Free State in the Forest
The heart of the Willamette National Forest, the bread basket of the Pacific Northwest timber industry, is the Cascade Range. The land here is steep, cut through by swift rivers and streams. The salmon are a thing of the past since the dam down at Lowell, but the osprey, bear and anglers compete for the fat trout; mountain lion, coyote and black-tail deer roam the meadows, and the great Roosevelt elk that the Europeans nearly wiped out earlier this century are flourishing. The howl of the wolf has disappeared from the southern Cascades, but some hold that they've seen tracks and to the north across the Columbia the wolves have come as far south as the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. The steeper slopes that had, until recently, discouraged logging, are covered with Douglas fir and hemlock, thicker across than a tall man stands, and the wet drainages hold the giant Red cedar. But these are pale things compared to the immense trees that grew on the lower, more level ground, some 7 or 8 meters through. The ground is covered in thick rhododendron and salal, or in clearings by huckleberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, blackberry, vine maple and alder.
In 1991, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the Forest Service was selling off the remnants of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest without regard to the consequences born by the inhabitants of the forest, specifically a small, old-growth dependent hunter called the Northern Spotted Owl. The court ruled that they must stop cutting in the endangered owl's habitat until they had a feasible plan that would allow the owl's population to recover. The areas off limits to logging were called Habitat Conservation Areas (HCA) and one such was the Cornpatch Roadless Area, on the west side of the Waldo Lake Wilderness. In October the same year, an arsonist (or arsonists) set the HCA on fire. It was very late in the season but it was in the middle of a drought that would last for 8 years; no rain fell to slow the burn. Almost 9,000 acres burned in what would be called the Warner Creek Fire, before an early, heavy snow put the fire out. One wit on the site remarked "No owls here now". The Forest Service made ready plans to salvage-log the burned area.
Area environmentalists immediately took the Forest Service to court, arguing that to log a protected area after a criminal act would set an awful precedent. They successfully fought the original plan to log 40 million board feet of timber, reducing the plan to nine million board feet instead. They also began to lead educational hikes through the burned area, learning and teaching about natural fire recovery as it happened. For four years, two graduate students from the University of Oregon in Eugene and long time EF!ers Tim Ingalsbee (a former firefighter) and his partner, Catia Juliana, committed their lives to saving Warner Creek. They fought the FS every step of the way, and they made the summer hikes and campouts an annual ritual. The list of Warner Creek partisans grew.
A district court had enjoined one small portion of the sale sold to Thomas Creek Lumber in the early summer of 1995 and legal victory loomed. Then on July 27th, President Clinton signed into law a rider attached to a rescissions bill by the Republican Congress that mandated broad, emergency "salvage" logging under the rubric of "forest health," suspending all environmental protections and legal appeals ordinarily available to citizens to stop such sales. A section of this Salvage Rider also resurrected a host of old growth sales that had been legally stopped in the preceding 6 years. In the first of his many far reaching decisions interpreting the scope of the Salvage Rider, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan on September 6, 1995 declared that the sold northern portions of the Warner burn area were clear for logging. The 4-year long legal effort to stop the Warner Creek salvage plan was voided
Activists, however, had been prepared for this eventuality. Three days before the judge made his ruling, a small band of Earth First!ers met in the moonlight on the only road into the released sale units and placed a dragon deep into its compacted, gravelly surface. A dragon is a large amount of concrete (in this case about a half ton) submerged in the middle of a narrow point of the road, wherein is vertically mounted a pipe in which one may lock one's arm thereby drastically impeding traffic (hopefully). This one, named Morrison, had a heavy steel-encased fire door off the back of our favorite Eugene pub laid on top, with a hole coinciding in position with the pipe of the dragon.
Forest Service employees arriving on the morning of the 7th (they had taken to making daily inspections of the area) found a small group of seven squatting at this site (sans the door) in front of the locked gate the FS had installed in the road to keep out vehicles. Expecting loggers at any time, the group had kept up an all-night vigil. A score more activists awaited signal of any trouble at a base camp a mile away that had been in operation since July. Many more activists, hearing news of the decision, were on the way from Eugene.That was the last time the Forest Service was to drive past the gate. That night activists put their own lock on it, Morrison was activated, and from that day forward there was always someone (usually myself in those first months) committed to locking into the dragon at any sign of FS, logger, or hostile activity.
In subsequent nights the blockade grew and grew. Rock walls sprang up and deep trenches spanned the road in numerous places. Many people swarmed over the road, folks who'd never met each other, and especially not swinging a pick. Mainstream enviros, Earth First!ers, folks from town who just believed that we couldn't let it happen. People from hundreds of miles away came, old friends brought other old friends. Our security was loose to nil; the bottom line was make sure the Forest Service didn't get the loggers through, we'd pay for our sins later.
It is difficult, a year and a half later, to recapture the constant stress, tension, and near-panic of those first weeks, expecting to get rolled over by jeep-loads of black-clad federales at any moment, bad communication gear, false alarms, sleeping day in and day out on that goddammed door with a manacle around my wrist (sorry). All night concrete parties, the press hiring helicopters to find our base camp, having politicians and big-wig enviros walk up the road for the cameras. But these people holding the borders of what was now Cascadia Free State were the best, the strongest. The closest family is formed under fire; in 40 years I have never known finer.
Weeks passed. The FS pushed and tested. On the 10th day a road grader and a few dozen representatives of the various branches of law-enforcement in a half-dozen vehicles came. We stayed, they left. I could pile words to the moon and it wouldn't be able to show.
Week after week into months we kept the road; they knew a major confrontation would ensue if they tried to move us. We could hold the road long enough to get more people in, and support in the Willamette valley was strong. The rocks spread over the road and the trenches grew deeper and deeper, taking on names such as "Evolution Creek" and "Full Moon Gorge."
People came up every weekend or whenever they had the time. Some who'd met us in town at the market, many had come on one of the earlier educational hikes. They brought us food, rain gear, coats, blankets, firewood, and tools.
Often they stayed to do a bit of work on the road and sing around the fire. Sometimes hunters and locals from Oakridge came up. A few were supportive, some just curious about the wackos on the hill, but more than a few were abusive and threatening, brandishing rifles and shotguns. We prayed for snow. That would give us some protection, but it wasn't coming soon.
The camp continued to evolve while the faces changed. I remember certain people with certain phases. Andrew and the Stumptowners (Portlanders) when it was just my tent on the door and everyone else was scattered in hidden camps; Sis and Kev, and the punkers from Missouri when it was Shantytown; the Dark Sisters and Peter when we raised the Wall and drawbridge. And through it all, the constants who saw it all through, rotating in for days or weeks. Some only left the Free State for actions in other places as the repercussions of the salvage rider began to be felt in other dearly-held forest. We moved into tipis made from tarps as the weather grew harsher (a good storm can drive winds higher than 120 kph, and drop rain in monsoon quantities). Light snows came, only to melt away. On New Year's people were still able to drive up to the camp for a wild, hallucinogenic party that ended up on the ridgeline meadow at 5400 plus feet, miles above camp.
But the snows...they finally came to stay, months late, and lay down a full base in the course of a week (which melted in a flood a month later that nearly took part of the state capitol). Not to worry, there's plenty more where that came from. Reaching the camp to bring in supplies now took a half-day or more on snowshoes. The Forest Service snowmobiles bogged down a mile short of camp the one time they attempted to reach us. They had been conducting weekly or bi-weekly inspection/harassment visitations, but we wouldn't see them again until spring thaw. The weight of the winter bent and shattered trees, some more than 2 meters through. Nature threw up roadblocks in the form of downed trees for miles on the road leading up to our camp.
While the heavy snow protected the camp, we now had to get used to each other in close quarters. Snowshoe treks could only keep a person away from the sleeping tipi for so long; we read a lot of books as we dried wet clothes and watched our wood stores dwindle. No small amount of time was spent planning strategy for future campaigns. In forests all around us ancient trees were threatened: from the Umpqua and the Siskiyous, to the coastal range, and from north of us near Detroit in the Willamette and further to Mt. Hood friends were calling for help. In the tipis and down in our warehouse, we plotted and schemed and waited for the thaw that would allow the saws' return.
Keeping the blockade running was an enormous effort on the part of the Cascadians; gathering supplies, removing refuse, and just bearing with the day in day out tension and boredom of waiting. Of course we couldn't cope with it. When Hull-Oakes, a dinosaur of a timber company, whose mill could only process old-growth trees, picked up a sale through the same Rider that had driven us to the road... well, there was a general gnashing of teeth. The sale was called Roman-Dunn and was a remnant island of ancient forest in the clearcut sea of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the Coast Range of Cascadia. With the shortage of spotted-owl housing, it shouldn't have been a surprise to find and film the small, bold predator. When the fallers came, there were these dripping people standing in the middle of the road in the dawn rain. The folks from the valley who'd stood at Warner continued to push their point; that there was a vast difference between what is legal and illegal, and what is right and wrong. I stayed at Warner as my friends rayed out, over half of Roman-Dunn was clearcut, five pieces of Hull-Oakes' heavy equipment were damaged or destroyed, media mildly peaked and fell. No one claimed credit for the sabotage.
The Cascadians roved as we kept the road to Warner. We ran through the pines and snow into the cutting units of the Hoxie-Griffin timber sale with the Siskiyou Forest Defenders in the south, on the high ponderosa flatlands that connect the Cascades with the Siskiyou, locking down across access roads, to logging trucks entering the mill, to the tops of 10m tripods as snow closed the roads, driving logger and enviro alike from the area. I left the hill with a half-dozen of the pack and travelled east to help friends defend a roadless area in the Blue Mountains of the Malhuer National Forest with a pick-up truck flipped on its side and a tripod straddling the wreck. There was Honeytree, Yellow Creek, and Olalla Wildcat, Horse-Byars and Red 90. We could hold for a day, fight for weeks delaying for a few hours here and there, but ultimately most of these places died. Great ghost firs haunt their stumps in the drizzling rain, but the Salvage Rider had enraged and focused the enviro community, and our work brought their destruction to the public like nothing else. More people became involved at every level and their involvement frequently broadened into other theatres, from social justice to urban environmentalism to native land rights.
Two campaigns of Spring '96 stand out: First and Last in the Umpqua, and Enola Hill up on the south slope of Mt. Hood. In the Umpqua River drainage 100 Km south of us, we allied with a more mainstream, though not particularly moderate, group to try to save several large areas of roadless ancient forest. The group was Umpqua Watersheds and the sales had names like Nita, Cowboy, First, and Last. They were more than classic, they held some of the oldest remaining forest in Oregon, owls frolicked in their ancient boughs, rare and endangered fish luxuriated in the clear rivers that ran amongst these mountains; this place made me plump. On the ground, the Cascadians, with our friends from the Siskiyous, locals and rovers from as far away as Alaska, tried by tripod, wrecked car lock-downs, and the now-infamous "wait, I've-lost-my-nose-ring" blockade, to hold back the Forces of Darkness (i.e. Roseburg Forest Products) as Watersheds pulled, bullied, badgered, and otherwise made an apathetic and cynical administration wiggle to escape the heat. After three weeks, 16 acres had been clearcut and three sales were saved (legal arguments rescued some of the others).
Somewhat further in the north, a site sacred to a number of the tribes in Oregon and along the River saw weeks of arrests, lock-downs, pursuits through the encampment, and helped cement relations between the Indians and the First!er packs. Enola Hill was a thinning cut on the south-west of Mt. Hood, on a site held sacred by numerous tribes of the River Peoples and others who would come into the region in its season for the medicinal and sacred plants found there. After getting a small piece of old-growth dropped from the sale, a large regional enviro group stopped fighting to save the sacred site from being logged, but the cast of partisans ran from early Warner Creekers, Greenpeace folks, EF! from Portland, Washington, and elsewhere, elders from the Warm Springs Reservation, to board members of the group that had withdrawn support from the campaign. A rally and ritual "enter-the-closure-and-get-arrested" play by 150 enviros turned into a large scale "cat and mouse" exercise as the procession made an unexpected turn off their march plan and ran into the cutting units. 30 of the protesters who'd made the furthest progress went limp and forced the federales to remove them over harsh terrain on stretchers. This group, which calls itself WALL (Witnesses Against Lawless Logging) has been a venue for cross-pollination between the different watersheds, and between the direct action groups and their more conventional cousins. The Rider did more to validate direct action and civil disobedience as reasonable, respectable and appropriate tactics than anything since the Civil Rights movement. Suits did it, grannies did it.
By Summer, "Warnerization" had become a term of common usage in the Northwest. The Siskiyou partisans threw up a wall of rock, logs, and concrete, with a derelict car over a dragon the Cascadians had placed 9 months before, and a Free State was born at Sucker Creek to defend the forests and streams targeted by the China-Left sale. In the roadless regions of the Cove-Mallard timber sale area, in the wildest areas of the North Rockies, Jack Squat sprang up in the midst of the 1996 EF! Rendezvous, featuring walls of liberated culvert pipe planted at a facinating angle, three tripods, a dragon under the door, and fortresses and battlements that appeared able to withstand the charges of brontosaurii. And for a month or two it lasted.
But in August, the raids came. Camps were run over in the space of a day; the greatest of defensive structures couldn't be held without the personnel. Finally the federales moved on Cascadia Free State. The lower wall was quickly overrun, but four women who've received an embarrassing but deserved amount of attention [sound familiar?!], locked into the upper baricades and held the road for the whole day, until it was obvious that the Forest Service had built the means to bypass them. Ironically, this came the day before we were scheduled to have a public camp clean-out. The news that the government had made a deal with Thomas Creek Lumber to drop the Warner North sale had been circulating for a week; the activists were only waiting for solid verification before folding up the show. The four women, another activist who had his arm broken during his arrest (case pending) and two journalists were arrested in a blatant face-saving effort by the federales, as the deal saving Warner Creek was verified. But the storm wouldn't clear so fast. Denied access to the arraignment of the Warner women, a couple hundred town folk crowded into the jail house, and in what was somewhat inaccurately described as a "riot", 38 more people were tasered, given pain-holds, and jailed themselves.
Trials for many of the heroes are still pending as the snows melt off of the slopes above the old encampment site, and if you hike up FS 2408 now, you won't see much sign of the log wall, the bunkers, or where the great Cascadian Dragon stood watch against those who would come against this forest. But I drank with the defenders of the Siskiyou last weekend, and the fight for the North Santiam River has been on for three weeks. About a dozen of the Women's Warrior Society blockaded the road into the Hull-Oakes mill a month ago, and I hear of a massive road takeover in North Cascadia (British Columbia to some) later this summer. Anyone with the experience of the British road wars would find a warm welcome to a new home.
- "feel free to stop by for dinner and a blockade".