Save America's Forests - Profile of Founder Carl Ross


From Hicksville and Its Trees,
A Leader in Forest Preservation


Most Long Islanders are enamored of the ocean and beaches, but Carl Ross of Hicksville has always loved trees. So much so that he has lobbied Congress for three years for legislation to protect ancient forests on Federal land.
Mr. Ross has helped shape a legislative proposal to ban clear cutting in all national forests, the Forest Biodiversity and Clear Cutting Prohibition bill. It "is the most important forest legislation in history, bar none," he said.

Besides prohibiting clear cutting on all forested Federal lands including wildlife refuges and military bases, the bill would also prevent the construction of logging roads in the 60 million acres of roadless areas. Of primary importance to Mr. Ross the law would require the revegetation of logged areas.

'Natural bio-diversity is important above all else,' a bill says.

"For the first time, " he said, "the law is declaring that natural biodiversity is important above all else. The Forest Service will be required to restore all the original native plants and animals that originally existed on that site before human intervention. That sounds complicated. But once scientists identify keystone species other native bird species will return, and plants will colonize. It reminds me of my seventh-grade biology teacher, Mrs. Schweitzer, who said "we have to relearn the lessons of nature."
Carl Ross, Director of Save America's Forests, in front of the U.S. Capitol

Mr. Ross, 40, is a co-director of Save America's Forests in Washington. He founded the group in May 1990 with Mark Winstein, a lighting consultant from Missouri, and Chris Van Daalen, a student from Oregon.

"I knew we needed to have a stronger voice here on the part of the national forests," Mr. Ross said. "Public lands all over the country, especially the Northwest, are being cut at an alarming rate. Only 5 percent of old-growth forests are left. At this point the forests are being logged to the point of extinction, and in some cases were talking about trees that were standing before Columbus landed."

From the Suburbs to the Woods

The North Fork Environmental Council, the Huntington Audubon Society and the Nassau-Suffolk Neighborhood Network are in the 300-member coalition of Save America's Forests.
"I'm a typical average baby boomer who grew up in the post-World War II suburbs," Mr. Ross said. "I roamed in the nearby woods. I climbed trees, fished and camped. As a kid you get a sense of nature's being endless and vast. But as I grew up I saw one by one the fields I'd known disappear."

Earth Day in 1970 was a turning point, he said, adding: "I joined up with a group of students from a high school environmental club, and we published a newspaper advocating that the Shattuck estate in Plainview be preserved. And eventually Nassau County acquired it."

Mr. Ross studied ecology, economy and politics at Columbia University, traveled to Indian reservations, worked on East End farms and helped his father, an artist, design bird models. In 1989 he began working with the South Shore chapter of the Audubon Society.

'So Simple' to Become Involved

"Carl is very soft-spoken, but very driven, " Annie McIntyre of the chapter said, recalling slide shows that he organized and petitions that he collected. "If it weren't for the forests Carl would be dedicated to fixing something in this nonperfect world."

When he began lobbying three years ago, Mr. Ross recalled, he and Mr. Winstein testified before a Senate committee and took along posters of satellite photographs of clear-cut forests. "Even the senators who consistently opposed forest-protection legislation looked at them and gasped," Mr. Ross said. "Unfortunately it didn't change their vote. Congress is a very interesting institution. They're a bunch of guys who bring home the money for pork barreling. They make up their own rules.

"Clinton has a lot of environmentalists in his Administration. But even he has run into roadblocks. As part of his budget he proposed to end some timber sales that were losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Several senators told him if he included these money-saving items they wouldn't vote for his budget."

Mr. Ross has mixed feelings about Congress. "Everyone comes to Washington to get what they want," he said. "If we demand that our representatives truly represent us, they'll do the things we want. They're playing with our money. I talk to school and civic groups all the time, and I tell them, 'It's so simple.' To that end S.A.F. has published a citizens' action guide and facts network. We want people to get involved."

Responding to critics who call environmentalists "tree huggers," he said: "Trees provide oxygen and clean water. We can't live without them. Every human being, whether he or she hugs or kisses a tree, needs trees."

Mr. Ross said the 90 million acres of Federal forests should be saved not only for their beauty and ecosystems, but also for economic reasons. "Every year the American taxpayer is paying to have our forests looted," Mr. Ross said. "The U.S. Forest Service loses about $1 billion a year because they build the roads for timber companies, then sell trees for a lot less than it costs to cut them. When an area is clear cut - the practice of cutting all or most trees in one area - the Forest Service then plants rows of single species of trees. Unfortunately most of the seedlings die, and those that live can't support the previous variety of animal and plant life."

Long Islanders may feel far removed from forest issues, but "40 to 50 percent of Long Island's garbage," Mr. Ross said, "is forest material ' cardboard, paper, wood - that was used just once and thrown away."

"The garbage crises is the forest crises," he added.

The director of the North Fork Environmental Council, Sherry Johnson, sees a parallel between the forest movement and the controversy over the pine barrens of Long Island. "Powerful vested interests say we can't afford to protect nature because people need to work," Ms. Johnson said. "But their actions, be it overdevelopment or clear cutting, have already undercut the economy and cost desperate workers their jobs. Unfortunately, in both cases, environmentalists have been made the scapegoat."

"It was not the Northern spotted owl that's been putting loggers out of work," Mr. Ross said. "It's the timber companies that clear cut one area, then move on to other forested regions, and then to another and another. It's the huge overseas exports of raw unprocessed logs - 60 percent of all logs go to Japan. A lot of mills have gone bankrupt because so many logs aren't milled in this country."

Dangers of Single-Industry Areas

Mr. Ross and his staff helped write legislation, the Community Economic Transition Program, which is not part of the Forest Biodiversity measure, to help workers and communities who depend on federally subsidized logging. The bill intends to help the switch to a continuous sustainable economy. It would create economic incentives for recycling and manufacturing secondary forest products and includes plans for selecting just weak or dead trees for cutting and restoring forests. "A one-industry town," Mr. Ross said, "is bad for the economy."

David Boren, Democrat of Oklahoma, is planning to introduce the forest bill in the Senate, and Mr. Ross worked closely with his staff while the bill was being written. Mr. Ross said his staff also drafted separate legislation to insure compensation for timber workers and their communities.

Mr. Ross now spends most of his time in the capital. " I do miss Long Island," Mr. Ross said. He called Washington "culture-clash city."

"It can be a bizarre place, especially now that it's crawling with celebrities," he said. "Returning from a lobbying meeting one day I saw Robert Redford coming out of the House Cannon office building." Mr. Ross and his staff are also working with recycling groups, and he said he hoped that eventually large areas of the country would be restored to their natural states. "We probably won't live to see what were fighting for accomplished," Mr. Ross said, but "we're dancing with the giants and doing amazingly well."

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