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Forest Battles Escalate in Oregon

by JOSHUA FRANK

Ancient public forests out West are under attack as usual this year. Thankfully, courageous activists in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest are attempting to fend off the worst of the pillage.

On July 16 the US Forest Service placed 1900 acres of public land on the auction block. And by the end of the day the bids were in; 1160 of the 1900 acres were mapped out for demolition. The venture, titled the “Biscuit Fire Recovery Project”, is the largest forest service sale in modern US history. When all is said and done 30 square miles of federal land could be handed over to chainsaw happy timber barons.

Not surprisingly, the Forest Service wants us to believe the sale is for “restoration” purposes only, not profit, as the area fell victim to massive natural wild fires in the summer of 2002. But if you don’t already know, you shouldn’t believe everything the government tells you.

Siskiyou National Forest is one of the most biologically diverse landscapes in the continental United States. It houses five nationally designated wild and scenic rivers, as well as one of the healthiest stocks of native salmon in the country. The corrupt plan introduced by the US Forest Service includes extensive logging in 12 roadless areas, which covers well over 12,000 acres of taxpayer-managed land.

During a meeting between timber, conservation, and US Forest Service officials on July 26 over lawsuits the groups had filed regarding the Biscuit sales; eco-activists were simultaneously erecting a 75 foot tall tree platform, and a large road blockade in hopes of halting access to “Indi”, the first salvage sale site set for cutting by the beginning of August.

“Logging is not restoration,” said Kay Pittwald as she hung from her suspended platform. “The future of this remote area is healthy salmon, clean water and a thriving tourist economy. It is not a place for an out-of-country timber grab to ship wood products to Asia.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who is handling the lawsuits, may be of little comfort to conservationists attempting to stop the massacre in the courts. Hogan has a long history of negotiating ghastly deals between industry and enviros. In 2001 Hogan called for the de-listing of threatened Coho salmon, and in 2002 he allowed grotesque logging in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest to proceed after talks between greens and industry officials. All parties involved in the current lawsuits are planning to gather on August 5 and 6. However, there are certainly no guarantees the Siskiyou forest will come out of the discussions standing.

In the meantime activists on the ground have been putting their lives on the line to interrupt East Fork Lumber, the buyer of the Indi sale, from priming their chainsaws. On Wednesday July 28 four activists were arrested. The quartet, who is part of the brave Siskiyou Wild Action team, was charged with interfering in “agricultural operations,” a misdemeanor in the state of Oregon. The activists are currently being held on $10,000 bail with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday August 3. Curry County District Attorney Charlie Steak, who is prosecuting the case, assures that the protesters would not be charged with any form of “terrorist” activity.

Despite these set backs, George Sexton who works as the Conservation Director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center based in Ashland Oregon, says he expects more direct action. “The 23,000 folks who commented on the sale have been largely ignored by the agency,” he says. “People are sick of being ignored.”

Indeed Biscuit could be a landmark battle for the future of Northwest forests. “Turning native forests into fiber farms is like a religion to these guys,” Sexton contends.

Sadly, compromise may be on the horizon, as the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club broker deals behind closed doors with the forest service, Judge Hogan, and their industry allies. These enviro giants are fearful that if the majority of Biscuit is saved, the Bush administration may reenact the Salvage Rider law that Bill Clinton signed in 1995.

During Clinton’s reign as eco-destroyer, he oversaw the ruination of thousands of acres of healthy forest stands across the West; all under the guise of bringing burnt forests back to life. It never happened however; as most biologists conclude that fire damaged forests recover best on their own.

Clinton’s Rider allowed 4,000 acres of clear-cuts in Washington’s Colville National Forest. Thousands more in Montana’s Yaak River Basin, hundreds of acres of pristine forest land in Idaho and Arizona. The US Forest Service under the provocation of Clinton’s law also chopped old growth trees in Washington’s majestic Olympic Peninsula-home to wild Steelhead, endangered Sockeye salmon, and threatened Marbled Murrelet.

So does big industry now want our national treasures to be converted into profit yielding tree farms?

Well, Oregon timber mills may be to blame for much of what is presently transpiring in the state. Last year the factory owners in Douglas Country funded a study called the John Sessions Report, which calls for turning the Siskiyou National forests into veritable pulp factories. And their wish is coming true at an alarming rate.

These same logging tycoons are also bankrolling much of George Bush’s re-election campaign in Oregon, while they continue to press their Republican Senator Gordon Smith to introduce a “plantation creation” bill in Washington.

“Their world-view dictates that “healthy forests” equal tree farms,” Sexton says of Douglas County mill owners. “Industry wants a train wreck at Biscuit.”

If so, this arrogant wish could come true as well. Let’s just hope the activists and the forests come out of the wreckage intact, with industry on a stretcher.

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the upcoming book, Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press and is a contributor to Counterpunch’s forthcoming book, Dime’s Worth of Difference. He welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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