MARCH 1998

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MARCH 1998 FULL ISSUE PART ONE PART TWO

NATURE’S LAST STAND: THE CASE FOR CASCADIA’S ROADLESS AREAS

By KATHIE DURBIN

Each June before the start of salmon season, Joe Sebastian and Joan Kautzer, commercial fishermen in Point Baker, Alaska, load up their boat and take their children to East Kuiu Island for a campout. They want them to experience a place they regard as paradise on earth. It's a spot the Kake Indians of Southeast Alaska know well, a lush rain pocket that invites otters and ducks and black bears, migrating blue herons and trumpeter swans. Pink, chum and coho salmon spawn in the Salt Lagoon watershed, and offshore waters teem with halibut, herring, shrimp and crabs.

Sebastian's voice grows husky when he talks about East Kuiu - he calls it "Alaska's Garden of Eden" - and the Forest Service's intention to build roads and carve clearcuts into this pristine unprotected 27,576-acre roadless area on the Tongass National Forest. "It's a place that has a really strong life force," Sebastian says. "There are no more Kuiu Islands."

Far to the south, near Ashland, Oregon, wilderness outfitter Dave Willis has campaigned tirelessly since the early 1980s for congressional protection of Soda Mountain, a unique ecological crossroads where the plant and animal communities of the Oregon Cascades and the Siskiyou Mountains mingle at the edge of the Great Basin. In the 37,500-acre roadless area he seeks to protect, ancient junipers grow on arid ridges and white oak, bigleaf maple and rare native grasslands grace canyon bottoms.

The area is home to imperiled plants and rare butterflies. Its open forests provide essential habi­ tat for mule deer, cougar, bear and northern spotted owls. In 1989 the Bureau of Land Management proposed wilderness designation for just 5,867 acres around Soda Mountain. But Willis's videos, horseback tours and lobbying trips to Washington, D.C. have begun to pay off. In 1994 President Clinton referred to "the special qualities of this unique area" in his Northwest Forest Plan. The BLM has deferred logging at Soda Mountain for ten years. It is not the permanent protection Willis still hopes for, but it is a start.

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Paul Koberstein