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Get Set for Earth First! - RRR

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    Copyright 2002 The Columbian Publishing Co. The Columbian (Vancouver, WA.) June 29, 2002, Saturday SECTION: Front Page; Pg. a1 LENGTH: 1043 words HEADLINE:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2002
      Copyright 2002 The Columbian Publishing Co.

      The Columbian (Vancouver, WA.)

      June 29, 2002, Saturday

      SECTION: Front Page; Pg. a1

      LENGTH: 1043 words


      BYLINE: ERIK ROBINSON, Columbian staff writer


      Law enforcement officers are on alert, timber companies are wary, and some
      local environmental activists are keeping their distance. Why all this angst?

      Two words: "Earth First!"

      Hard-core environmental activists from around the globe will convene Monday
      in Southwest Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest for their
      annual Round
      River Rendezvous. Hundreds of activists are expected to gather for
      the weeklong
      event, set for Quartz Creek Butte in the Dark Divide Roadless Area
      between Mount
      St. Helens and Mount Adams.

      Because Earth First! has been associated with illegal monkeywrenching in
      defense of environmental causes -- everything from organizing street
      protests to
      vandalizing logging equipment -- some local activists are worried about being
      painted with the same broad brush.

      Nick Forrest, chairman of the Southwest Washington chapter of the Sierra
      Club, only learned of the Earth First! gathering from a newspaper account
      earlier this month. Even though Forrest happens to be leading a hike into the
      Dark Divide today, he doesn't plan to lend his expertise to the activists
      meeting in the same area two days later.

      "I would not participate in an Earth First! event as a representative of the
      Sierra Club," Forrest said. "It would allow our opponents to portray
      the Sierra
      Club as a radical group, and to associate us with groups that participate in
      illegal activities."

      Forrest's wariness begs the question: Do the actions of hard-core activists
      advance or hinder the ability of mainstream environmental groups to win the
      hearts and minds of the public at large?

      Inspiring passion

      Susan Jane Brown, executive director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, a
      Vancouver-based environmental group that chooses administrative appeals and
      litigation over direct-action protests, said the cause of protecting
      old growth
      and mature forests on public land is no different than any other
      social movement
      -- voices within the movement range across a spectrum, inside and outside the
      political and legal system.

      Brown doesn't begrudge the choice some activists make to engage in civil

      "Native forests of the Northwest inspire passion in a lot of people," she

      Sometimes the public needs a passionate demonstration to recognize
      a problem,
      said Ivan Maluski, an activist with Portland-based Cascadia Forest Alliance, a
      group affiliated with Earth First!

      It took three years of tree-sitters blocking timber sales in the Eagle Creek
      area on the Mount Hood National Forest before the Bush administration canceled
      the sales in April. Maluski and organizers of next week's rendezvous distanced
      themselves from the shadowy Earth Liberation Front, whose members spiked
      hundreds of trees in a controversial Gifford Pinchot timber sale last year.
      Metal or ceramic spikes in trees can ruin chainsaws or saw blades in mills, as
      well as injuring the loggers who cut into the trees.

      Maluski said the Earth First! movement now renounces tree-spiking, but he
      said there's still a place for nonviolent forms of civil disobedience.

      "If the cause is to keep trees standing that are hundreds of years
      old, we've
      seen again and again Earth First's history of nonviolent civil
      disobedience can
      be successful in keeping those trees standing and alerting the
      public that this
      is happening," Maluski said.

      Protests likely

      The Earth First! Journal reported there would be a "rousing action" on the
      final day of the rendezvous, July 8, and asked activists to "think about
      spending the summer in defense of ancient trees and the ecosystem
      they define."
      Although the Gifford Pinchot has planned several sales that would
      cut old growth
      trees, none of those sales are scheduled to be logged this summer.

      The Forest Service is nervous nonetheless.

      Upon learning of the gathering, the agency established an "incident command
      team" of a dozen employees to monitor events. They've informed
      adjacent private
      timberland owners, and they've notified the Skamania County Sheriff's Office.

      But activists taking part in the gathering say they have nothing to worry

      Officials on the Umpqua National Forest say the activists were
      model citizens
      when they last convened in the Pacific Northwest four years ago. At the end of
      the weeklong gathering in Southern Oregon, dozens of participants
      migrated to a
      pair of controversial timber sales west of Diamond Lake. Activists
      erected tree
      platforms and barricaded forest roads, blocking the sales for 10
      days. Activists
      and law officers were curiously amicable during the last day of that protest,
      chatting easily while negotiating an end to the standoff.

      "These people have been very cooperative," a federal law officer said at the
      time. "There's no need to come in like gangbusters."

      Ultimately, forest employees used a welding torch to carefully remove three
      activists who had chained themselves to the tree platforms. In the end, no one
      was arrested.

      Liz Stevenson-Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Umpqua National Forest, based in
      Roseburg, Ore., said Forest Service employees worked with rendezvous
      in advance of the gathering in 1998. Though more than 300 people spent a week
      camping in the remote Twin Lakes area, Stevenson-Shaw said the group "left
      everything in very good order."

      The Forest Service did issue two $ 250 citations to two people involved with
      the rendezvous in 1998 for refusing to sign a permit for a large-group

      Activists say they won't sign a permit for this year's gathering, either.

      Maluski said any dust-up over permits shouldn't distract people from
      activists' central theme -- that a legacy of logging that began in earnest in
      national forests after World War II has taken a severe toll on the
      It's no coincidence that the activists chose to gather this year in the forest
      named for the nation's first Forest Service chief, conservation-minded Gifford

      "It's incredible how much damage has been done in just 50 years," Maluski
      said. "I think Gifford Pinchot would be turning over in his grave if he could
      see the legacy of the Forest Service today."

      Erik Robinson covers environmental issues for The Columbian. He can be
      reached at 360-759-8014, or by e-mail at erik.robinson@....

      GRAPHIC: FILES/Missoulian * Firefighters and police pull an Earth First!
      protester to safety from a Missoula, Mont., bridge on June 19.

      LOAD-DATE: June 30, 2002
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