Oregon’s Struggle to Save Ancient Forests Continues




E

arly
on the morning of July 30, 2002 upwards of 150 activists drove from
nearby Portland and elsewhere up the flank of Mount Hood to the
U.S. Forest Service’s Headquarters in the town of Sandy, where
a 157-acre tract of ancient Oregon forest was set to be auctioned
for logging. Solo, the old growth area in question, contains 400-year-old
trees and some of the Mount Hood National Forest’s largest
yews, as well as an extremely rare lichen. The Oak Grove watershed
of which it is a part provides drinking water to 185,000 people
in several adjacent suburban municipalities and rural communities.
This early morning protest was preceded by the Cascadia Forest Alliance’s
announcement of the installation of a tree-sit at the Solo sale.


The
festive activist crowd stationed itself in the large, lower parking
area, giving speeches and updates, drumming, dancing, and adorning
the pavement with colorful chalk art. Skits were performed and critical
chants rang out. Soon a handful of prospective buyers made their
way around us or through us to approach the door and a resounding
chorus was taken up by all: “You buy Solo, you buy us.”
Various law enforcement agencies had positioned a small detachment
at the door, to let the bidders in and keep the crowd out. After
much lobbying, two activist representatives were allowed inside.


It
was not until the conclusion of the bidding that things got ugly.
As he made to leave in his hefty SUV, the president of the Thomas
Creek Lumber and Log Company, the successful bidder, was surrounded
by an impromptu human blockade chanting: “You bought Solo,
you bought us.” As it became apparent that his exit time would
be extended indefinitely, the law officers became impatient. Several
activists then laid down in front of the slowly advancing vehicle
and were physically thrown out of the way by two officers. Other
officers began pepper spraying the front of the crowd, hitting several
people in the face. A short time later, when the crowd had thinned
visibly, two activists were arrested.


The
following day an article appeared in the

Oregonian

, the local
Newhouse daily, that cited a Clackamas County Sheriff spokes- person
on the protest. The events were turned around, claiming activists
had initiated the trouble by throwing a bottle and pepper spraying
the officers. Such an account gives one cause to wonder if the writer
was even present.



Groundtruth
vs. Status Quo



T

he
paradigm still adhered to by the logging industry, the mainstream
media, and the bulk of government officials is perilously outdated.
It speaks volumes that the industry refers to logging as “harvesting.”
A century and a half of destruction has been so complete that the
vast green seas of Douglas fir that dominate the rural landscape
of most of Western Oregon and Washington are commonly considered
forests, when in reality they are monoculture tree plantations.
These differ so radically from our native forests that the common
denominator is the tree, but little else.


Old
growth forest areas are unique, complex ecosystems. Tree plantations
lack countless elements of healthy native forest, such as trees
in all stages of growth and decay, from saplings to snags and nurse
logs and many of the critters that inhabit these. A short drive
from Portland allows one to witness lunar-like clear-cut areas,
bordering large maturing stands of monoculture Douglas fir of all
one height and all one girth. With their few branches all concentrated
on the top portion of the trunk, they resemble row after row of
100-foot tall toothbrushes.


In
the native forests of the Oregon Cascades hemlocks, cedars, maples,
many fir and pine species, and others are intermingled among the
dominant Douglas fir. The diversity of tree life pales in comparison
to that of the non-tree flora of the forest. Among the incredible
diversity of plant life, are hundreds of species that only thrive
underneath the canopy of the mature forest and do not survive in
the replanted monoculture.


Once
an area is clear-cut, the land is not only exposed to the sun’s
rays and the elements, but is also subject to encroachment of invasive
non-native groundcover species, as well as to the effects of erosion,
which, until only recently when mandated buffer zones were implemented,
was responsible for stream silting and the destruction of innumerable
wild salmon spawning beds. Much of the area’s native fauna,
such as the northern spotted owl and the red tree vole, a minuscule
mammal that lives in the canopy of the largest trees, also disappears
after clear-cutting.



Bush’s
New Robber Barons



T

his
region was blanketed from the Cascades to the Coast with cathedral
forests in pre-Euro- American times. Today 90 percent of this ecosystem
has been destroyed and almost all of what remains is located on
public land. Bad science and misinformation are still being foisted
on the public. The logging industry, along with the Forest Service
and the Bureau of Land Management, has begun to play the forest
fire card in an effort to legitimize more logging on public lands.
President Bush’s “forest initiative,” with its emphasis
on thinning, prompted by his recent Oregon visit during fire season,
was just what the industry needed.


Members
of the Pacific Northwest’s Congressional delegation jumped
on Bush’s stampeding bandwagon as the session closed, having
offered several competing forest fire risk-abatement amendments
to the 2003 Interior Appropriations Bill. These amendments at worst
attack and at “best” show a lack of commitment to protecting
the integrity of native forest ecology, where cyclical fire plays
a natural role. The safeguards of the public participation provisions
of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act are at risk. If any
of these pass, it would open the door to the loss of thousands of
acres of the shrinking remnant of public old growth, as remuneration
for logging companies carrying out fuel reduction projects. Ironically,
fuel reduction is never necessary in native forests unless they
have been subject to fire suppression in the past.


Another
irony is that monoculture tree plantations are susceptible to catastrophic
fire while native old growth is highly fire resistant. “Thinning”
is a misnomer. Large expanses of Oregon native forests have been
effectively leveled under this guise. A handful of big trees is
a handful of big trees, not a “thinned forest.” The practice
is one of capitalist extractive economics, with no role whatsoever
in protecting or aiding native forest areas.


The
sane and ecologically sound McKinney-Leach National Forest Protection
and Restoration Act (HR 1494) is at risk of floundering under waves
of fire-hysteria generated, logging industry-friendly legislation.



“Eco-terrorism”
Accusations



S

ince
the above-recounted July 30 timber sale protest, a number of forest
activists have been targeted and arrested, some charged with felonies
supposedly committed at that protest. As well, forest activists
are being arrested for acts of sabotage. Last year, a group going
by the name of the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility
for the burning of cement trucks at a Portland firm and someone
burned three log trucks of an Estacada timber company. No humans
were targeted nor injured in either of these acts. The logging and
other extractive industries have scored a major public relations
victory in redefining sabotage as “Eco-terrorism.” The
ominous tag is now being applied by the media and government officials.


All
of these arrests are doubted by many, especially by those familiar
with the activists involved. Such destructive tactics are counter-productive
to the cause of and foreign to the methodology of the forest activist
community. That the July 30 protest incident charges have been quietly
dropped for lack of evidence heightens questions about the validity
of the truck burning case. Of note is the fact that one of those
accused is Tre Arrow, who maintained an 11-day ledge-sit above the
entrance to the Forest Service’s downtown Portland headquarters
in an effort to draw attention to the Eagle Creek struggle and ran
for Congress on the Pacific Green ticket.


These
moves, and the media coverage of them, appear to be calculated to
intimidate the activist community and diminish the effectiveness
of the movement as a whole. History has shown how legal battles
are victories—to one degree or another—for the powers
that be, diverting energy and resources away from the work of the
group targeted. There are growing signs that such tactics may come
around to backfire in this instance.



Not
Backing Down



T

he
Cascadia Forest Alliance has led a three-year courageous, creative,
persistent, even outrageous, but always non-violent effort that
resulted by the spring of 2002 in a groundswell of public support
and got the sale of the critically important Mount Hood native forest
known as Eagle Creek canceled. This victory was not without grave
cost; tree defender Beth O’Brien lost her life in a fall just
before the final cancellation papers were signed.


All
over the Pacific Northwest there are people in the forest doing
good work. At the end of the logging season Cascadia Forest Alliance
activists maintain their perches high in the canopy of the Oak Grove
watershed of the Mount Hood National Forest, amid logging in the
Borg tract near Solo.


Ancient
forests reveal the intricate, specific habitat of countless critters.
Also observable in certain areas are giant peeled and plank cedars:
living, thriving evidence of a way of using the forest’s bounty
without destroying it, that is the way of the Native American peoples
of this region. As with the traditional Native American staple,
the wild salmon, the fragmented remnant of majestic cathedral forest
and the unspoiled public lands reaching naturally towards that state
are irreplaceable national treasures and deserve no less careful
treatment.





Mike Ferris is
a freelance writer and activist from Portland, Oregon and a 1998 Z
Media Institute graduate.