The War in the Woods: Resistance is Fertile

“It was strangely like war. They attacked the forest as if it were an enemy to be pushed back from the beachheads, driven into the hills, broken into patches, and wiped out. Many operators thought they were not only making lumber but liberating the land from the trees.”

Murray Morgan,
The Last Wilderness (University of Washington Press 1976)

The Orwellian-named Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) sponsored by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Feinstein (D-CA) passed the Senate last year by an 80–14 vote, exposing 70 per cent of our public-owned forests to logging with little or no environmental oversight.

Positive Congressional protection measures are nowhere to be found. The National Forest Protection and Restoration Act (NFPRA) which would end commercial logging on public lands still languishes without Congressional support, nor much big green support, seven years after it was first introduced. The Act to Save America’s Forest grassroots plan to also end logging never had any big green support in the first place and though it has had more Congressional support, it still goes nowhere.

Spawned by this failure to protect and the ferocious return of pro-Big Timber governmental chicanery (not that it ever really left), collusion between the Democrats and the Bush Administration and the usual inept response from big green; a renewed effort to defend precious ecosystems at the very point of attack is underway.

Grassroots forest activists certainly aren’t taking the latest assault on our public forests lying down. That is unless they’re laying there locked to something, blocking chainsaws from carrying out the terms of the Wyden/Feinstein/Bush Stealthy Timber Initiative. These folks, many seasoned veteran activists and many newer fired-up folks with new energy and ideas, know it’s up to the citizenry to voice their displeasure, bring attention to the issue and try and still the saws in any way they can creatively think up.

Between Greenpeace, the National Forest Protection Alliance (NFPA), Forest Guardians, the various Centers for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Forest Alliance, Heartwood and others 100% of proposed timber sales are being monitored. These groups are ready to launch whatever is necessary to defend our forests — from education, letter writing campaigns, lawsuits, to market campaigns (especially in Alaska’s case) to Civil Disobedience.

Here’s a sampler of what’s about to break loose:



A textbook case of citizen activism is underway right under the noses of the DC crowd. The administration of the Jefferson National Forest of Virginia has proposed logging some 600 acres in the Bark Camp and High Knob areas.

This stunning area has been extensively logged in the past and has just begun to fully recover. It is also close to major population centers and is a popular recreation area — including lakes, trails and scenic overlooks. The area’s streams drain into the Clinch River, home to the highest concentration of federally protected aquatic species in Virginia.

Recently, past logging contributed to landslides in the area which killed one man and devastated the very heart of the proposed sale area, smothering untold number of aquatic species in silt. Over 27 slides occurred in just the Stony Creek drainage alone in 2001.

On December 17, 2003, on behalf of those species and the Clinch Coalition, the Southern Environmental Law Center of Asheville, NC has filed the necessary lawsuit, with the help of the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project and others. The Forest Service (USFS) has 60 days from then to respond.

Should the legal challenges fail, the Asheville chapter of EarthFirst! has set up an action camp in the Bark Camp area and is training for tree sits and blockades. Activists from all over the region–Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina and elsewhere have converged on the area to prepare.



In Kentucky, the Forest Service has plans to “salvage” log over 3000 acres on the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Moorehead Ice Storm Salvage rampage is the USFS response to a storm that swept through the forest in 2003, causing many trees to lose limbs to the weight of the storm’s ice. While these forests have certainly been through many such events historically and continue to thrive, the Forest Service has determined that the trees must be cut. The excuse is that the dreaded gypsy moths may, according to the agency, arrive “sometime in the next 25 years” and presumably do something the ice-pruned forest has never seen before.

So, again, over forty people have been to the area and have trained in tree sitting techniques.




While the extreme old growth liquidation efforts of the USFS in the Pacific Northwest that inspired/outraged Mikal Jakubal to become the first tree sitter in a protest in the spectacular Middle Santiam River of Oregon back in 1985 will likely never again occur, Big Timber is using the HFI to justify going after the remnant stands they missed or were held out of in the past.

Clinton’s 1994 Old Growth Liquidation Plan (Option 9) saw scientists compile a list of 590 rare species that depend on the Westside Cascades Ancient Forest ecosystem and would likely face extinction if measures were not taken to assure their survival. So, a system of Survey and Manage (S&M) was instituted to make sure that agencies monitored for these species before any further logging could take place.

Immediately, industry (and enviros) saw the potential and, as a result, got many species dropped from the list in an unbroken annual purge by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Now there are less than half the original species on the list and Bush announced plans to eliminate the list, as clever activists have done their own surveys and stopped many sales accordingly.

Come Feb. 21st, there will be a region-wide protest at Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices coinciding with the release of the new, species-cleansed list, which will have dropped over 460 of the original endangered species.


Throughout the West, Big Timber has remade itself as Big Fire. Sen. Wyden was able to get $1.2 billion put in the HFI for Oregon-based Big Fire, the privatized fire fighting, “salvage” logging and “restoration” offshoot of Big Timber.

Using the excuse that forests burn (startling news!) as a means of getting at the lucrative trees is Industry’s 21st Century Big Lie. Under the terms of the Horizontal Forest Initiative, industry gets to quadruple dip: first paid for “fuel reduction” logging, then to fight the inevitable fires, then to “salvage” the burn areas and finally, to “restore” the areas, usually by planting nonnative grasses and highly flammable thickets of small monoculture trees.

Fire is now the excuse for most Western logging. And, here’s the worst example:



In 2002, the Biscuit fire burned on 500,000 acres in the Siskiyou National Forest. The fire burned hot in some areas and at low intensity over half the area, leaving large islands of untouched forest over most of the half-million acres.

As usual, the USFS began planning the “salvage logging” before the fire was even put out — by Mother Nature, as always. The USFS received over 23,000 public comments on the logging plan with over 95% opposed. In response, the USFS issued a plan to cut 518 million board feet from 30,000 acres. Large, standing dead trees, known as snags and large, live trees will be cut and, ironically, replaced with small far more fire-prone plantations.

The Biscuit Timber Sale will be the largest in memory. Even Dr. Jerry Franklin, the architect of Option 9 has come out opposed to the “salvage.” One of the key provisions of Option 9 was the network of Late Successional Reserves (LSR) that were to be set aside to protect the habitat for spotted owls and the other old growth-dependent species on that S&M list. The point of the LSR network was to have enough of them that they could accommodate such natural events as fire and still provide habitat for species during a “natural recovery.” Of course, the Biscuit plan devastates the area’s largest and most critical LSRs, with over 2/3rds of the proposed logging in designated LSRs. Franklin has noted that standing snags are critical over the 100 to 200 years it takes for a mature forest to grow back.

The Biscuit Fire Salvage is the epicenter of activist efforts in the NW. Already dozens of activists from dozens of local groups have educated themselves on the Biscuit and have made plans to actively oppose the proposed logging. Activists anticipate yet another Congressional “Rider” which, like Clinton’s infamous 1995 Salvage Rider, will suspend all relevant protective laws, even the paltry protections of HFI, in order to abet the logging.

Senator from Big Timber, Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Mark Rey, former Big Timber lobbyist and now Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of the Forest Service held a Public Forum in Southern Oregon last month. Their efforts to justify the “salvage” logging and raise the rider threat were met by local activists and Mike Roselle of Greenpeace, who continued his group’s strategy of dogging Rey wherever he goes. Klamath Siskiyou Wild’s George Sexton was forcibly removed after his pointed comments.

“Lawless Logging” may return to the area first impacted by Clinton’s Rider. And, as before, it will be met with a concerted Civil Disobedience effort.



The biggest threat to public forests in the Northern Rockies continues to be massive commercial logging projects conducted under the guise of the usual Forest Service buzzwords such as “forest health,” “salvage” and “restoration.”

The Northern Rockies are blessed with some of the best and largest remaining wildlands in the lower 48 states. The sparse human population and wild country is what makes the Northern Rockies ecosystem so unique, but it also presents difficult challenges when it comes to organizing grassroots activists. Often times it’s just a handful of dedicated activists who take a stand against forest destruction. The call is out for all to come to the Big Wild this summer and do your part to save this amazing ecosystem.

And your help is needed. Last fall, yet another “suspend the laws” rider was attached to the Interior Appropriations by rabid anti-environmental Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). This assault will result in the logging of thousands of acres of majestic old-growth forests on the Kootenai National Forest and allows post-fire logging projects on the Flathead National Forest to sidestep the Clean Water Act.

In Idaho, the Nez Perce National Forest is planning to weaken water quality and soil protection standards to “get the cut out” in a watershed that’s already hammered by extensive logging and roadbuilding. Meanwhile, the Clearwater National Forest is planning a logging project under the term “ecosystem management” that would log right up to two roadless areas and near the historic trail used by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Thankfully the Nez Perce tribe — who coincidentally rescued Lewis and Clark 200 years ago — has sued to stop the project. A decision is pending.

But unquestionably the best example of Forest Service doublespeak has been occurring on the Bitterroot National Forest since the wildfires of 2000 when the Forest Service pushed forward a “Burned Area Recovery Plan” for the Bitterroot that called for logging 180 million board feet of trees (that’s enough to fill log trucks lined up for 300 miles!).

Following a controversial settlement agreement signed in February 2002–brokered largely by big green groups, which at the last minute came to the “rescue” of the very capable local grassroots groups who had been working for over a year to stop the project–the USFS was able to implement a “recovery” project allowing them to log 60 million board feet over 14,700 acres. <>

Oh yeah, the “recovery” plan also did include some bona-fide restoration work such as road obliteration, tree planting and stream restoration.

But, now, nearly two years into the project and the logging companies have systematically cut down the largest, most fire resistant trees while leaving the ground covered with logging slash. The Forest Service actually admits that the fire risk on the Bitterroot has been increased for up to 8 years!

And as far as real restoration work goes, two years into the project only 16% of the road restoration work has occurred and $18 million set aside for restoration of the Bitterroot is gone and the Forest Service has no plans to get that money back. Talk is cheap.

On the nearby Lolo National Forest, the USFS proposes to log the 250 acre “Mineral Fire Salvage”–located in the upper Gold Creek drainage northeast of Missoula. This plan would result in logging within 500 feet of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area–an incredibly popular 65,000 acre designated Wilderness located just a few miles north of Missoula. The project would also result in logging for 1/3 of a mile along a popular recreation trail which leads directly into the Wilderness.



The intent of that cleansed S&M species list is to make it easier to go after those remnant groves of Ancient Forests. Even large healthy trees in Ancient Forest stands are vulnerable under the current regime. One sale, in particular, makes no efforts to rationalize Ancient Forest liquidation as some sort of fireproofing scheme.

The BLM is usually associated with cattle and mining. Throughout the West, the BLM got the non-forest lands and the USFS got the trees. However, in Southern Oregon, the BLM has forests to “manage,” as well.

In the Klamath/Siskiyou Mountains, the BLM oversees the 46,464-acre Zane Grey roadless area, the largest BLM roadless area in the nation. The Zane Grey is home to many of the aforementioned S&M species. It straddles the Wild and Scenic Rogue River for 24 miles and is adjacent to the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area.

The BLM has hatched a plan to cut some 1700 of those acres in the Kelsey-Whisky Timber Sale–an old-style old growth sale of centuries-old trees. Again, the vast majority of public comments asked the BLM to reconsider. The agency’s response? The BLM actually increased the volume to be cut in this larger-than-usual remnant gem.

This has resulted in the usual activist response — letter writing, legal challenges and CD preparation.



The Mt. Hood National Forest is one of the few spotted owl forests to have a USFS designation as a “Recreation Forest” as it’s within easy reach of over half of Oregon’s population. It’s also the drinking water source for that half of the state’s population — over 1.27 million water users. That hasn’t stopped the chainsaw juggernaut, however. Plans call for over 48 timber sales on the Mt. Hood NF with most of them old growth logging — many old growth clear-cutting.

Recently, a grassroots lawsuit derailed the Solo Timber Sale, one of eight sales targeting the remaining Ancient Forests of the stunning Oak Grove Watershed — “an aggregate plantation of uniform age trees” is the stated management goal.

The Solo Timber Sale was defeated by a combination of direct action, citizen surveys for rare species, market campaigns, and litigation. Tree-sitters lived at Solo for over a year between when the sale was sold and notice of the cancellation received. Their tree, Horehound, was named after Beth O’Brien, who died in a fall from a tree-sit at Eagle Creek days before the final paper work canceling the sale was signed.

The Juncrock, Bear Knoll, and Hilynx Timber sales combine to log 2165 acres in the White River Watershed. Hilynx has already been auctioned, some roads built, and logging is imminent. Juncrock’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) came out earlier this year, but the Record of Decision has not yet been released. With nearly 500 public comments received opposing the sale before the decision has even been finalized, Juncrock is poised to one of the next big public fights in the Mt. Hood.

These sales target old growth hemlocks by pretending to eradicate “disease” without mentioning that the diseases they target are endemic. The eradication of these diseases would require the eradication of entire old growth western hemlock forest ecosystems.




While the above efforts are all classic examples of the oft-successful “Name It and Save It,” place-based method of protecting local favorite areas, the larger view calls for a Chainsaw Moratorium across the entire scope of public forests.

Name It and Save It has succeeded in protecting some stunning islands of precious forests. And, it will continue to be the most effective way to sell a community on local protection. Yet, as Mike Roselle said, “It can no longer just be about Dinky Creek up the Whatchamacallit River.”

So, Roselle, Greenpeace, NFPA and others plan a multi-front response using all the tools in the box. More CD trainings will happen. Serious safety concerns are being addressed.


The primary front is in Alaska. The Bush Administration has swept aside the last-minute tissue paper barrier of Clinton’s “Roadless Rule” and pushed forward with plans to log and build roads into 300,000 roadless acres of the Tongass National Forest, our largest Ancient Forest.

Not at all gulled by Clinton’s Maginot Line of protection, Greenpeace and their local allies anticipated this assault and have plans to bring CD to Alaska for the first time. In a preview, last month dozens of folks from Greenpeace and the Alaska Rainforest Coalition went to Mark Rey’s DC office and sodded over the parking lot with grass. This clever tactic resulted in media attention and a meeting with Rey himself.

At the meeting Rey attempted to justify the Tongass incursion. When it was pointed out that over 60,000 public comments — from religious groups, recreationists, hunting and fishing clubs — opposed the plan, Rey noted, “I don’t count votes.” To which one wag responded, “We notice that seems to be this administration’s operating principle.”


Perhaps anticipating Greenpeace’s committed involvement in North American forest issues, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against the group in Miami court last July, under terms of an obscure 19th Century law aimed at ending the practice of “sailor mongering.” The “sailor mongering” law, used but twice in the 19th Century, was aimed at pimps who boarded incoming ships, plied the sailors with booze and arranged for their various pleasures upon docking.

It’s also payback, as Greenpeace was the first group to protest at Bush’s Texas ranch shortly after his inauguration, hanging a banner reading “Bush: the Toxic Texan. Don’t Mess With the Earth.'”

In April 2002, Greenpeace activists boarded a ship full of illegally cut and exported mahogany from Brazil. They tried to hang a banner saying, “President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging.” Arrests were made and all minor charges against the activists were settled. No violence or property damage occurred. Yet, the Justice Department has brought these criminal charges against the entire organization in a chilling attempt to silence dissent. Greenpeace would lose its tax exempt status and have to report to the government on all its activities should Ashcroft succeed — which he won’t.

“This prosecution is unprecedented in American history,” noted John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace in the United States. “Never before has our government criminally prosecuted an entire organization for the free speech activities of its supporters. If this prosecution succeeds, then peaceful protest — an essential American tradition from the Boston Tea Party through the modern civil rights movement — may become yet another casualty of Attorney General Ashcroft’s attack on civil liberties.”

Uncowed, Greenpeace plans to step up its forest fight, not only on the Tongass, but all across the 48 states, as well. As Roselle put it, “After 9-11, the president said to go back to normal. Well, normal for us is to board ships. Normal for us is blockading timber sales. We raise funds based on that. It’d be fraud if we did otherwise.” (A healthy sentiment the entire environmental movement could use more of.)

States also have Draconian laws they can use to suppress dissent. For example, in Oregon, a specious law aimed at intimidating FarmWorker’s Union organizers is now being exclusively used against forest protesters. The “Interfering with an Agricultural Operations Act” passed the Oregon Senate by a unanimous 30-0 vote in 1999. This Class A Misdemeanor is being used by the USFS and local authorities against any nonviolent protesters and its use is expected to increase. To date, however, once the arrests have been made and citations issued, that appears to be it; as the authorities have always dropped the charges rather than have their shifty little tool face Constitutional review in Court.


All the pieces are in place for a spirited and successful defense — local activists and groups, supported by a large national coalition like NFPA and an experienced international group like Greenpeace.

Twenty-one years after the first North American blockade at the still threatened Siskiyou ecosystem’s Bald Mountain, two decades after the first tree sit protest, ten years after Clinton supposedly “saved the Ancient Forests” we come to the end game. It’s now or never for many of these public-owned forests and the species dependent upon them.

The time is long overdue for a moratorium on any logging on public lands. It’s way overdue for Congress to live up to the usual election year green rhetoric and pass protection legislation.

The people are speaking. They’re putting their bodies on the line. It’s 2004 — time to count the votes.

(Thanks to all the activists who contributed to this article and who are doing the necessary, courageous work to still the saws and save this precious heritage.)


MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at