(This is the third in a series of Q & As with Earthjustice staff who work to protect our nation’s forests and their critical natural resources and wildlife. Protecting our national forests, in particular, is essential for the future of our nation. The Obama administration recently proposed new planning rules that may leave our national forests in peril. National forests are the single largest source of clean drinking water in the United States, serving 124 million Americans. Visit our Forests For Our Future campaign site to learn more. Rebecca Judd is legislative counsel for Earthjustice, based in Washington, D.C.)
EJ: Were there any formative moments in national forests that set you about this path to fight for them?
RJ: In the summer of 2003, I clerked for Sierra Club after my first year of law school and assisted with a case challenging the logging and burning of over 5,000 acres of the Eldorado National Forest in California. A group of us was able to hike in an area slated for timber removal, and it was eerily disturbing to witness firsthand how many trees were marked for destruction. That experience motivated me to continue my work to advocate for the protection of our environment, our cherished landscapes and natural habitat, and the species that depend upon them.
EJ: Did you grow up near any national forests?
RJ: I grew up in the Midwest – primarily Ohio and Indiana – where national forests unfortunately are not very prevalent. Many folks from these states who don’t live near national forests make a point to pile the family in the car and visit them at some point, sometimes habitually. I have fond memories of our family visiting the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana and vacationing one summer in Tennessee near the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and Cherokee National Forest. These visits inspired my love of nature and sparked my interest in embarking on a career to protect our environment.
EJ: What’s your most recent battle in the fight for our forests?
RJ: As a legislative counsel for Earthjustice, I am advocating the Obama Administration and members of Congress to strengthen and uphold environmental laws and regulations, including those that protect our treasured national forests. One of my current priorities is working to strengthen the U.S. Forest Service’s recently proposed rule to guide the 21st century management of our nation’s 193 million acre National Forest System, which contains some of our most prized and important waters and wildlife habitats across the United States. Not many people realize that 124 million Americans get their clean drinking water from national forests watersheds.
EJ: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve ever seen in a national forest?
RJ: During my time in law school, I enrolled in a conservation biology course and participated in a field study of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in the Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana. These rare birds are native to the southeastern U.S., and they still only reside in that part of the country. They prefer the biodiverse-rich longleaf pine forest, which spells even more trouble for them, as these forests themselves have been severely threatened by extensive logging and clear-cutting. The red-cockaded woodpecker is one of two woodpecker species on the endangered species list, and many birders consider just one sight of them a real prize.
In hot pursuit of this rare bird, my classmates and I spent two days camping out in the forest trying to score just one sight of the incredible creature. Of course it rained the whole time, which made it a bit more difficult. But these birds are uniquely social, living as groups across a cluster of trees, and one individual’s chattering and vocalizations finally tipped us off, allowing us to steal a glimpse of a red-cockaded woodpecker in the forest. And it was well worth the trouble.
EJ: What about now? Do you visit national forests now that you are based in Washington, DC?
RJ: During the last six years of living in Washington, D.C., I have enjoyed hiking and walking in nearby state and national forests and also have participated in several awe-inspiring whitewater rafting trips in West Virginia near the Jefferson and George Washington national norests. My husband and I also frequently take our beloved dog for walks in these beautiful outdoor areas and hope that our few remaining national treasures are preserved for future generations to enjoy.
EJ: Which forest do you hope to get to next?
RJ: My husband and I hope to fulfill a lifelong dream and one day soon take a road trip out West to spend several weeks visiting, hiking and camping in the national forests near the Yellowstone region, including the Bighorn, Shoshone and Black Hills national forests.
EJ: What can the public do to help protect these forests?
RJ: How people can best protect their national forests is to visit them, learn about them, and inspire their children, family and friends to appreciate why it is so vital that our nation’s forests are preserved for centuries to come. They can begin that commitment now by commenting on the Forest Service’s proposed forest planning rule and expressing their desire for stronger protections for the watersheds and wildlife within the National Forest System.