BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Wilderness Fight Deep in the heart of Texas’ timber belt lie four national forests Sam Houston, Angelina, Davy Crockett, and Sabine. As recently as 1970 they contained 658,000 acres: now, thanks largely to the creation of new lakes \(of which Texas, I am told, now has more around 590,000. Sterile Forest is largely about these national forests, though in a broader sense it is about clearcutting and its costs. And in a still broader sense it is about the relationship of humanity to nature generally. STERILE FOREST: THE CASE AGAINST CLEARCUTTING By Edward C. Fritz Austin, Texas: Eakin Press. 1983. 271 pp. $12.95. A word of caution is due at the beginning. National forests are not national parks. They are not intended as wilderness redoubts or biological preserves but as national timber reserves. No one should be upset, then, if they find that the feds cut trees in the federal forests. That is what these forests are for. The question is not whether to cut, but how. What conservationists complain about is the clearcutting methods applied to the national forests since 1964. To clearcut a forest means to harvest its saleable timber, to bulldoze the rest into windrows and burn it, and then to plant the sciaped earth with rows of pine. If hardwoods \(oak, hickory, bulldozed, burned, or poisoned. The result is rapid production of pine pulp and construction lumber: plus a biological desert. The federal Multiple Use Act requires that the National Forest Service Pete Gunter is a professor of philosophy at North Texas State University and the author of a book on the Big Thicket. manage the national forests in such a way as to support a wide variety of values: recreational, scenic, biological, as well as economic. But the pine monoculture produced by clearcutting, conservationists complain, is anything but scenic, does not support recreation, and is an environmental plague, turning once diverse, rich, many-specied ecosystems into rows of pinestalks surrounded by little else. A bird flying through an adult slash pine monoculture, environmentalists assert, had best carry provisions; there is nothing in the monoculture for it to eat. There is one more piece to the puzzle. In 1977, James Earl Carter, President and sometime conservationist, established the Rare II program, whose goal was to set aside wilderness areas in the national forests. There were strict limits to the overall size of the acreage to be set aside. And there had been, previously, a Rare I program, which had netted exactly zero wilderness acreage in the Lone Star State’s national forests. There was little reason, then, from the side of the National Forest Service, to suspect that things would be any different this time. Business-as-usual would continue. Besides: Rare II had a time limit. The whole thing could be stalled ENTER EDWARD C. FRITZ: irascible, redheaded, stubborn, determined, and, worst of all, honest. Founder and chairman of the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, Fritz, a Dallas lawyer, had for years been involved in virtually every environmental cause, movement, and controversy in Texas, much to the consternation of the state’s Establishment, which could never quite either digest or ignore him. He had, in particular, been a leader in the drive to set aside wilderness tracts in the state’s national forests a drive which, so far, had ended in complete frustration. Fritz had once won a lawsuit giving him the right to maintain his yard in a state of semi-wilderness. Unmowed, weed-and-wildflower festooned, it remains to this day a natural bird sanctuary in the heart of neatly mowed and clipped North Dallas. He had also taken part in a suit preventing the ditching of Bachman Creek, which runs just behind his home. A strong partisan of the Big Thicket Crusade, which netted an 84,550 acre national biological preserve in Southeast Texas, Fritz had founded the Big Thicket Coordinating Committee, a device which enabled beleaguered conservationists to present a united front against their lumber company adversaries. At what clean-air, clean-water, water-plan or wilderness hearing over the past two decades had Fritz or his Texas Committee on Natural Resources not testified? Whom, in some position of power and eminence in Texas, had he failed at least once to irritate? The author certainly describes possibilities for irritation on a grand scale. In the process of trying to save wilderness in the national forests, conservationists had set aside several areas of special value. When the National Forest Service singled out a 400-acre piece of for clearcutting, the author rather against his own inclinations and despite advice to the contrary finally decided that only a full-scale injunction against clearcutting could safeguard what patches of wilderness were left. Sterile Forest is the story of his long, exhausting, nearly-victorious campaign to halt clearcutting in all of Texas’ national forests. It is also an excellent investigation of the Forest Service, the new clearcutting technology, and the labyrinthine ties connecting the Forest Service, forestry schools, and lumber interests. Personal accounts of personal crusades are liable to several pathologies: preachiness, abstractness, egocentricity, lack of objectivity. Sterile Forest manages to avoid these flaws for the most part. A step-by-step chronicle of the author’s suit against the National Forest Service’s clearcutting policies, it carries the reader along effortlessly, building suspense. The author’s frank admission of his own fears, perplexities, and physical weariness render his account believable and serve to underscore the David vs. Goliath character of the plot. Small, under-supported, poor by comparison, conservationist groups are barely able to mount campaigns against either large corporate interests or government bureaucracies, which can force the depositing of large bonds or file ruinous countersuits. A threadbare Da THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.