Students rally to protect threatened forests

In an effort to increase awareness about the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003, the Student Environmental Association presented a dramatic reading of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax Wednesday to a crowd of about 30 people. Following the skit was a brief explanation of the act and some of the possible consequences.

The Lorax is a children’s book that tells the story of an elephant-like creature that saves the Truffula from a villain who threatens to destroy it.

“The Healthy Forest Restoration Act basically goes into old-growth forests to take down old-growth trees,” said Matthew Kish, an SEA member who portrayed the Lorax.

Old-growth trees are blamed for forest fires nationwide, which is why the government aims to get rid of them. The Northwest Forest Plan, a program with similar aims, which was adopted in 1994, is failing in its attempt to solve the problem. In response, the Bush Administration proposed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, passed by the House of Representatives in 2002 but filibustered by the Senate. It has since been reissued and will be a topic of discussion once Congress reconvenes in January.

One major issue the SEA and other environmentalists have with the act is the access it gives people to unharmed forests.

“If logging roads are put in the forests, logging companies now have the ability to take down all the trees,” Kish said.

A stipulation of the act is that the trees that are removed must have a small diameter.

“The timber companies can’t make anything from small-diameter timber, so they are going to have to remove large-diameter timber to make wood products. It’s only logical,” said Lily Lewis, president of SEA.

Another concern is that human contact will cause the balance of the environment in these areas to become unstable.

“We’re going to cause habitat fragmentation by putting in roads where there aren’t any,” said Jim Thomas, treasurer of SEA. “People can’t get back there now, but when they do they can damage the ecosystem or bring on the spread of new species.”

The revised act also calls for the government to subsidize the costs of timber removal to no more than $15 million. The act has exemption from the Appeals Reform Act, which gives the public adequate time to voice its opinion for or against an act. The appeal time for this act is about 100 days, Lewis said.

During Wednesday’s presentation, the SEA distributed an outline of the act as well as petitions to stifle the presentation of the act to the Senate. A voter registration table was at the meeting.

“If you aren’t registered to vote, signing a petition doesn’t do any good,” Lewis said.

She added that students could petition by writing or e-mailing their senators.

Aside from raising awareness about the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, the SEA wants to bring attention to other issues affecting the environment.

“Our plan for the remainder of this semester is to have our members focused on a particular project and become familiar with the legislation regarding it, such as air, water or pollution,” Lewis said. “I really think we can reach more people and get things accomplished by specializing.”

Next month, SEA will present an environmental discussion panel composed of professors and environmentalists to analyze the problems currently facing the environment. They also plan to have an activist training workshop in December.

“The workshop will teach how to effectively contact senators and spread the message we’re trying to get across. It’s basically an organizing tool because a lot of people have the right intentions, they just don’t know how to act on them,” Lewis said.

Regardless of the outcome of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, the dedication of the SEA has not gone unnoticed. Linda Hubbard, who attended Wednesday’s performance in front of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, found it promising that students were taking action.

“It is so nice to see young people getting involved, especially so many,” she said, admiring the crowd. “I just think it’s great to see them out here doing something about what they believe.”