In yet another summer already bristling with catastrophic forest fires, philosophical points of friction also are heating up across the political spectrum. On a national level this month the U.S. Senate will test party allegiances as it debates the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.
Closer to home, policy changes on timber management, roadless rule limits, and avenues for legal appeals related to the Tongass National Forest have rankled the environmental camp.
The political divide pits the "let it burn" and go unmanaged ideology of environmental extremists and a growing legion of Democrats against the Bush administration's "Healthy Forest" initiative of applying scientific forest management practices to insure the regeneration of healthy forests and mitigate the threat of wildfires.
Dr. Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace, speaking before the U.S. House Committee on Resources in June, explained that he left the organization because it ceased to propose practical solutions to land management problems.
In summarizing Dr. Moore's testimony, committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, a California Republican, observed: "Dr. Moore was brilliant in taking the sensational scare tactics out of the Healthy Forest debate and inserting science and logic instead."
The committee report stated that "Dr. Moore embraced Bush administration proposals and House-passed legislation that would treat forests to eliminate disease, insect infestation, and catastrophic wildfires. "We have to garden the forests," he said.
Greenpeace, long noted for its dramatic confrontations on the high seas, has been effective in drawing attention to species -threatening fishing practices in international waters. The organization also played an instrumental role in stopping the importation of endangered hardwood products from overseas and is credited for many other important ecological achievements.
However, due in large part to its "zero tolerance" extremism as applied to U.S. forests, Greenpeace now finds its popularity and fund-raising potential threatened. Could it be that Greenpeace's work is doing more harm to the environment than good?
Richly funded organizations such as Greenpeace, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club have enjoyed great success over the past three decades in removing human activity from forest lands by employing a wide variety of tactics and helped greatly by a last-minute, capricious act by President Bill Clinton called the roadless rule.
As a consequence, the U.S. Forest Service has been hobbled from effectively managing our forests, and catastrophic forest fires and insect infestation have proliferated. Over the past five years the United States has lost over 6 million acres of forested land to wildfires, exacting an enormous cost in loss of life, property and public funds.
The "natural" damage resulting from insect infestation and wildfires when compounded with the crippling economic outfall that ensues has fostered a groundswell of support for a return to scientific and sustainable forest management.
In preparation for the battle to come, more than 100 environmental activists gathered in early June at a boot camp for activism in the back country of the Bitterroot National Forest near Darby, Mont. As reported by the Missoulian, the week-long encampment, sponsored by Greenpeace and the National Forest Protection Alliance, preached traditional and modern methods of peaceful civil disobedience.
The curriculum included instruction on how to file lawsuits to obstruct unpopular court decisions, organize road blockades, roost in trees, write letters to newspaper editors and otherwise orchestrate events to draw media attention to the cause of the moment.
The newspaper account reported that "this summer, Greenpeace will send one of its notorious activist-piloted boats to Alaska to draw attention to unwanted logging in the Tongass National Forest."
Scott Paul, forest campaign coordinator for Greenpeace in Washington, D.C., was quoted as saying, "We'll use the ship as a platform for delivering our message - to draw attention to the issue."
Hopefully, the protests to come will be peaceful, civil, and legal.
During the Committee on Resources hearing, Dr. Moore pondered the question "why aren't the Sierra Club and Greenpeace endorsing the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003?"
"Because 'emotive images' and scare tactics sell more memberships," Moore answered. "I see fighting wildfire as a last resort. Preventing them is useful work in protecting the environment."
Dr. Moore has founded a new environmental organization, Greenspirit, whose mission is to promote active, scientific management to sustain and conserve our national forests.
For information on Dr. Moore and Greenspirit, visit www.greenspirit.com.