Forest Grump

A prominent Southwestern environmental group is at the center of a squirrelly federal lawsuit

Young and his clients interpret current enviro buzz words like "zero cut" and "biodiversity" as Deep Ecology liturgy. The evidence, he claims, comes from writings on the Internet. Young, in the suit, and Jones, over the phone, single out a SWAN board member named Michael Zimmerman as further proof. There is a philosophy professor by that name at Tulane University who writes and lectures on Deep Ecology. SWAN's Zimmerman, however, is a biologist at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, who sighed as he told New Times, "I feel bad that I'm always the other Michael Zimmerman."

Young is just trying to make a political point, says Chris McGlincey, Forest Guardians' attorney in Minneapolis.

"He's found a vessel into which he can pour his political philosophies and his legal theories -- which are novel, to say the least," he says.

Mike Wartella
Mike Wartella

The U.S. Attorney's office in Minneapolis refused to comment.

"You have a lawyer that's trying to make a name for himself, and he's taking advantage of uninformed local loggers in Minnesota," Forest Guardians' Hitt says. "He's exploiting fear and uncertainty in rural communities. He has these bogus theories about the way the Constitution works. He's unprincipled."

Or too principled.

Stephen Young fits into another dogmatic philosophical movement sweeping the country. In addition to being an attorney, he is founder of the Center of the American Experiment, a Minneapolis-based conservative think tank that wants to turn back the clock, and not in the Daylight Savings sense. Its staffers and officers contribute articles to the local Minneapolis newspapers, questioning the need for multicultural education and Title IX (which guarantees gender equity), and even calling for Latin to be taught in schools, just like in the good old days. Former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr addressed the center's fall conference.

"The case is not about politics, it is about law," Young writes in his fax. "We want a rule of law to guide all who think about logging that common sense, science and compromise must govern our decision-making about use of trees and forests, not religious beliefs -- because they lead to zero-sum struggles not fit for pluralistic, democratic politics under our Constitution. If SWAN and Forest Guardians will agree that Deep Ecology is not an acceptable basis for public policy, we can settle this lawsuit right away."

Both Fenner and Hitt contend that their groups' appeals are based on science. But McGlincey asserts that even if his clients were tree-worshipping druids, it would make no difference in the appeals they file.

"Our position is that it's irrelevant to the lawsuit," he says.

Religious beliefs, especially those of Native Americans, are frequently cited in appeals of decisions proposed by state and federal land management agencies. Forest Guardians is trying to influence the U.S. government -- that's what appeals are for -- and whether for religious or scientific reasons, they have every right to do so within the democratic process.

Except that stripped of the religious novelty approach, the suit is about the same bottom-line complaints that have fueled the long-burning logging vs. environment debate.

"Plaintiff ACL and its members have suffered financially from reduced volume of timber supply as a result of actions and decisions taken by Defendant USFS," the lawsuit alleges. "Some ACL members were forced to acquire logging rights from non-federal owners at higher costs. Others had their volume of business reduced as other logging opportunities did not materialize."

"So the taxpayer has some sort of moral duty to provide low-cost timber to loggers?" Hitt responds as if on cue.

And Jones: "It really offends [the local loggers] when somebody from outside the area tells them they're doing something bad to the land."

Never mind that Young and Jones have been scalded by Minnesota newspaper editorials.

"It's a good side to be on," Young says, "the right side."

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address:

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