Activist proposes ‘ransom’ for red pines

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With courts refusing to block the logging of 6,000 old red pines in Superior National Forest, an environmentalist on Wednesday proposed a swap to keep the trees alive.
The U.S. Forest Service has “thousands and thousands” of 60-year-old plantation pines that could be cut instead of the century-old red pines on the tract known as Little Alfie, Leslie Davis said.
Davis said he would ask the Forest Service and the sawmill operator who holds logging rights if they would consider such a switch.
“We could reach some sort of reasonable settlement,” Davis said. “We would be able to ransom Little Alfie.”
Davis’ group, Minneapolis-based Earth Protector, has appealed a district judge’s decision that would allow the cutting of the red pines, which are 90 to 110 years old and about 85 feet tall.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Earth Protector’s request to delay the logging until that appeal is resolved.
Tony Vukelich, the sawmill operator who paid $195,000 for the right to log the timber, scoffed at Davis’ proposal. He said Davis promised in the past to get state money to retrain timber workers and cover Vukelich’s loss if the timber is not cut.
“Neither of those checks came and I don’t imagine we’re going to get much out of a swap, either,” Vukelich said.
Vukelich said Wednesday that a crew would begin logging within a week.
“I don’t really want to say which day,” he said. “I don’t expect any trouble from any protesters. We don’t really want to turn the first day into a media circus.”
To prevent protesters from blocking loggers, the Forest Service on Tuesday closed a logging road leading to the Little Alfie site to non-logging traffic.
Fifteen protesters, mostly from the Twin Cities, arrived in the Little Alfie area around dusk Tuesday. But they could only get within 13 miles of the site because law enforcement officials had already closed the forest road.
Members of Earth First!, another Twin Cites-area environmental group, were among those protesters. Bill Busse of Earth First! said he didn’t believe any protesters were at the site Wednesday, and he wasn’t sure if they would return.
“It’s kind of hard to continue to play this waiting game when you don’t know when they’re going in to cut the area,” Busse said. “Because we’re so far away and our resources are so slim.”
Last year, the U.S. Forest Service ruled 6,000 red pines could be cut without damaging the ecosystem. The Forest Service also put 2,000 rarer old white pines and 2,000 old red pines at the site off-limits, but environmentalists say anything short of protecting the entire tract is unacceptable.
Environmentalists noted that since the sale of the timber in 1995, the Forest Service has adopted new protections for timber. They believed the sale should have been reconsidered using the new standards. Forest Service officials conceded that under the new standards, the sale might not have been made at all.