A Slice of the Past: Group Uses Ancient Tree to Protest Bush Policies

by Ken Ward Jr., Staff Writer

The Charleston Gazette

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Forest Berg hauled a slice of a 420-year-old Douglas fir to downtown Charleston Tuesday to protest Bush administration forest policies.

Berg is part of the Ancient Forest Roadshow, a group that is traveling the country to raise public awareness of threats to public forests.

"It weighs about a thousand pounds," Berg said, pointing to the six-foot diameter "Doug" mounted on a flatbed trailer parked on Capitol Street.

The tree, which stood more than 200-feet tall, used to live in the Williamette National Forest in western Oregon.

In a news release, the Ancient Forest Roadshow noted that the tree was 11 years old when Shakespeare wrote "Romeo and Juliet." When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the tree was 195 years old.

But in 2002, the tree was cut down, as part of the Berry Patch timber sale.

John King, a roadie with the Ancient Forest Roadshow, said that Berry Patch is "just one example of more than 150 planned timber sales that target nearly 80,000 acres of mature and old-growth forest in western Oregon and Washington."

Now, environmentalists are hauling a slice of the tree around the country "to allow Americans to see for themselves what could be lost, not just in the Northwest forests, but also in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest."

Berg used to spend summers as a seasonal forest and park ranger, but left that job to spread the word about threats to America's ancient forests.

"The public needs to know that with a former timber industry lobbyist, Mark Rey, overseeing the management of our national forests, a fox is guarding the henhouse," Berg said.

Berg said that old forests play vital roles in regional ecosystems, providing habitat for unique species and supporting a broader variety of plants and animals than younger forests.

Anna Sale, an organizer with the Sierra Club's West Virginia office, joined the forest group for a brief press conference to highlight concerns about Bush forest policies' local impacts.

"We're seeing some of the Bush administration's forest rules come home to West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest," Sale said.

Sale cited two proposed timber sales in the Mon forest, the Lower Clover sale and the Upper Williams sale.

In all, the two sales propose more than 2,700 acres of logging, according to U.S. Forest Service records.

Both proposed sales are being handled under a Bush administration rule change finalized in June 2003.

Forest Service officials say that the changes "clarify and reduce the complexity" of the rules that govern public involvement in forest activities.

Environmental groups say that the changes seek to cut back on public rights to receive notice of pending timber sales or other national forest decisions, comment on such projects before they are finalized, and ultimately appeal the agency's decisions.

In the two proposed sales on the Mon, Sale said, forest officials have sought public comment without first completing detailed environmental assessments.

Instead, she said, the agency will only release those assessments after it has made a final decision. "This leaves the public out of the process," Sale said.

In a report issued Tuesday, the Sierra Club said that the Bush process "asks citizens to give input on logging in the Mon without telling them anything about the possible harm to the environment."

Last week, the Bush administration proposed to throw out a Clinton-era rule that protected the last remaining untouched wilderness areas in the national forest system. This "roadless rule" essentially outlawed mining, drilling and development on about 60 million of the forest system's 190 million acres.

Under the Bush proposal, governors would have to petition the federal government to protect remote forest areas from road building that opens those areas to logging and other development.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va. a ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, said that, under this proposal, federal policy governing these areas "would cease to exist, and instead become a patchwork quilt consisting of the individual political preferences of state governors."

"The administration has done a Pontius Pilate by essentially washing the federal government's hands of protecting the last pristine areas of national forests in America from unnecessary road building," Rahall said.

Environmental groups are also concerned about the effect new Bush policies will have on ongoing revisions to the management plan for the Mon's nearly 1 million acres of forest.

"The current plan restricts logging and motorized access on nearly 25 percent of the forest, but as happened in national forests across the country under the Bush administration's watch, these protections may be weakened," the Sierra Club report warned.

The Roadshow will move to the Lewis County Fair in Weston today and a monster truck rally in Mineral Wells on Friday before returning to Charleston on Saturday.

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

Informant: Earth First! Media


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