More than 1,000 people rally in support of logging in Superior National Forest

ORR, Minn. (AP) — The battle in the forest moved to the highway that runs through it.
Loggers lined U.S. Highway 53 here Saturday with about 175 trucks in support of the harvesting of century-old red pines at the Little Alfie site in the Superior National Forest.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday in Minneapolis on whether to temporarily halt loggers from cutting some of the 6,000 red pines at the site pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the environmental group Earth Protector.
The group contends that the U.S. Forest Service illegally sold the trees to sawmill owner Tony Vukelich without doing an environmental-impact study. The U.S. Forest Service, Vukelich and the Minnesota Timber Producers Association want the suit dismissed.
More than 1,000 people jammed into and around the Orr Legion Hall on Saturday to hear speeches by local officials, legislators and loggers.
“This is a mass show of how many people depend on the logging industry for work,” said Ivan Lokken, an Angora logger. “The main thing is to show how many people are involved in logging.”
About 57,600 people work in Minnesota’s $6.4 billion forest industry. In northern Minnesota, about 15,000 people are employed in the industry, making it the largest with about three times the workers employed in the taconite industry.
Some say a decision that favors environmentalists could lead to further limitations on use of public lands.
State Rep. Tom Bakk of Cook, who represents the Orr area, said “land worshipper” environmentalists and some state and federal legislators are taking aim at northeastern Minnesota.
Bakk said a federal bill is expected to be introduced in the next congressional session that would place a moratorium on building new forest roads. And on the opening day of the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday, a state bill is likely to be introduced that would ban snowmobiling on public lands.
“The real agenda is to remove you from this area of the state,” Bakk told the Legion Hall crowd. “Because they would like to turn this area into a little private, non-motorized playground. That’s the real agenda — to get us out of here.”
On Wednesday, Earth Protector, Earth First! and Superior Wilderness Action Network hosted a “Save Little Alfie” rally that attracted several dozen people to the Minneapolis federal courthouse.
“Unlike the timber industry, we don’t have bosses telling people to get down to our rally,” said Ray Fenner of SWAN. “We’re coming from the heart and what people want; we’re not being ordered to line the highway.”
The activists say their battle over Little Alfie is part of a larger fight to stop commercial logging in federal forests. They contend the federal timber sale program loses large amounts of money, destroys natural beauty and produces less than 5 percent of the nation’s wood supply.