Clarion Call of a Modern Day Lorax
by John F. Borowski
The fictitious character of Dr. Seuss’s masterful prophecy of the environment gone bad, the Lorax, echoes a message possibly more profound and even timelier today. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to better. It’s not.” The Lorax compelled those who were destroying the mythical “truffula trees” to reconsider their ways. “ I speak for the trees, for they have no tongues.” Our nations’ federal forests are under full-scale assault, by those who manipulate and manufacture science, and sadly are aided and abetted by bloated environmental organizations whose quixotic roots have faded into a political game of bureaucratic largess and ineffective compromise. But… listen and you will hear a voice that resonates with hope and passion, unwilling to negotiate our children’s natural legacy as if they were pawns in a game of quid pro quo. His name is Tim Hermach and he “speaks for the trees.”
Chided by the Sierra club back in the 80’s after giving them three years filled with frustration and digging deeply into his own pockets, Hermach decided to create a group unwillingly to play by modern environmental groups newest rules: even when we win your children lose. “Big environmental organizations have become monolithic, often compromising before their feet hit the floor in the morning. They never seem to ask for what they want and willing to ‘fix the game’ just to claim victory.” His rhetoric is sharp and adamant, with the belief that the time for tradeoffs and compromise with those who pillage National Forests, fill wetlands and jeopardize the livability of this planet has ended.
Hermach refers to a favorite quote of his by Carl Sagan, famous author and scientist who transformed the complex jargon of science into a digestible form for common folks. “Sagan said that we no longer have enough environment to be able to predict with any degree of probability or certainty the survival of the human species,” retorted Hermach. “That statement itself dictates a level of dedication to our children’s future that doesn’t include selling out as part of a political solution to environmental degradation.”
A native Oregonian, born some 57 years ago, Hermach fondly speaks of family outings camping and hiking the pristine National Forests outside his home of Eugene. Many Americans don’t realize that the nation’s 156 National Forests, encompassing close to 200 million acres, are managed under a “multiple use mandate”. Those dark green shaded areas on the United States’ maps don’t reveal the fact that our publicly owned forests have been clearcut, grazed, mined and drilled into submission. With less than 4% of the lower continental United States’ forests standing as native forests, why would we take the nation’s last and best wild places and scalp them?
Hermach’s family (wife and two sons) still camp the forests of Oregon along with his elderly parents. “To think that the once proud green shroud of Oregon has been pockmarked and fragmented in such a short time, speaks volumes of the greed and short-sightedness of an industry bent on profits at any cost”. He spent time in the woods as a young man, venturing high up Douglas fir trees to top them, falling trees and hauling wood out of the forests for his grandparents. Upon returning from a tour in Southeast Asia, Hermach was stunned by the utter disregard, both ecologically and economically of the timber practices in our national forests.
“All the costs of timber extraction are ignored”, stated Hermach. “A forest standing has value as part of a watershed, an air shed, a biological community and countless other intangible features.” A bizarre economic timber model that only gives dollar value to trees cut into wood products troubles him. His organization, the Native Forest Council (www.forestcouncil.org) boldly shattered the game of compromise by proclaiming that extraction on public lands should end, period. He likens his organization’s dream to an 1894 provision voted unanimously to the New York State Constitution. “To cut these native forests makes no economic or ecological sense.”
As the end of 1988 came to a close, chided by Sierra Club powerbrokers, Hermach created the upstart Native Forest Council. Quickly, mainstream environmental organizations labeled Hermach as “brash and unrealistic.” He was told that he would be “laughed out” of every Congressperson’s office for suggesting ending the cutting of National Forests. Less than a decade later, a fiscal conservative Republican representative, Jim Leach (then chair of the Finance Committee in the House) and Democratic fireball Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, did the unthinkable: sponsored legislation to end logging on National Forests. Termed “Zero cut” Hermach bristles at the notion that only older forests called “Ancient Forests” be protected. “We are talking about intact ecosystems here. The National Forests should be protected from all extraction with a focus on their economic value for providing clean water, big game habitat, medicinal plants, hunting and fishing opportunities and the basic right to stand as testaments to our love for our children’s children future.” Speaking for the forest had bear fruit for the Native Forest Council.
A smile runs to his face when he speaks of the Sierra Club’s recent endorsement of a “Zero Cut” policy. He doesn’t boast of this accomplishment, he is proud of what calls “a grassroots’ group with dirt clods between their toes” making inroads.
While the Bush administration is using fire as an excuse to log National Forests, ignoring the science of global warming and feeling little heat from shell shocked Democrats, Hermach believes it is time to go on the offensive. His groups’ latest publication of “the Forest Voice” has a caricature of President Bush wielding a large chainsaw, standing amongst a forest of stumps and proclaiming, “Only we can prevent forest fires!” The pages are filled with science and facts about the need to get off public lands now. Hermach believes the formula for success in the war to protect God’s creation is not just about big groups with fancy sounding ecological names.
“Do the most with the life you have…do you struggle are you proud of yourself?” he asks. “Did you try, did you walk away, turning your back?” He speaks of the inherent power of every individual and reminded me of Margaret Mead’s quote about how only a small group of dedicated individuals have every really been the ones to make change on this planet. And he lamented the fact that change has occurred from not the middle (a growing numb mass he often referred to as sheep), but by those marginalized as the “edge” as if those who have been doing right by our planet and children are the “fringe” of society.
Hermach’s organization has a litany of accomplishments much to the chagrin of some mainstream groups. The Native Forest Council was instrumental in the removal of then Speaker of the House Tom Foley, a pseudo-Democrat according to Hermach. And the first time a powerful speaker had lost re-election in decades. “Isn’t it sad that Democrats, the once proud standard bearers of the environmental movement don’t receive criticism from the beltway environmental groups even when they betray their constituents on issues ranging from free trade to environmental laws?” Hermach says in a quiet tone. “We got Democrat Barbara Boxer to take her name off an endorsement of the Quincy Library Group (a group trying to resolve logging in California loaded with timber interests), we were part of the famous Judge Dwyer injunction that closed over eight million acres of federal forests back in 1991 and we successfully fought a Montana Wilderness Bill that would have given away ¾ of the land in the name of compromise!”
Despite their successes, the NFC and Hermach now must maneuver a political minefield. Certain foundations will never provide money to a group that criticizes the mainstream environmental groups or chide Democrats seemingly acting more like Republicans. In the “woo-woo” environmental circles tough talk is see as anathema to a movement wandering aimlessly away from their original roots: bold action, protest/boycotts and a fierce opposition to “dealing with the devil.”
Despite death threats over the phone and a degree of alienation from so-called fellow environmentalists, Hermach works on long into the night, envisioning a time when the environmental community coalesces into a lean mean fighting machine. Ironically, blue collar types outraged initially by his high- octane attacks on the timber multinationals at conferences, often find themselves sharing a cup of coffee with Hermach afterwards, in near total agreement. Hermach is the premier friend of the blue-collar worker and speaks the language of common folks who are confused and often alienated by “Ivory tower environmentalists.”
I first met Tim in early 1992, when I was searching for an established environmental group to meet the invasion of our schools by corporate propaganda education materials disguised by big bucks and Madison Avenue sophistication head on. There stood the Native Forest Council, under funded and taking on too many battles, readily funding tables for the largest science teacher’s convention in the world, the National Science Teachers’ Association, and in the last three years raising hell about timber education by notorious multinationals like Weyerhaeuser and their educational puppet, Project Learning Tree. Hermach recognizing that schools should be bastions of free thought and critical thinking, not a pulpit for Monsanto, the coal and nuclear industries and the fossil fuel cartels. “When did public education become the venue for corporate PR? To fund our schools we sell disease (pop contracts) and empty consumption (corporate ads in schools) in place of civics and the development of young educated citizens?” Hermach has shown the insight and courage that many wish the established big environmental groups like Audubon and Sierra could muster. “Imagine if these groups with hundreds of millions of dollars deep in their combined “war chests” got serious about environmental protection…they would be a force to be reckoned with”, Hermach states.
“Just refuse to sell out…to compromise…our job is to advocate not equivocate. Any politician that compromises one hair of your child or any child’s head should be scorned, condemned and kicked out of office.” “We have a Bill of Rights and a Constitution that corporate shills are making a mockery of, abusing the rights of workers, endangering the health of our neighbors, raiding our elder’s pensions…only a hanging would do justice to these charlatans.” Comments like these by Hermach only embolden his reputation as flamethrower. But to others who see humans on the list of the impending 6th great extinction and mourn the continued hemorrhaging of the natural world, Hermach epitomizes what is needed to create a sustainable and healthy future for our children…a Lorax with an attitude.
John Borowski has been an Environmental and Marine Science teacher for 24 years His pieces have appeared in PR Watch, Liberal Slant, NY Times, UTNE Reader, CommonDreams.org and various websites. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org