When "opportunities for wilderness" knock, will Congress answer? (Photo by Jake Levin)
The Bush Administration is recommending wilderness protection for a group of 21 islands in Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:
The Bush Administration is recommending wilderness protection for a group of 21 islands
in Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports from
This is the first time Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson visited the Apostle Islands
National Lakeshore off the coast of Wisconsin. If Congress goes along with the
Administration’s recommendation, his next visit won’t see much change because much
of the park is already operating as a wilderness area. Manson says critics are wrong
when they say the Bush Administration isn’t protecting wilderness.
“Ultimately, it is up to the Congress to designate wilderness. There are a number of
wilderness proposals pending before the Congress that have been in limbo for a number
of years and Congress has failed to act on them.”
The proposal would keep 80% of the islands a wilderness area… with motorboat access
to the islands, but no motor vehicles allowed on the 21-island group. That’s not enough,
according to Sean Wherley. He’s with the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
He says it’s political grandstanding for a battleground state.
“The fact that now it’s lining up behind a non-controversial piece on the Apostles is
disingenuous and misleading at best. It’s very troubling because they have passed on
opportunities for wilderness across the country.”
So far this Congress hasn’t passed any wilderness designations. If that holds true, it will be
only the second Congress not to do that since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.
Loggers and environmentalists fight continually
over the use of national forests. Managers at many national forests
around the country are developing new long-range plans.
(Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Jerry Birchem says the price of his raw material,
timber, has tripled in the last ten years, partly because of
time-consuming environmental reviews of timber sales on federal land.
by Stephanie Hemphill)
Sierra Club member Clyde Hanson says the new
plan doesn't provide enough protection for old growth and
wilderness areas. And he worries the 90 miles
of new ATV trails in each forest could ruin the peace and quiet.
(Photo by Stephanie Hemphill).
Loggers and environmentalists are in a continual fight over the use of national forests. One of their battlegrounds is the long-range planning process. Every ten to fifteen years, the U.S. Forest Service designs a new plan for each national forest. Right now, several forests in the Northwoods are getting new plans. The Forest Service says it’s paying more attention to biodiversity, and wants to encourage more old growth forests. Critics on the environmental side say the new plans are just business as usual. Loggers say they still can’t cut enough trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Loggers and environmentalists are in a continual fight over the use of
national forests. One of their battlegrounds is the long-range
planning process. Every ten to fifteen years, the U.S. Forest Service
designs a new plan for each national forest. Right now, several
forests in the Northwoods are getting new plans. The Forest Service
says it’s paying more attention to biodiversity, and wants to encourage
more old growth forests. Critics on the environmental side say the
new plans are just business as usual. Loggers say they still
can’t cut enough trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie
(sound of car door closing, footsteps in woods)
Jerry Birchem is a logger. He’s visiting one of his harvest sites on
land owned by St. Louis County, in northeastern Minnesota. The highest
quality wood will be turned into wooden dowels… other logs will go to a
lumber mill… the poorest quality will be turned into paper.
Birchem tries to get the highest possible value from each tree. He says in the last ten
years, the price of trees has tripled.
“We have to pay more for timber and the mills want to pay less, and we’re caught in the
middle of trying to survive in this business climate.”
Birchem likes buying timber from the county, like at this logging site. He hardly ever
cuts trees from the national forest anymore. He’d like to, but the Forest Service doesn’t
make much of its land available for logging. The agency says it doesn’t have enough staff
to do the environmental studies required before trees can be cut on federal land.
Jerry Birchem says loggers need the Forest Service to change that.
“You know there needs to be processes set in place so you know, it doesn’t take
so long to set up these timber sales. I mean, they’ve got to go through so
many analyses and so many appeals processes.”
Birchem says it should be harder for environmental groups to get in the way of timber
sales. But not everybody agrees with Birchem.
Clyde Hanson lives in Grand Marais, on the edge of Lake Superior. He’s an active
member of the Sierra Club.
He says it’s true loggers are taking less timber off federal lands in recent
years. But he says the Forest Service still isn’t protecting the truly special
places that deserve to be saved.
He says a place like Hog Creek should be designated a wilderness area, where no trees
can be cut.
(sound of creek, birds)
“Very unique mixture, we must be right at the transition between two types of forest.”
Red pine thrive here, along with jackpine and tamarack. It’s rough and swampy country,
far from roads. So far, loggers have left these trees alone.
But with the value of trees skyrocketing, Hanson says the place will be logged eventually.
Forest Service planners made note of the fact that the Hog Creek area is relatively
untouched by humans. They could have protected it, but they decided not to.
“And we think that’s a mistake, because this is our last chance to protect wilderness and
provide more wilderness for future generations. If we don’t do it now, eventually there’ll
be enough roads or enough logging going on in these places that by the next forest plan
it’ll be too late.”
But the Forest Service says it is moving to create more diversity in the
woods. It wants a forest more like what nature would produce if left
to her own devices.
The agency says it will reduce the amount of aspen in the forest. Aspen has been
encouraged, because it grows fast. When it’s cut, it grows back quickly, so loggers and
paper companies can make more money.
The trouble is, an aspen forest only offers habitat for some kinds of animals,
such as deer and grouse. Other animals, especially songbirds, need older trees to
So the Forest Service wants to create more variety in the woods, with more old trees than
there are now. But how to get the forest from here to there, is the problem.
Duane Lula is one of the Forest Service planners. He says fires and windstorms are nature’s way of producing
diverse forests. They sweep the woods periodically, killing big stands of older trees, and
preparing the soil for pines and other conifers. Jackpines, for instance, used to be more
common in the northwoods. Lula says the only practical way for man to mimic nature is
by cutting trees down.
“We can’t have those fires anymore just because people live here, there are private
homes here. There’s no way that we could replicate those fires. Timber management is one way of regenerating those jackpine stands in
lieu of having major fires.”
But Lula says the main purpose of timber cutting in the new plan is to move the forest
toward the diversity the agency wants, not to produce wood. And he says that shows the
Forest Service is looking at the woods in a new way.
“The previous plan tended to be very focused on how many acres you were going to
clearcut, how much timber you were going to produce, how much wildlife habitat you
were going to produce, and this one is trying to say, if we have this kind of desired
condition on the ground that we’re shooting for, then these other things will come from
As it does in the planning process in other national forests around the Great Lakes, the
Forest Service will adjust the plan after hearing from the public. Loggers,
environmentalists, and everyone else will have a chance to have their say. A final version
will be submitted to the Regional Forester in Milwaukee early next year. It could then
face a challenge in court.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing – after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer, Churchill’s wisdom could also apply to land trusts. After decades of rampant sprawl, more Americans are joining land trusts to protect what’s left of the natural areas around them:
Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing — after they’ve exhausted
all the alternatives.” For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer, Churchill’s
wisdom could also apply to land trusts. After decades of rampant sprawl, more Americans are
joining land trusts to protect what’s left of the natural areas around them:
Like many people who love nature, it’s always been my dream to save wild land from development. When I was younger, it seemed like an easy thing to do. I planned to graduate from college, earn serious money, and spend most of my income buying rural real estate. Unfortunately, the big salary never materialized. After five years, I had bought just one piece of property: a three-acre parcel of woods that can only be reached by canoe.
Since going solo didn’t work, I decided to join a national organization that’s famous for saving wild land. With my annual dues, I got a static window sticker and a gorgeous magazine that featured the group’s newest preserves. But after a few years, the vicarious thrill of sending money to save far-off places started to fade. I really wanted to protect land that was close to home. Yet for this organization, my corner of southern Michigan wasn’t even on the map.
At long last, I have found a better way to stave off the bulldozers. Along with 1,000 local citizens, I’m an active member of a land trust. Land trusts are nonprofit organizations that work with private property owners to save natural areas from development. Sometimes they buy land to create preserves. They also accept donated land, and establish conservation easements to prevent future development.
In the past decade, the land trust movement has seen phenomenal growth. There are 1,300 land trusts nationwide, a number that’s more than doubled since 1990. Together, they protect 6.4 million acres — up 220 percent since 1990.
So why are land truth trusts so successful? I believe it’s because their mission is unabashedly local. They’re not preoccupied with Chinese panda bears, or holes in the Arctic ozone layer. They’d rather rescue the 100-acre woods down the road. Or protect a suburban stream that’s the last neighborhood refuge for tadpoles and snapping turtles.
In our capitalistic system, land is a commodity. Yet land trusts use the free-market to their advantage by purchasing land to prevent development. So this business-like approach also appeals to conservatives and moderates who may not otherwise support environmental causes.
Yet another appeal of land trusts is their hands-on, dirty-fingernails approach to conservation. There’s always much more for members to do than just stick a check in the mail. Land trusts rely almost solely on volunteers to maintain trails, conduct field surveys, or stuff envelopes around the office.
A few weeks ago, my land trust hosted a workday at a five-acre preserve that’s a mile from my home. For three hours, I joined a happy band of retirees, college kids, and recovering yuppies as they uprooted Japanese honeysuckle that threatens to crowd out native wildflowers.
This preserve is too small for any government agency to bother with. Yet we know it as a pocket wilderness, where cardinal flowers and bluebells bloom in the rich soil of a floodplain forest. Maybe it’s not one of the world’s last great places. But it’s our place — and it’s our land trust. And if we want to save the natural world, our own neighborhood is always a good place to start.
Host Tag: Tom Springer is a freelance writer
from Three Rivers, Michigan.
In northern Minnesota, huge stretches of the popular Boundary Waters Canoe
Area Wilderness were severely damaged in a massive July fourth storm. One
hundred mile an hour winds flattened trees in a swath thirty miles long and
twelve miles wide. The emergency prompted the forest service to suspend the
rules against motors in the wilderness. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports it may take months to make the portages useable