November 3, 2003

Group Protests Bush's Forestry Bills, Policies

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Last Friday, visitors to the Agriculture Quad were greeted by tombstones, scarecrows and a masked chainsaw-wielding madman. Indeed, the scene was not far from traditional Halloween activities, except for the fact that this display of seasonal festivities was a protest against the Healthy Forest Initiative.

“Using Halloween is a fun way of highlighting the White House’s egregious forest policies,” explained Garrett Meigs ’04, referring to the Bush-proposed initiative, which he says is hiding corporate logging interests behind the veil of public safety.

The event, held by the Society for Natural Resources Conservation, was part of the National Forest Protection Alliance’s National Day of Action. About forty similar events were held across the nation in schools, forest service offices and outside senators’ offices.

National organization of the event began about a month ago, explained Stephanie Juice ’04, president of the SNRC. “[Locally,] we started planning a week ago, making a lot of stuff last night,” Juice said.

She also explained the society’s problem with the bill. “When you look at the bill, it’s not protecting communities, it’s not cleaning out scrub. It’s not always right around communities.”

The bill, which Meigs said passed through the Senate Thursday with vote of 80 to 14, was presented as a means to prevent forest fires such as the one currently ravaging parts of California.

Meigs, however, contends the real aim of the bill is to open up previously protected forests to commercial interests. “Some [fire prevention] legislation should be passed. There has been some progressive fire legislation proposed, but the Bush administration is blocking it in favor of this corporate legislation,” said Meigs.

The group of approximately 15 protesters handed out flyers, buttons, talked to passersby about the importance of forest conservation and restoration. “It’s your role as a citizen to get your voice heard,” Juice said. “I think it’s important to get the word out because it’s public land.”

Nate Smith ’06 said he was swayed by the society’s appeals. “There’s a lot of clubs like this at Cornell, but I think this is one that shows a lot of promise and is actually making some progress,” Smith said.

Zach Grant ’07 said he felt reaching students like Smith was the whole reason for the protest. “We’re trying to educate people about forestry and give them a better understanding of legislation that’s being passed,” he explained.

When asked about tthe Healthy Forest Initiative, he said, “It definitely sounds like it doesn’t support sustainable forestry. There’s a lot of corruption and deception. It claims to save healthy forests and homes but it doesn’t.”

The society also claims the initiative would hurt New York as well. “Bush’s bad forest policy affects all national forests, including our own Finger Lakes national forests,” Meigs said.

The society has been involved in other campaigns around campus as well. In addition to tabling as often as they can on Ho Plaza to raise general forest conservation awareness, the group started a “Tree Free Cornell” campaign two years ago.

Contrary to what its name suggests, the campaign actually seeks to save trees. “The main goal is to have Cornell University converted to 100 percent post-consumer waste, and the University to institutionalize 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper,” explained Meigs.

In the two years since the program started, 25 percent of the campus has converted to 100 percent post-consumer recycled waste. The society attributed this partly to the administration’s cooperation and openness to change.

“[President Lehman]’s very supportive,” explained Meigs. He added the society hopes to convert the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to 100 percent post-consumer recycled waste soon.

To end the protest, several protesters dressed as trees lined up. Meigs, playing the part of a slick logging executive, stage whispered to Grant, who had donned a President Bush mask, “Look at this unhealthy forest!” Grant replied, “Yeah, yeah! Unhealthy forest!” and proceeded to slash apart the maples and oaks, a scary sight indeed.

Archived article by Michael Morisy