ground.
Western Ancient Forest Conference, sponsored by the Ashland-based
environmental group Headwaters, is an annual gathering of the
forest preservation tribe from southeast Alaska to the California
Sierras and points east. It's also a barometer of the environmental
movement's mood and morale.
Two years ago the
tone of the conference was anxious yet hopeful. This year, halfway
through Clinton's four-year term and two months after the
Republican takeover of Congress, hope was hard to come
Activists, still demoralized by the failure
of their legal challenge to President Clinton's Northwest Forest
Plan, were served up a preview of more setbacks to come along with
their vegan lunches:
* Plans by the Forest
Service for massive salvage logging throughout the West, possibly
aided by an emergency congressional appropriation that would shield
the sales from legal challenges;
* Proposals to
turn over federal lands to the states;
bills that forbid the U.S. Interior Department to spend money on
its National Biological Service or on additional listings of
imperiled species until the Endangered Species Act is
Roger Featherstone of the
Endangered Species Coalition, a broad-based Washington, D.C.,
group, said conservative Republicans sympathetic to the wise-use
agenda have seized the initiative.
been a lot of leadership from Congress, the administration, the
agencies or even the environmental groups themselves," Featherstone
If environmentalists want to regain the
initiative, he said, "we have to build leaders in our own movement
and in Washington. Wise use started with electing their own people
to school boards. We have to provide our own leadership for the
Environmentalists also must be
more creative and forthright in stating their bottom line,
"We have to have some vision
in the laws we propose, such as reauthorization of the Endangered
Species Act. To work with Republicans you have to have a measure of
respect built up. You ask for what you want and you don't back off
Steve Holmer of the Western Ancient
Forest Campaign urged activists to be visible in Washington, D.C.,
and in the offices of their own congressional representatives,
whether Democratic or Republican. "It's very important that we're
bipartisan," he said. "We can't afford to write off one member."
Making the case that federal subsidies harm the
environment may prove an effective tactic, Holmer added. "Brush up
on your economics. Every argument is on our side, economic as well
John Fitzgerald, executive
director of the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, had a special
message for Northwest activists, who are in a position to put
pressure on two of the Senate's most powerful Republican leaders:
Oregon's Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, chairman of the Senate
Appropriations Committee, and Washington's Sen. Slade Gorton, who
chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that will approve Interior
Department and Forest Service budgets.
chairman of Senate Appropriations can get anything he wants' by
withholding funds for the pet projects of other senators,
Fitzgerald said. "Our friends across the nation are watching you.
We have to develop a citizens' shopping list ... Let's rescind some
roads, some timber sales."
Message fits the
The conference's most discouraging words
came from Tarso Ramos, a former labor organizer who heads the Wise
Use Public Exposure Project at the Western States Center in
Portland. Ramos said the wise-use movement's formidable power comes
in part from its populist call for political self-determination,
especially in rural communities. Its support for private property
rights has helped the movement expand into suburban areas as well,
"Wise use has popularized
anti-environmentalism as a hot-button issue now being picked up by
other movements," Ramos said. For instance, he noted, when the
anti-gay-rights Oregon Citizens Alliance branched out into
Washington and Idaho it announced that it supported family values
and private property rights.
The wise-use message
fits the angst of the times, Ramos said. People are fearful for
their economic future and suspicious of government. "What's changed
is that someone is going to organize these disaffected citizens and
for the most part that is not progressives or environmentalists."
Environmentalists must develop a more
sophisticated approach to economic issues and come up with their
own job-creation proposals to keep rural areas viable, Ramos said.
"Be able to distinguish between huge multinational corporations and
smaller local companies whose employees provide recruits for
wise-use campaigns. The timber industry is not monolithic. And
recognize the difference between timber companies and the people
who work for them.
"You must take on these
economic issues head on," he stressed. "It's the only way the
environmental movement stands a chance of surviving as a powerful
political force in this country. If it stays isolated, the movement
threatens to become an agent in its own destruction."
Veteran environmental lobbyist Brock Evans, vice
president of the National Audubon Society, offered a more
optimistic message. "We're going to fight wise use and we're going
to beat them," he said. "They can be beaten. We've faced groups
like this before."
However, a large number of
sympathetic congressional staffers lost their jobs with the GOP
takeover, Evans admitted, and House Natural Resources Committee
Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, has told the major national
conservation groups they won't be invited to testify before his
These are strange days, indeed, Evans
conceded. "The tidal wave in Congress is a totally different
structure than I've seen in my lifetime. The historian in me is
fascinated; the lobbyist in me is scared."
The writer reports from