Get Set for Earth First! - RRR
- Copyright 2002 The Columbian Publishing Co.
The Columbian (Vancouver, WA.)
June 29, 2002, Saturday
SECTION: Front Page; Pg. a1
LENGTH: 1043 words
HEADLINE: CLOSER LOOK: GET SET FOR EARTH FIRST! -- GATHERING IN GIFFORD PINCHOT
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
River Rendezvous. Hundreds of activists are expected to gather for
event, set for Quartz Creek Butte in the Dark Divide Roadless Area
St. Helens and Mount Adams.
Because Earth First! has been associated with illegal monkeywrenching in
defense of environmental causes -- everything from organizing street
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
Club as a radical group, and to associate us with groups that participate in
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?
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
and mature forests on public land is no different than any other
-- 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
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
seen again and again Earth First's history of nonviolent civil
be successful in keeping those trees standing and alerting the
public that this
is happening," Maluski said.
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
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
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
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
platforms and barricaded forest roads, blocking the sales for 10
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
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