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The forest reform pow wow.

Edward "Ned" Fritz, 77 years old and dressed like a tropical tourist in a cherry-red shirt embroidered with a yellow parrot, stands at the head of the chapel with his back to Creation. The giant wall of glass with a cross in the center like a mast looks past a nearby oak at the full Kentucky forest rioting green with spring. The golden light just before sunset has glided the far ridge. It is indeed a scene fit for nature worship. But Fritz is busy revving up the crowd. With his thin build and big blue baseball cap that almost swallows his head, he may look like an unlikely leader, but the has been a mentor to many of the forestry activists here. In his time he has been an Eagle Scout, taught young serviceman George Bush how to fly, brought the Audubon Society to Dallas, and filed some masterful lawsuits to stall the timber machine in Texas. Now he's having a grand time reporting the latest accomplishments of the forestry reform movement. "But," he pauses, now raising his arms to conduct a choir of anger.

"The clearcutting continues!" shout 450 voices.

So began the 7th Annual National Forest Reform Pow Wow last Memorial Day weekend at an Episcopal camp in the Daniel Boone National Forest, 75 miles southeast of Lexington, Kentucky. Unlike gatherings of anti-toxic waste activists, which run hot with the power of social justice and often break into civil rights songs, this meeting can be traced back to the transcendental spirit of Emerson and Thoreau - which seemed to live on in the two Shawnee tribal storytellers who spoke over candlelight not long after Ned Fritz was done. Forests, after all, are cathedrals for the soul and gardens for society. (Daymon Morgan, a Kentucky native, later led a hike past the sandstone cliffs on a nearby ridge, pointing out the sour gum tree that makes good honey and the black cohosh plants "good for women's problems.") Ned Fritz has written a book, Clearcutting: A Crime Against Nature, but he didn't need to convince anyone here.

While the press and the national environmental groups have focused on the battle over the ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest, local activists across the country have been fighting over forests in their own backyards. They may be urban backpackers, or 60s back-to-the-landers, environmental lawyers eager to discuss the nuances of Congressional legislation, or young Earth First!ers worried that they may be drinking corporate beer from the unmarked kegs delivered on Saturday night. They tend to be obsessed, like Lamar Marshall who learned how to type at age 43 to publish his own magazine in defense of the hardwood trees around him in the Bankhead National Forest i n Alabama, which is rapidly becoming a pine plantation. But they also tend to be independent and free-thinking. Jan Wilder-Thomas, who has led Earth First! blockades in the Shawnee Forest of southern Illinois, performed Chinese acupressure on loads of tense shoulders under the shady trees.

Andy Mahler and Linda Lee hosted the first Pow Wow in 1987 at their rambling house on a gravel road that deadends in the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana. (The house, built as a bicycle hostel in the 1940s, held many people, but others camped out in tents, as they still do.) Their group, Heartwood, has sponsored this gathering, too. But Mahler takes a moment to tell his story, which is typical of many here. He grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, but after the turbulent 60s and 70s, moved to the woods "to try and live a worthy life" inspired by the ashes and poplars, black walnuts and cherries, sassafras, beech and oak trees. At first, he thought he had found a primeval forest, but he learned that his region is now regenerating itself after a hard history of logging and agriculture that peaked about 1910. So the new 15- to 30- acre clearcuts that began appearing "like the mange" in the early 80s struck him and Linda as appalling new wounds on top of old ones.

They grumbled to themselves, then with their neighbors. "But the tradition in rural areas is that the people are not empowered," he says. "They don't realize that they have the right or the ability to participate in a meaningful way in the political process." They were finally pushed over the edge by a Forest Service plan to clear away trees to create 112 miles of motorcycle trails in the Hoosier. One stormy night, with six-inch puddles of rain on the streets, 50 people gathered in a local hall to begin fighting back. They ultimately got off-road vehicles barred from the forest, and they blocked timber sales from 1985 to this year, when one snuck by under the guise of cutting non-native pines.

The goal of the Pow Wow was to promote a national answer to local problems. Ned Fritz had just won a major court victory when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against all "even age" logging that cuts all trees of the same size on federal lands in Texas. Environmentalists would like to see Congress apply this rule to all federal lands by passing "The Forest Biodiversity and Clearcutting Prohibition Act" (HR 1164), introduced by Representative John Bryant (DTX). It would require selective cutting in national forests, a practice all to rare despite the Forest Service's change of rhetoric. But a gathering of activists may never sit still for peace and unity for long. Phil Nanas of the Native Forest Council rose at the end to exhort people to support nothing less than a total ban on logging on public lands. And the young Earth First!ers dreamed of glory as they prepared for a summer of tree-sits and arrests in the wilds of Idaho.

The next Pow Wow will be held June 18-19, 1994 in La-Grande, Oregon. Contact: Forest Reform Network, c/o Texas Committee on Natural Resources, Suite 223, 5923 Royal Lane Dallas, TX 75230/(214)352-8370; Heartwood, P.O. Box 402, Paoli, IN 47454/(812)723-2430.
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Title Annotation:Annual National Forest Reform Pow Wow
Author:Nixon, Will
Publication:E
Date:Feb 1, 1994
Words:1011
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