The fate of our forests
A recent clash over the management of Western North Carolina's public lands has put the region in the forefront of a longstanding ideological debate. Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service revealed that it had found 28 endangered Indiana bats in the Nantahala National Forest and was, therefore, voluntarily halting logging activities in Graham, Swain, Cherokee and Macon counties. That prompted a local environmental group, the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, to notify the Forest Service that, unless all logging on the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests is stopped, the SABP intends to sue the federal agency for violating the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
At that point, U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor released a heated statement, accusing the group of putting loggers out of work and hurting the local economy.
Among other things, the SABP charges that logging and road construction on these public lands is destroying the bat's habitat; federal law, says the group, now requires the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before any further logging is done, and to draw up a supplemental environmental-impact statement for the N.C. Forest Plan and environmental assessments for individual timber sales.
"The presence of this imperiled bat in the Nantahala National Forest should serve as a wake-up call to the Forest Service that public forests provide critical reserves for hundreds of endangered species -- not just the Indiana bat," said Andrew George, executive director of the SABP, in a prepared statement. "Commercial logging in public forests must end before other North Carolina treasures are forced to the brink of extinction, or lost forever."
Rep. Taylor, on the other hand, expressed concern about the local workers who depend on timber sales to make a living. In a statement released the next day, he chastised "armchair environmentalists, [who are enjoying] the cool stream of air flowing from the air-conditioner vents in their urban offices, surrounded by mahogany credenzas and piles of paper." Taylor's statement concludes: "Let's get on with scientific-based forest management instead of feel-good environmentalism that destroys jobs, destroys families and destroys communities."
Asserting that the bats were all found nesting in a single hemlock tree, Taylor pointed to other places where the bat thrives (most notably in Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest), saying those states have been able to log woodlands without disturbing the animal. "Clearly, timber harvesting can occur without jeopardy to the Indiana bat," Taylor's statement asserts, adding, "If we can't harvest the trees, WNC citizens will lose over $7.4 million in income."
The SABP's Marty Bergoffen, however, takes issue with the implication that the 28 bats represent an isolated colony. "Twenty-eight bats means that there's healthy habitat, enough so that the species can reproduce -- the females could forage enough food [that] they can actually reproduce here. That one colony is what [the Forest Service] found, but that doesn't mean that that's all there is. This is the first time they've looked, and they found something. I'm convinced there are other Indiana bats in WNC, but you just have to get the Forest Service to look for them. And they don't want to look, because they know they'll find them."
Bergoffen also disputes Taylor's assertion that WNC workers will lose millions if the logging is stopped. "The $7.4 million in lost income is not just loggers' income, but big executives' income, too. That's people who are making millions of dollars off public lands, who are suddenly not going to be having heavily subsidized logging. That's where they make a large part of their profits -- in those subsidized logs."
For more information about the SABP, call 258-2667. To learn more about Rep. Taylor's views, call (202) 225-6401.
What price health?
Enrollment for NC Health Choice for Children, North Carolina's low-cost/no-cost health-insurance program for the children of working families, is exceeding expectations, say state officials. In just 10 months, more than 47,000 children -- 67 percent of those eligible -- have enrolled. The program, which was started by Gov. Jim Hunt last October, is designed for working parents such as contract employees, day-care and nursing-home workers, state employees and entrepreneurs who work hard but can't afford private insurance. "There are lots of families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still can't afford to purchase health insurance for their children," said Tom Vitaglione of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. "This program fills that gap."
Despite the success of North Carolina's grassroots enrollment efforts, there's still more to be done. "We've relied on local outreach coalitions led by local health departments and local departments of social services," Vitaglione explained. "[Our] hard work has led to the high enrollment numbers, but the goal remains to reach every eligible child in North Carolina."
Income limits, which help determine eligibility, depend on family size. A family of two may earn up to $22,120, while a family of six may have a household income of up to $44,680. The comprehensive program covers doctors' visits, hospitalization, dental care (including x-rays and fillings), vision and hearing care, and care for children with special needs.
To learn more, contact your local department of social services or public-health department.
The latchkey blues
Working parents concerned about how much time their children spend parked in front of the TV after school have a new option: Asheville Parks and Recreation, in conjunction with the Asheville City Schools, has started a low-cost after-school program to help keep kids busy and happy until 6 p.m. every school day.
The after-school program runs Monday through Friday, 2:30 - 6 p.m. throughout the school year. The state-licensed program serves kindergarten through fifth grade, offering a variety of supervised recreation and enrichment activities including arts and crafts, organized games, science exploration, and even weekly events like KidNastics, Magic/Science workshops, and outdoor education. All staff members are certified in First Aid, CPR, and have specialized training regarding a variety of child-care issues.
The fee is $40 per week ($45 for non-city residents), with a one-time enrollment fee of $20 per child ($35 per family); fees are due when you register, and children must have all required shots.
For more information, call Amy Pruett at 254-6542.
Art begets life
The National Endowment for the Arts, that patron of struggling artists and scourge of conservative lawmakers, is battered but not beaten; while its national budget has been cut drastically in the last several years, the agency can still deliver hefty grants -- like the $50,000 it recently gave to the Asheville Art Museum, to expand its Literacy Through Art initiative. The museum was the only WNC organization to receive NEA funding during the last two years.
The LTA program, which began in 1994, takes art education into rural classrooms across Western North Carolina, successfully integrating visual arts and language concepts in an initiative that reached 1,385 students and 62 teachers in 19 schools during the last school year. The museum hopes the expanded program will reach additional students in classrooms, schools and counties across the region.
In 1999, the museum will also inaugurate its new Western North Carolina Art Resource Center, which will house its educational programs. Designed in partnership with teachers, administrators and higher-education professionals from across the region, the facility will offer a high-quality, interdisciplinary, arts-based program designed to strengthen educational opportunities in mountain communities.
Other local arts institutions have also received significant honors: New Morning Gallery, for instance, was recently named the 1999 Craft Retailer of the Year by NICHE Magazine, a national trade publication for craft retailers. The magazine polled more than 20,000 professional craft artists across the nation, and selection criteria included treating artists with courtesy and respect, paying them on time, promoting and marketing American crafts, giving back time and energy to the crafts community, and mentoring emerging artists. Not to be outdone, the Brevard Music Center recently collected a $52,000 grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, to help cover its general operating costs for fiscal year 1999-2000, including support for guest artists and faculty. A leader in bringing a broad range of musical forms to WNC, the 63-year-old Music Center is particularly known for its seven-week program in which nationally known professionals and music educators mentor younger artists.
To learn more about the Asheville Art Museum and its NEA grant, call Leesa Sutton at 253-3227. For more about New Morning Gallery's recent award, call Linda McCormick at (410) 889-2933, or call the gallery at 274-2831. For info on the Brevard Music Center's grant, call Stephanie Eller at 884-2011.
The war on the War on Drugs
Not everyone believes the War on Drugs is a positive (or even an effective) strategy for curbing drug abuse. And for those who don't, watching otherwise-peaceful, goodhearted citizens waste their whole lives behind bars for some relatively harmless infraction -- while violent, dangerous criminals are paroled early due to prison overcrowding -- begs the question: Is this the best way to address this problem?
If that makes sense to you, you can make your voice heard at the November Coalition's Drug War Vigil on Friday, Aug. 20 in front of Asheville's Federal Courthouse, from 2 to 4 p.m. The event will focus public awareness on what many see as a hopeless (and hopelessly improper) War on Drugs. The group believes that education and prevention, rather than incarceration, is the best way to fight drug abuse. "We believe that punishment should be served, but let the punishment fit the crime," said Debbie Duncan of The November Council, which is co-sponsoring the vigil, along with the Community of Compassion.
For more information, contact Duncan at (336) 667-0431 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Or call High Mountain Hemporium at 236-0068.
-- concessionally compiled by Paul Schattel