Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Summer/Fall 2001

Forest Activism 101:

The Eighth Annual ADP Fall Gathering

By Beth Neely

For a brief moment in time, it seemed like the world stopped spinning when I stepped into the forest and out of the hecticness of everyday life. I imagine the feeling was similar for about sixty other forest advocates who converged in the Allegheny National Forest for the Allegheny Defense Project's Eighth Annual Fall Gathering on September 21st-23rd, 2001. Gatherers from all backgrounds: students, parents, children, activists, listeners and leaders came together for a weekend of workshops, camping, and good company. We had the chance, at least for one weekend, to remove ourselves far from the overwhelming images of tragedy on TV screens, newspapers, and the internet. In a time of sorrow, we found refuge in the forest, in its stillness, in relaxation and in friends, new and old.

Advisory Council member Tom Bachelder helps Sarah Campbell, age 8 mix paint for the ADP art project. Photo by Rachel Martin

This was actually the first time I attended the ADP's Fall Gathering and I didn't quite know what to expect. Our camp sight in the middle of an area known as the Duck Sheriff Timber Sale was definitely not what I expected. Instead of the majestic forest of tall oaks and maples, thick hemlocks, and wild beeches that I pictured in my mind, our campsite was centered in an even-aged forestry plot managed for the production of cherry. Almost all the trees were the same: same height and thickness and same distance apart, with ferns carpeting the ground. Not a hemlock in sight. Not much wildlife except a couple of playful kids and two rambunctious dogs.

What I did expect were the cheerful faces, the warm campfire, and the great workshops. The opening speaker was Tim Ream, a forest activist from "Cascadia" in the Pacific Northwest inspired listeners around a campfire as he told of a successful campaign to block a salvage sale in an area known as Warner Creek. Tim told a very personal story of a love for a forest and all that it stands for, and the commitment of hundreds of people to protecting a place and all its living creatures who have no voice of their own. "Could something like this really happen in the East?" was the question I saw on the faces around the fire.

Tim Ream and Karen Wood-Campbell lead a workshop on non-violence. Photo by Rachel Martin

The workshops over the next few days covered issues including the expected logging, oil and gas, plant ecology, and forest watch. The most interactive activities were the field trips, whose leaders taught stream ecology, talked about sustainable forestry on private lands, visited old growth, and even tree climbing! What an incredible classroom... to be in the ecosystem you're learning about instead of just reading about it in a book! I was especially blown away by a hike through the Hearts Content Old Growth area early Sunday morning. The trees were mostly hemlock and beech, which I learned are naturally dominant in the Allegheny region. They were giants, reaching hundreds of feet towards the sun. The ground was littered with nurse-logs, providing necessary nutrients for new trees. New trees were sprouting up everywhere, all different ages and sizes. We heard the rustling of the leaves, the songs of birds, and the sounds of woodpeckers looking for breakfast. Life was everywhere, and it was going on just as it had been for hundreds of years!

The 8th Annual ADP Fall Gathering was an opportunity to learn about our forests and meet up with friends, old and new. Photo by Rachel Martin

One of the most important issues discussed at the gathering was the "Allegheny Wild!" campaign. Because the Forest Service hasn't taken the initiative to revise its forest plan, as should be done every fifteen years, ADP is going to give them something to work with when they finally get around to it in 2003. This is an opportunity for the ADP to take a proactive approach to forest protection, instead of just reacting to the forest service. This is our chance, as forest activists, to be part of a vision for the future of the Allegheny. This is one of the ways that the ADP has progressed in its approach to the issues in the Allegheny National Forest. This was the second time that Kelly Mack attended the Fall Gathering and she noticed that the ADP is gaining more experience and better ideas for achieving their goals by trying to work more with the public. They are trying to move away from the perception that forest protection is a polar issue. It shouldn't be the Forest Service, loggers, and local people constantly disagreeing with environmentalists. Both sides need to come together. Both should be aware of people’s needs and the reasons that natural resources have been exploited historically, but also realize that the protection of forest ecosystems, their wildlife, and their watersheds will benefit all in the long run.

David and Yvonne Prather chat with Aubryn Sidle, a Cornell student, after David's workshop on Religion and the Environment. Photo by Rachel Martin

If you're not sure how you feel about the issues in the National Forest, then visit the Allegheny. Megan Thomas, a student at Allegheny College had her mind made up by her experience in the forest that weekend. "Going there, I noticed how beautiful the area is, how transcendent, and then you realize this area could be logged and completely altered… it makes the issue so much more dramatic and important."

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