Sierra Club Official's Cut Is A Snapshot Of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy: The act of simulating or feigning to be what one is not; especially the assuming of a false appearance of piety and virtue.

LADIES and Gentlemen, meet William Arthur, northwest regional director of the Sierra Club, one of the more ardent environmental organizations in the country. Arthur has made the saving of old-growth forests a spirited crusade for his organization and is well known within media circles for his crisp sound bites:

"You can't save a forest and cut it down, too," he told the Portland Oregonian last July. "(Loggers) are burning holes in the fabric," he told Newsday back in 1991. "It's like taking a cigarette and burning holes in a shirt. It still looks something like a shirt when you're through making the burn holes, but it isn't a functional shirt anymore."

Strong words. But Arthur is not an extremist. He is sometimes willing to see the other point of view. He is capable of gauging the economic benefits of logging ancient trees in certain circumstances. . . .

Like when those trees are on his own property.

Last August, Arthur had a local logging company mow down 15 acres of trees on land he owns east of the Cascade mountains. The land is surrounded by the Colville National Forest - the same Colville National Forest that the Sierra club is suing because they believe the U.S. Forest Service should do more to protect old-growth timber in the area.

Arthur told an Idaho newspaper that he had the trees cleared for money and that he is satisfied with the cut. "I think they generally did a pretty good job," he said.

But the man who felled the small forest for Arthur disagrees.

"He (Arthur) wasn't here for the cutting," says Steve James, who cleared the area. "He didn't do any studies. It was just out of sight, out of mind."

Indeed. The Coeur d'Alene Press, which broke the story last month, asked Sierra Club official Mark Lawler the appropriate amount of timber that a landowner should clear from his land. Lawler replied that landowners should restrict their timber removal to about 10 to 20 percent of the available trees.

Arthur went a bit above that. His permit called for the removal of 70 percent of the timber on Arthur's land, removing "all merchantable" timber, and replanting the acreage only "if necessary."

By the time the cut was done, 20 logging trucks packed with Douglas fir, white fir, ponderosa pine and cedar had loaded up and left Arthur's property. Logging industry officials pointed out that many of the harvested trees were old growth, including cedars more than 250 years old.

"This was no light selective cut," claimed Ken Kohl of the Idaho-based Intermountain Forest Industry Association. "They took 90 percent-plus of the volume on that site." All that was left were Washington state's per-acre minimums for private landowners: two wildlife trees, two "recruitment" trees for regrowth, and two downed logs per acre. Pictures of the site also show what loggers call "whips" - tall trees too skinny for lumber mills.

Needless to say, this snapshot of hypocrisy is causing some consternation within the ranks of the Sierra Club, whose membership is increasingly divided among those who want logging restricted and those who want it stopped. In 1992, the club called for a stoppage of logging in never-touched forests on both public AND private lands, while approving logging in national forests in which it had taken place before.

But Arthur's actions go beyond being out of compliance with his own organization. This is a racket. A man heading an organization that claims to represent the public interest tries to keep as much timber as possible from being harvested. That means a smaller supply of timber while demand for it continues to grow. Result? Escalating prices for wood and lumber.

Those who can stop logging on federal and state lands while letting logging trucks on their own property receive a financial windfall. Arthur made $10,000 from selling his timber to a leading log exporter, Global Pacific Forest Products of Snohomish. Environmental pushiness can be profitable. Literally.

"The timber frontier has ended. We don't kill buffalo, we no longer hunt whales, and we can't sacrifice the remaining 10 percent of the ancient forest," Arthur told a Tacoma newspaper last April.

Just the part of it you own, right Bill?

John Carlson is president of the Washington Institute for Policy Studies in Seattle and hosts an afternoon program on KVI (570 AM). His column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times.