Category Archives: Forests

Read it and weep: Clearcut

Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry.

Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry, edited by Bill Devall, published by Sierra Club Books and Earth Island Press, conceived by Doug Tompkins of the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

As readers of Sierra magazine know well, opinions on how to protect public and private forests in the United States are at least as numerous as the conservation organizations that hold them — and no such group, small or large, is shy about articulating its position. The result has been a cacophony of voices conveying an often-muddled message to policymakers in Washington, D.C.

This spring, however, 100 forest activists, brought together by the Sierra Club and representing a broad array of conservation groups, both small and large, convened in the capital to deliver a unified message to key members of Congress and Clinton administration officials: clearcutting is ripping the heart out of America.

The catalyst for this gathering was the publication of Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry, a landmark volume from Sierra Club Books and Earth Island Press, conceived by Douglas Tompkins of the Foundation for Deep Ecology. (See “At a Glance,” May/June, page 84.) Activists rallied to hand-deliver copies of the book to decision-makers in the belief that its combination of photographs of clearcuts and essays on forest ecology and politics would show them the folly of forest mismanagement.

Clearcut comes 30 years after The Last Redwoods (Sierra Club Books, 1964), the first book to use images of clearcuts to focus attention on threatened forests. That “exhibit format” book, which used such pictures sparingly, was subdued and traditional compared to Clearcut, a brash, in-your-face display of denuded landscapes that testifies to the spread of industrial forestry across the continent. It stands alone as the first avowedly ugly collectable book.

The 150 photos in Clearcut show a small part of the millions of acres that have been deforested, from British Columbia (where shots depict the wasting of Vancouver Island) to the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park (with clearcuts up to its boundaries) to North Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama (landscapes that only General Sherman’s ghost could admire).

The reaction to the book on Capitol Hill was encouraging. Representative Jolene Unsoeld (D-Wash.) expressed delight with it, saying its analysis of the issues and its deliberately unattractive photographs “make beautifully clear statements.” Representative John Bryant (D-Texas) averred that the book would make a substantial contribution to forestry reform. Even Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), not known for undue sympathy toward environmental causes, seemed “excited and disturbed” by the book, according to Lee Stanfield and Don Duerr of the Sierra Club. “Clearcutting was a mistake of history,” the senator told them. “It’s archaic and ugly. Most people don’t want it.”

Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas, however, preferred not to comment on or be seen in public with Clearcut, contending that the Forest Service is already shifting away from clearcutting, so he didn’t need to see any more pictures of it. Yet according to Sierra Club forestry expert Ned Fritz, who was in Washington for the event, Thomas has still not adequately explained what alternative method his agency is embracing. The fact is, says Fritz, unsustainable logging is still the rule on public lands.

Most enthused by the book were the anti-clearcut activists themselves, because it served to unite them on the issue. Too often in the past they have argued over policies. Organizations such as Earth First!, for example, want to ban all logging on public lands, an approach that alienates those who fear this might stimulate increased cutting of private and foreign forests. The Sierra Club prefers a more discriminating approach, opposing all timber cutting in old-growth and roadless areas, but allowing for limited, ecologically sound harvesting on previously logged public and private lands.

Dave Foreman, cofounder of Earth First! and now executive editor of the journal Wild Earth, welcomed the chance to cooperate with people from many organizations, and found the Clearcut education week to be constructive. “We’ve been a dysfunctional family of late,” he says of bickering environmental groups. “But there was a real willingness among everyone in D.C. to make a new start.”

Tim Hermach of the Native Forest Council, a “zero-cut” proponent and outspoken critic of the Sierra Club’s position, agreed. “The event was good,” he says. “It brought me face-to-face with some of the activists I’ve reviled in the past. I found common ground with them.”

Tensions will no doubt resurface among conservation groups as they continue working on many different ideological and political fronts to reform forestry practices. “But during the Clearcut exercise,” says Sierra Club Conservation Director Bruce Hamilton, “a lot of disagreements were put aside. We realized how much we have in common, and how much we stand to gain by working together.”


This article appeared in Sierra, July-August, 1994.




The Unspoken Reason: Into the Wilderness

From Into the Wilderness: An Artist’s Journey (Artisan/The Greenwich Workshop; 1995). Artwork by Stephen Lyman. Text by Mark Mardon.
“Cathedral Snow,” painting by Stephen Lyman

The wilderness holds answers to more questions
 than we yet know how to ask. — Nancy Newhall


On an especially clear morning in Yosemite Valley, on the north bank of the Merced River, Steve Lyman awakes from a night of slumber and for a long while remains stretched out in his sleeping bag, meditating on the scenery surrounding him. A sublime daybreak, he thinks, especially with craggy old Half Dome already exuberantly awake and busy catching and pitching back the first rays of a new spring sun. It is an image the artist has absorbed again and again on visits to Yosemite—this is his 35th trip to the national park in the last 17 years—but one that, as usual, fills him with an eagerness and anticipation verging on giddiness.

Why the feeling of such elation is hard to say precisely. Perhaps it’s that the monolith’s wise, wrinkled face, beaming down at him, beckons him to begin yet another backcountry adventure, promising myriad discoveries along the way. Or maybe it’s that after too long a period of winter dormancy in his northern Idaho home, he will once more be shedding the trappings of the artist’s workaday life to run and climb free in the wilds, reveling in the majestic Sierra Nevada landscape, testing his mountain-climbing reflexes, regaining his bearings, stretching his senses to the limit.

His body is groggy at the moment, not from sleep but from a winter spent tending to work, family, and community. But soon he will rebound as he treks cross-country toward hard-to-reach places recommended to him by Yosemite National Park historian and good friend Jim Snyder, who has explored pretty much all of the park and knows which hiking challenges will earn Steve the greatest scenic rewards.

Within hours after embarking on the trail, he’ll once again become fully alert, attuned to the subtlest natural phenomena: a tiger swallowtail butterfly emerging from its chrysalis after a long winter spent dangling from a twig, newly resplendent in its lemon-yellow and black-striped gossamer apparel; blossoms of dwarf huckleberry livening a stream side, that will soon be yielding sweet berries for hungry black bears; the long, noisy kaaaaa of a Clark’s nutcracker, flitting from tree to tree in search of a mate, its black-and-gray plumage stark against the snowy ground at timberline.

Perhaps the simplest way the artist can explain his high spirits is to recognize his intense attraction to mountains and all the living things that abound in them, like that of John Muir, his spiritual mentor. Through his explorations and paintings of the wild country of the American West, he exults in the variety and depth of feelings evoked by the Range of Light and its rocky kin in Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and other rugged states.

Steve never ceases to marvel at the way a Yosemite landscape can emerge and vanish and re-emerge again as clouds and fog roll in and out of the valley. “It’s rather like a dream sometimes,” he says. “You turn your back, and the mountain’s gone.”

Stephen Lyman at work in his studio.

With his artist’s eye, Steve sees the mountains and valleys as Muir did, vivid in shadow and light.

“Pale rose and purple sky changing softly to daffodil yellow and white,” Muir wrote of a sunrise in his first summer in the Sierra: “Sunbeams pouring through the passes between the peaks and over the Yosemite domes, making their edges burn.”

But even the urge to partake of such visual nourishment cannot in itself adequately explain why Steve so eagerly takes to the heights. It’s that old question: Why climb a mountain? The answer is not something that can be adequately expressed in words. The only way to understand what motivates a mountaineer is to seek out and engage the wilderness, for only in climbing the mountain does the answer becomes clear.

Many people have many ideas about what wilderness signifies. To those with a grasp of ancient history, it is the threatened remnants of the disappearing, primeval landscapes that once dominated this earth–Eden before Adam and Eve. For others of a scientific bent, it is a vast research library, field museum, and living laboratory all rolled into one. Legalistic minds tend to conceive of it as roadless areas undisturbed by motor vehicles, harboring particularly fine scenic or biological values worthy of public protection–areas where, as The Wilderness Act of 1964 puts it, “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Mining, timber, and grazing interests eye public lands as a free meal ticket, a commercial bounty ripe for the picking. Certain politicians beholden to those interests see wilderness protection as an outmoded idea, a prime target for budget cuts. Romantics in the tradition of Muir look upon mountains, forests, deserts, prairies, and wild seashores as conscious, breathing entities, sensitive to the way humans and other creatures touch them. This surely gets close to the heart of the matter, the artist nods to himself, else why would so many people run to the wilderness with such a yearning, as though it were their lover?

For Edward Abbey, wilderness represented nothing less than liberation. “It is my fear,” he once wrote in his journal, “that if we allow the freedom of the hills and of the wilderness to be taken from us, then the very idea of freedom may be taken with it.” Thoreau, who Abbey revered, put it even more concisely: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

For some unlucky souls, wilderness is no comforting companion. Nature appreciation is a fine art that requires tutoring. Those who have never experienced the solace and grandeur of such untamed wonderlands as Yosemite, Alaska’s Denali National Park, Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, or any of a thousand other untrammeled places may all too casually shrug off the importance of wild country, or even come to fear it. They may consider undeveloped landscapes to be environments separate from and uninviting to human society, places alien, remote, harsh, and inhabited by fearsome creatures.

Such thinking is as old as civilization itself. The very idea of securing hearth and home from the forces of barbarism came about from people’s struggle with a wilderness vastly more powerful than themselves, that seemed always on the verge of overwhelming them. Prior to the marriage of science and technology in the mid-19th century, which gave rise to the industrial age, humans may have shaped the land–as did the Romans, Egyptians, Hollanders, and even Native Americans, in different ways and to varying degrees–but they never never became divorced from it in pursuit of their livelihoods. As individuals went to work in factories and started consuming packaged products, however, many became estranged from it., to the point that they grew increasingly indifferent to it or even contemptuous of it.

Great writers of that time, Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad, warned us against our new found sense of superiority over the wilderness, but not against our impending alienation from it. Ultimately, man was an animal and the wilderness a great, untamable beast. Try as we might, it was something we would not overcome.

Technological optimism has changed that idea dramatically. As farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry observes in The Gift of Good Land, until the industrial revolution, the dominant images in people’s minds were organic: “they had to do with living things; they were biological, pastoral, agricultural, or familial.” Now, he laments, people are referred to as “units,” the body as a machine, food as fuel, thoughts as “inputs,” and responses as “feedback.” In such a lexicon, where does the wilderness survive? Ours is a society that thinks it doesn’t need wilderness anymore, that believes people can invent their own life-support systems and artificial environments rather than having to put up with the inconveniences of nature’s cycles.

Yet we are also living in a time when people feel increasingly that something spiritual is missing from their lives, that the natural rhythms and cycles that formerly sustained humanity are breaking down. Correspondingly, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of messengers and their manifestations: Angels, The Light, and even extraterrestrials. Their message, however, is, at the core, always the same: something has been lost, and without it people’s lives can never be full.

To Steve Lyman, once again enjoying the freedom of the hills, what civilization truly needs in order to shore up its crumbling foundation is a universal acknowledgement that wilderness, in the final analysis, may be the ultimate salve for psyches wounded by humanity’s alienation from the nature that gave it birth. Muir himself expressed the notion that wilderness, like poetry, music, art, and religion, nurtures that part of us for which science cannot account. In the mountains, he observed, there are times when a person’s soul sets forth upon rambles on its own accord, without consulting first with mind or body. On such occasions, “brooding over some vast mountain landscape, or among the spiritual countenances of mountain flowers, our bodies disappear, our mortal coils come off without any shuffling, and we blend into the rest of Nature, utterly blind to the boundaries that measure human quantities into separate individuals.


To spend time in the wilderness, observed Marion Randall in The Sierra Club Bulletin of 1905, is to touch something vital at the core of the universe:

For a little while you have dwelt close to the heart of things. . . . You have lived day-long amid the majesty of snowy ranges, and in the whispering silences of the forest you have thought to hear the voice of Him who “flies upon the wings of the wind.” And these things live with you long after the outing has passed and you are back in the working world, linger even until the growing year once more brings around the vacation days and you are ready to turn to the hills again, whence comes, not only your help, but your strength, your inspiration, and some of the brightest hours you have ever lived.

The snowmelt on the rim of Yosemite Valley, Steve observes as he packs his gear and prepares to set out on his trek, has hardly swollen the Merced. The river’s low water line and placid current are what he would expect during summer rather than early spring. But in the wilderness, expectations are often confounded. That’s part of the backpacking allure: the surprise, the serendipitous discoveries. Indeed, Steve has come to understand that the best journeys are often those arrived at spontaneously, without the burden of detailed planning. Rather than plotting every leg of a hike from start to finish and then attempting to follow the route step by step, he prefers to arrive at the edge of the wild country with no clear itinerary, to camp there for a night and let the mountains’ spirit embrace him during his sleep. That way, in the morning, he can embark on a more spontaneous, free-spirited, and fulfilling adventure. The wilderness itself will point the way. He likes to let the mountains be his guide.



The Fall of A Mountaineer Artist
Monday, April 22, 1996
Stephen Lyman

Wilderness painter. photographer, and philosopher Stephen Lyman, with whom I had the honor of collaborating on the book, Into the Wilderness: An Artist’s Journey, died in Yosemite in April, 1996, having met with a freak storm and an unlucky fall from a perch in the Cathedral Rocks area of Yosemite Valley. Yosemite has known many exceptional painters — Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and William Keith among them — and great mountaineers, from John Muir to David Brower. Steve Lyman ranks among these stellar personages for his love and devotion to the Range of Light, and for his ability to express that love through his art.

Into_The_Wilderness_BOOKAbove is the opening chapter of our book, Into the Wilderness: An Artist’s Journey. The chapter’s title, “The Unspoken Reason,” reflects Steve’s reluctance to say precisely why he journeyed into the backcountry. Such sentiments, he felt, could never be adequately expressed in words. “The Unspoken Reason” also, I feel, speaks to the question of why Steve, at too young an age, met his end in the valley that held such a claim on his heart.

My gratitude to former Sierra Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jonathan F. King for connecting me with The Greenwich Workshop and Steve Lyman.

Piercing the Jungle’s Heart

Oil company seeks to exploit reserves under Waorani Indian homeland.

Yasuni Waorani1Northeastern Ecuador’s Napo River region has for centuries been home to the Waorani (Huaorani) Indians, a fiercely independent people who live in cane dwellings and wear only waist cords and a few ear, hair and neck ornaments.

But more and more, this land lush with tree ferns and orchids, sloths and anteaters, parrots, manatees, and Amazon dolphins has become a drilling field where multinational oil companies sink their bits and pump their fortunes. Since 1967, oil workers and contractors have swarmed to the area, bringing bulldozers, toxic chemicals, viruses, guns and alcohol.  They frequently secure the sexual services of Waorani women by bribing their brothers with sugar, boots, axes, and chainsaws—good and equipment often pirated from company supplies. Sometimes the pilfering workers even contrive to blame the thefts on the Waorani.

One group of about 125 Waorani living in and around Yasuní National Park—one of the Amazon Basin’s largest rainforest preserves—has mostly avoided contat with oil workers. But its isolation from Western culture may soon be shattered. As early as March or April, Conoco Ecuador Limited, an affiliate of the Texas-based oil giant, expects to begin carving a road for pipeline construction more than 100 miles into the park, penetrating to the heart of the Waorani nation.

Not only will Conoco’s road carry oil crews and equipment into Yasuní Waorani territory, says the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, but it will draw colonists to the forest from all across Ecuador—speculators seeking to clearcut land for farms and cattle ranches. And that, the Defense Fund’s lawyers say, will prove so disastrous to the Waorani way of life that Conoco and the Ecuadoran government, which approved the project, could be held liable for ethnocide, a criminal offense under international law.

“The Waorani Indians face cultural annihilation if there are any major incursions into their territory,” says Karen Parker, a human-rights attorney retained by the Defense Fund. “They aren’t very adaptable to new influences. The Waorani are migrant people, hunters. Their territory has already been reduced to an area too small for their traditional lifestyle.”

Conoco officials strongly object to the allegation of ethnocide. “In fact,” says Conoco attorney H.J. van Wageningen, “we’re trying to avoid any harm coming to the Waorani.”

As evidence of their concern, Conoco officials point to an environmental assessment they commissioned from anthropologist James A. Yost, who lived among the Indians from 1973 to 1982. The company says it has developed policies based on Yost’s observations that will prevent disruption of the Waorani culture.

Among Conoco’s plans is a medical clinic for oil-company employees that would also be available to the Waorani. Whether that measure would suffice to guard against the spread of such diseases as influenza, which is alien to the Waorani people, is an open question. In areas of the Ecuadoran rainforest where flue viruses have been carried in by oil-company workers or tourists, may Waorani have died of secondary pneumonia.

Conoco Ecuador recognizes that the most severe threat to Waorani society would come from colonization along the new pipeline road. The company points out, however, that such settlements in Yasuni National Park is forbidden by Ecuadoran law. Colonists can be turned back, the company maintains, by means of around-the-clock police surveillance at key checkpoints along the road; those who ship through can be detected by satellite monitoring of the entire park.

Anthropologist Yost isn’t reassured. “Colonists in all parts of the developing world have proved time and again to be tenacious and relentless,” he says.

Yost believes the potential for disaster in Conoco’s roadbuilding scheme is enormous.  “Imagine the world of the Wao,” he wrote in his environmental assessment, “a person born tinto a culture that has a technology limited to stone, wood and fiber; a person who has never seen a horse, much less imagined an automobile. . . . Imagine how easily this erson’s sense of well-being is going to be challenged when the age-old sollutinso fo survival o longer work and he or she has no sense of control over the future.”

Acknowledging that oil development seems inevitable in the face of world demand for energy resources, Yost nonetheless advised Conoco Ecuador that his personal preference would be that no road be built into Yasuni National Park. “No matter how sensitive Conoco or any others going into the area might be,” he observed, “the Waorani will undergo some wrenching changes.”

This article appeared in Sierra, “Hot Spots,” March/April 1990.



In the redwood groves

Redwood National Park dedicates a grove to forest defenders Edgar and Peggy Wayburn.

Peggy and Edgar Wayburn hold the commemorative plaque presented to them by Redwood National Park Superintendent Bill Ehorn. Photo by Mark Mardon.

“The last time we went up to Redwood National Park was in 1989,” says Edgar Wayburn as he guides his car onto the tarmac of a small airfield north of San Francisco. “During the battle, though, we used to go up a lot.”

In less than two hours, the Sierra Club’s vice-president and his wife, Peggy, are due at the park to take part in an event celebrating the Club’s centennial. Fortunately, despite some coastal fog, the weather looks perfect for flying. Waiting for us beside a four-seater Cessna is Woodward “Woody” Payne, a volunteer pilot with Project Lighthawk, the environmentalist air force known as “the wings of conservation.” We climb aboard, Woody passes out headsets, and the plane is soon en route to Arcata, California, not far from the park.

The “battle” Ed refers to was the fight during the 1960s and ’70s between conservationists and timber interests over the establishment and later expansion of Redwood National Park. Ed became a leader in the fight, and the Wayburns threw themselves into the cause, scouting the most suitable areas to be accorded federal protection. Their ardor sometimes led them to tread surreptitiously across private timberland that they had been expressly forbidden to enter.

“We’d hear a lumber truck coming and would dive into the woods or hide among the logs,” Ed recalls. Many of the loggers carried guns, the Wayburns knew, and didn’t much like conservationists.

Edgar and Peggy Wayburn in the grove named after them in Redwood National Park. Photo by Mark Mardon.

“This is where the Redwood Highway was put in the 1920s,” Ed says through the static of the headphones as we pass over the valley of the South Fork Eel River. About 60 miles from Arcata we get a good view of the North Yolla Bolly Mountains and the southern flank of the Trinity Alps, with Mt. Shasta prominent on the northeastern horizon. As we skirt China Peak, Peggy points to a huge clearcut scar on a hillside. “It’s been scalped,” she says sadly.

A momentary retreat of the coastal fog lets us slip into the Arcata airport, where we meet park ranger Aida Parkinson, who shuttles us north in her van on U.S. 101 along the shore. Logging trucks bearing freshly cut redwood sections pass us, heading south to lumber mills. Each carries several small- to medium-size logs, but Ed says the trucks will often carry only one huge log each. “Not much anymore,” Peggy corrects. “There aren’t that many big trees left.”

We pass three lagoons and a freshwater marsh before the highway turns inland, bringing us to the village of Orick beside the Redwood Creek estuary. The hills beyond are part of the national park, and we head toward them. Today’s ceremony will take place among redwood groves along Skunk Cabbage Creek and at Davison Ranch, properties recently purchased by the Save the Redwoods League and the California Department of Transportation and turned over to the national park. The cows were removed from the ranch, and elk have moved in.

First to greet the Wayburns upon our arrival at the ranch is Jean Hagood, a resident of Orick who has long kept her house open to Sierra Club activists. We join a group of about 30 others, including Wayburns’ daughter Laurie, and Marty Fluharty, chair of the Sierra Club Centennial Committee, who has arranged this event. Park Superintendent Bill Ehorn calls for all to follow him, and we head down a trail into the heart of grove R-10.

For a moment in the cool quiet of the trees, it’s possible to forget that 95 percent of all coast redwoods have been logged and that only a small fraction of the original ecosystem remains intact. Certainly the redwoods around us look exactly as Ed described them for the Sierra Club Bulletin in 1973, after he wandered among “their deep brown and gray fluted trunks,” which soared above and all around, “solid and straight and somehow reassuring” for having stood in their places for at least five centuries.

It’s a distinguished lot that assembles around the edges of this steep, ferny glade: Doris Leonard, a longtime activist and wife of climbing great and former Club president Richard Leonard (absent today because of illness); one-time staff forester Gordon Robinson; two former Club presidents, Ed Wayburn and Richard Cellarius, and incumbent president Tony Ruckel; Redwood Chapter stalwart Lucille Vinyard; Club Chairman Michael McCloskey; and Michael Fischer, the Club’s fourth executive director. Many of these people fought in the redwoods campaign for decades.

Also here is John Dewitt, president of the Save the Redwoods League, a venerable organization whose relationship with the Sierra Club has sometimes been contentious, despite close links between the two groups. The League historically cooperated with the timber industry to buy up small, museum-like parcels of forest for inclusion in the California state-park system. In contrast, the Club sought federal protection for extensive ecosystems. The two groups locked horns in 1964, when the National Park Service first proposed the establishment of a redwoods park. The League and the Club differed over which watershed to protect – the relatively small but picturesque area of Mill Creek, or the much larger, more diverse expanse of the Redwood Creek watershed. In the long run, the Club’s view prevailed.

Calling for everyone’s attention, master of ceremonies McCloskey unveils five carved wooden plaques, each representing a virgin redwood grove along Skunk Cabbage Creek. These groves will be named in honor of the Wayburns, the Leonards, all Sierra Club presidents past and present, the Redwood Park volunteers, and Fred and Francis Speekman, two prominent contributors to the Sierra Club Foundation.

First to be recognized are Ed and Peggy. At the top of the slope, in front of a particularly massive old sentinel, Ed looks about at his fellow tree-huggers and clears his throat. He’s supposed to make a speech on the redwood campaign’s history, but has left his prepared comments back in San Francisco. Gamely, he launches into an extemporaneous reminiscence. “I’ve always been a sucker for redwoods,” he says, going on to recount how, in 1955, he and Peggy were made heartsick by the destruction along Bull Creek, which had its upper slopes logged and was then ravaged by a flood that sent debris roaring through the creekbed, ripping out hundreds of the trees. That’s when they resolved to devote themselves to preserving the remaining ancient forest. The effort was carried out locally, in Congress, at the Interior Department, and directly with President Lyndon Johnson. Their dream of a park was finally realized in 1968.

At 4:30 p.m., after all the speeches are made and lunch is concluded back at the ranch, we return to the plane with Woody. A strong headwind sweeps down the runway as we take off, and the Cessna lifts up quickly, banks, and soon is flying out of sight of the park, over Pacific Lumber Company clearcuts.


This article appeared in Sierra, May-June 1993