(en) More Gang Green : Wilderness Society reversal

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Tue, 28 Oct 1997 16:15:27 +0000

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Wilderness Society Group Takes Pro-Logging Stand Filed at 2:33 p.m. EST, Oct 28, 1997 By The Associated Press SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A director of the Wilderness Society has shocked fellow environmentalists with a pro-logging legal brief that could undermine their right to file lawsuits. Charles Wilkinson, a University of Colorado law professor, signed on to a legal argument written in a case that could decide the fate of 75,000 acres of national forests and 12 million acres of grazing land in New Mexico and Arizona. It contends that any group in a coalition may be banned from suing if another organization in that coalition has ever filed a related suit. If the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules in the loggers' favor, it could harm the Wilderness Society and many other environmental groups. The court will hold a hearing on the lawsuit next week. Activists are irate that Wilkinson -- who is one of the Wilderness Society's 26 national board members and helped the Clinton administration create the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah -- appears to have switched sides. ``I was shocked to find Charles' name on this. It's indefensible,'' said Mark Hughes of Denver-based Earth Law. ``If he were on my board of directors and held the views he has taken in this brief, we would act to remove him.'' The brief not only supports logging one of the few old-growth ponderosa pines forests left in the Southwest, it seeks to narrow environmental concerns to the issue of hiking, Hughes said. The suit grows out of the efforts of a number of environmental groups, including the Forest Guardians and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, to restrict grazing and logging on park lands. The La Manga timber tract in New Mexico has drawn the most attention. The Wilkinson brief contends that since the Forest Guardians filed an earlier lawsuit solely on La Manga, all groups in a coalition with the Guardians should be banned from entering into the broader legal action. ``It's a real scary precedent,'' said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Southwest Center. ``This has sweeping implications not only for the environmental movement but for any groups that enter coalitions -- it's a constitutional disaster.'' Wilkinson defended his position, saying some things are more important than preserving trees. The issue in La Manga, he said, is helping the local Hispanic community by backing the logging company. ``I wanted to give the Hispanics some support, and, damn it, they deserve it,'' Wilkinson said. ``We in the environmental community are the one who need to address this.'' On the broader issue of blocking environmental coalitions, Wilkinson conceded in an interview Monday that the brief, which was written by the logging company's attorney, may have gone too far. ``I did not expect this kind of reaction and am still suprised by it,'' he said. ``I'm trying to correct it.'' Wilkinson said he has no intention of resigning from the Wilderness Society board. At the Washington headquarters of the Wilderness Society, spokesman Ben Beach said he knew of no efforts to censure or remove Wilkinson. ``These people are volunteers. They have their own lives,'' he said. ``We don't have some sort of procedure for testing what people do.''

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