Activists stump for Superior Forest

Colleen Winters

A few weeks ago, members of the University’s Ecology Club visited a section of the Superior National Forest called Little Alfie, which is home to century-old red and white pines.
On Wednesday, some of those club members braved freezing temperatures and joined about 50 people in a rally outside the federal courthouse building in Minneapolis to protect Little Alfie’s trees from logging.
“We believe in direct action,” said Andrew Roberts, a senior in ecology and the club’s president. Shouts of “Zero cuts on public land!” came from activists, some of whom were wearing homemade tree stumps on their heads. One protester dressed up as Smokey Bear held a sign that said, “Only you can prevent deforestation.”
But action to save Little Alfie has been going on for years. The fight over the section of old pines began in 1988 when the U.S. Forest Service decided to survey a 15,000-acre area of the Superior National Forest for possible logging sites.
The service sold some of the sites at the time, and in 1994, Little Alfie was offered for sale. In 1995, 3,500 red and white pines were sold to Cusson Camp Co., a sawmill in Orr, Minn., for about $195,000.
In December 1996, protesters blocked the road leading to Little Alfie to prevent the logging from taking place. Later that month, Leslie Davis of the Minnesota-based environmental action group Earth Protector, filed a lawsuit. Davis charged that cutting down the trees is a violation of federal environmental protection laws.
The lawsuit resulted in an environmental assessment of the proposed logging, which was completed in August. In the meantime, Davis dropped the lawsuit because logging had been suspended.
But in October, the Forest Service announced that it planned to sell a reduced number of pines from Little Alfie. That decision prompted Davis to reopen the suit, and another blockade of the road leading to Little Alfie occurred, beginning Jan. 1 of this year.
Tony Vukelich, the sawmill owner who bought the Little Alfie pines, and the Forest Service have agreed to suspend any logging until a court hearing on Jan. 21 in Minneapolis. That’s when U.S. District Judge John Tunheim will decide whether to issue an injunction against logging the trees.
Wednesday’s rally was organized by the Minneapolis-based group Earth First!. Rebecca Shayne, a spokesperson for Earth First!, said the organization’s members want to stress that they are fighting for economic security of the timber workers as well as the protection of the trees.
“Time and time again economists are saying, ‘If you cut everything down, where will jobs for the children be?'” Shayne said. Earth First! says government subsidies for cutting roads through logging sites should instead be used to retrain loggers to do work planting trees and regenerating forests.
Sam Adams of Industrial Workers of the World, an international labor union, said his group does not support the job conditions of loggers. “These guys are up at 3 a.m, start work at 5 a.m. and work till 7 p.m. So the idea of the eight-hour work day doesn’t exist,” he said. Logging is also a seasonal job, and many loggers must receive unemployment in the off-season, he said.
University graduate and former Ecology Club President Sam Gale said better planning and management of old growth forest, such as the 100-year-old pines in Little Alfie, is needed.
The trees in Little Alfie are in the “teenage stage for a white pine,” Roberts said. They can live to be 400 or 500 years old, and after death, can continue to provide nutrients to the forest. “The last thing you want to do,” he said, “is take that out of the ecosystem.”
Davis, who filed the lawsuit, attended Wednesday’s rally and said if an injunction is not issued, he will appeal the decision.
“I’ll continue this fight all the way,” he said.