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"Clearcutting is Rape"

During the battle to save the pristine salmon and steelhead habitat of Headwaters Forest in 1998, I got a phone call one morning from Mike Sherwood, then the California Director of the Sierra Club. He told me that country legend Merle Haggard and actor Woody Harrelson would be appearing at the State Capitol for a noon time rally.

“Thanks for the information,” I told Sherwood and drove from Elk Grove to the Capitol to check the event out. I arrived about a half hour early, so I went to a small circle of a dozen activists standing around and talking on the capitol lawn. I scanned the area around the capitol on the lookout for Haggard, Harrelson and the folks from the Environmental Protection Center of Garberville, the event’s organizers.

I was ready to ask the guy next to me, a short, laid back, bearded man, about when Haggard and Harrelson were supposed to appear when suddenly realized that he was Merle Haggard!

“Please to meet you, Merle,” I said as I held out my hand and got a hard, firm shake from the country bard, known for the outspoken lyrics of “Okie from Muskogee,” the “Fightin’ Side of Me,”and many, many other songs. Haggard explained to me that he was there to stop the logging of redwood and Douglas-fir forests on the North Coast by Pacific Lumber Company.

Haggard, a long time angler and hunter who lives on Lake Shasta, was there to urge the Legislature to not fund the Headwaters Forest deal between the federal government and Pacific Lumber unless measures protecting forest watersheds were adopted. He also recommended the removal of state and federal officials responsible for the destruction of forest habitat.

“Clear cutting is rape,” said Haggard. “Several years ago I drove along the coast from Coos Bay to Crescent City and the destruction I saw made me sick to the stomach. I’ve fished in the streams of the North Coast since I first came to Eureka to work in a plywood mill in 1955. The problem is that many of the people who work in the mills aren’t aware of what logging companies like Pacific Lumber are doing.”

Haggard continued, “The people responsible for this destruction (government officials and timber company owners) should be taken out of their positions. These forests support the grandest life on earth; to have no feeling for it is criminal. Only money is being heard now, not the voice of the people.” Haggard spoke his mind like a true sportsman and environmentalist in his simple, but powerful and poetic way that makes him such a great songwriter.

Haggard’s appearance there was very important because he demonstrated the necessity for environmental groups and sportsmen to work together in the cause to protect our fisheries from destruction by the timber industry, agribusiness and oil and chemical industries. Haggard realized that to restore fisheries, anglers must work with environmental groups to achieve common goals, even though they may disagree at times.

Unfortunately, over the past decade I have witnessed a disturbing “enviro-bashing” trend among some members of the fishing and hunting community. Unlike Merle, these folks seem to link their fortunes with the wise-use movement rather than conservation groups.

Anglers who side with environmental protection are often bashed on internet message boards and on list-serves as “watermelons” (green on the outside and red on the inside), “Sierra Clubbers,” “tree huggers,” or other alienating – and completely inaccurate descriptions. Some editors and writers of regional and national outdoor magazines often lapse into the mob mentality of “enviro-bashing,” particularly when talking about the Endangered Species Act and forestry issues.

I absolutely oppose enviro-bashing,” since it is destructive and counter-productive to the cause of fishery restoration. Some of the current “enviro-bashing” originates from the support of some environmental groups, such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Conservancy, for marine reserves.

Many sportsmen have rightfully opposed blanket reserves on the California coast because they don’t solve the core problem – the intensive industrial gill netting, long lining, trawling and inshore fish traps that have devastated rockfish populations. Personally, I favor the creation of state marine parks – where sustainable recreational boats are allowed and commercial groundfish boats aren’t. For right now, the establishment of MPAs has been put on hold by the Governor.

However, because you disagree on one issue doesn’t mean you can’t work with organizations on other issues. Environmental groups, along with Indian tribes and commercial fishing groups, have been key partners with sportsmen’s organizations in achieving victories for fishery restoration. Here’s just a few examples.

1. The Hoopa Tribe, Environmental Defense, Friends of the River, Friends of the Trinity River, United Anglers of California, Federation of Fly Fishers and other groups worked in a highly successful campaign to force the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to withdraw from a lawsuit blocking Trinity River salmon and steelhead restoration last April. Since then, the cities of Palo Alto and Alameda and the Port of Oakland have also pulled out of the lawsuit.

2. The large numbers of steelhead that we are now seeing return to the American River are the direct result of conservation measures taken by Save the American River Association, United Anglers, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and California Trout in the early 1990’s. Now anglers can catch and release big, bright wild steelhead right in the heart of a bustling metropolitan area.

3. The Central Valley Project and Improvement Act, which made fish and wildlife a purpose of the project for the first time, passed in 1992 as a result of the participation of a wide coalition of environmental groups, including NRDC and the Sierra Club, commercial fishermen and recreational angling groups. The change in water management polices through the CalFed process, even with all of its problems, has resulted in the restoration of striped bass and sturgeon populations to historical levels, as well as improving winter, spring chinook and fall chinook populations.

These are just a few examples of dozens I could give on how environmental groups and fishery conservation organizations have worked together to restore and enhance the state’s fish populations. We should take a cue from Merle Haggard in making the “voice of the people” heard by working in broad coalitions of anglers, hunters, environmental groups, Indian tribes, recreational boaters, commercial fishermen and sustainable farming advocates. “Enviro-bashing” only serves those who aim to divide and conquer us from achieving our goal of restoring fisheries and the environment.

DAN BACHER can be reached at: danielbacher@hotmail.com