Activists recruit cruise ship passengers for forest comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2000

An AP Member Exchange

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- The tourists stare at the green and blue postcards -- and at the person offering them -- as they might stare at a Martian offering food from his home planet.

The scene repeats itself many times during a Wednesday on the streets with volunteers working for the Friends of the Tongass organization in Ketchikan. They are spending the summer seeking comments that support the inclusion of the Tongass National Forest in President Bill Clinton's initiative to protect roadless areas in national forests.

On this day, the cruise ships have carried about 6,730 potential commenters to Ketchikan, according to Ketchikan Visitors Bureau information.

The volunteer's pitch is short: ''Hello, sir, have you seen this yet? It's a chance to comment ... ''

The speech includes the phrases and words, ''roadless policy,'' ''initiative'' and ''The Tongass National Forest all around us,'' but the quizzical looks, seemingly asking, ''Huh?'' ''What are you selling?'' or ''How much do you want?'' remain on the visitors' faces.

But in the great majority of cases, the spell is broken and the Martian becomes an Earthling, apparently dressed for kayaking, when magic words are spoken: "... to help protect Alaska's rain forest.''

Then the visitor looks up at the volunteer, reaches for the postage-paid card, takes it and says, ''Oh, sure, I'll do that.''

The volunteers offer to hold a clipboard for people to fill out the card on the spot. Some turn their cards over to the volunteers to mail to the Alaska Rainforest Campaign in Anchorage. Many decline but assure the volunteers they will fill out the card and mail it. Several offer to take a few cards to pass out to friends or to fellow cruise ship passengers.

Not all prospects accept the card. Of those who don't, the largest number simply seem resistant to any distraction from their Alaska vacation. They look away and walk off, dismissing the pitch with a quick, ''No, thank you.''

That's how one Florida couple reacts when Udi Lazimy, 20, a Wisconsin resident, offers postcards near Creek Street. Lazimy is a University of Wisconsin senior majoring in biological aspects of conservation and environmental studies.

Lazimy turns away from the Florida couple but the man is heard talking himself into accepting the card.

''Of course, this is the only unscrewed up part of the country,'' the Florida man says.

The man accepts the clipboard, writes out his comments and turns the card over to Lazimy.

Many residents come in contact with Lazimy and the other volunteers: Donna Anderson, of Ketchikan, an unemployed computer graphics artist; Joshua Martin, 24, a graduate student at the University of Indiana's School of Public and Environmental Policy; and Vince Godby, 33, a former mechanical engineer who now lives half time in Yaak, Mont., and travels in Alaska the rest of the time.

Some residents are receptive to the message and even eager to help. A woman who describes herself as an employee of a local aviation company hails Lazimy near Creek Street. She fills out a card and takes several for her co-workers, promising to return them to Lazimy or to the table maintained by the Friends of the Tongass each day at the Southeast Discovery Center.

Some locals are irritated by the Friends. A woman passes the Friends' table, then turns. Not shouting, but in an agitated voice, she says: ''I live here. And these people who come off the ships -- they don't know ... I better not say anything.''

Some locals disagree with the message but engage in friendly debate. Al Slagle, a retired diesel mechanic and vocational instructor, strolls over to the Friends table with his wife. Sporting an ''Alaska Forest Association'' hat, Slagle says he already submitted comments regarding the roadless issue, ''but not in your favor. I lived for 20 years in the camps.''

Slagle adds that a large amount of timber, destroyed by bark beetles, is going to waste and should be logged. But he and his spouse quickly depart to catch the nearby Alaska Lumberjack Show.

Lazimy stops near the fishing pole rental booth at the intersection of Mill and Stedman streets. He offers postcards to two young men who are filling out fishing license forms. One of them turns out to be a logging road builder. The two debate the merits of the roadless initiative versus continued road building for five minutes.

The road builder tells Lazimy several times, ''I don't think (road building) should increase, but I don't think it should decrease either,'' and he ends with, ''Well, the important thing to remember is, we're all on the same side.''

On Creek Street, Lazimy offers a card to a man who turns and walks away. A local woman employed in the tourism industry says to the tourist, ''You're right to sneer at that idiot. The rain forest needs a little trimming.''

Not all tourists are friendly to the Friends. A man sporting a camera and an ''Evans Engineering'' hat refuses Lazimy's entreaty, saying, ''Yeah, hug a bear.''

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