"Crushing identity politics"                                                             May 20, 2005

Siskiyou Grandmothers Sustain Campaign for Trees

By Kelpie Wilson

On Monday, I attended what may have been my 379th protest against logging ancient forests. I don't know because I've lost track over the years. Ever since I chained myself to a logging yarder back in 1987, forests have been a passion of mine. You can read about my first arrest and its consequences in an article I wrote back then for the Progressive, but this article is about the people who are standing up for trees today, and by and large they are not the young radicals we were back then, but older concerned people. They are grandmothers and grandfathers.

The Siskiyou National Forest has long been an epicenter of forest protest. Earth First! got its start here in the 1983 blockade of the Bald Mountain road. That campaign was ultimately successful - the road was stopped.

In the 1990s, I transitioned from civil disobedience to mainstream activism. I worked for the Siskiyou Regional Education Project during that whole decade on the major campaigns - the Northwest Forest Plan and the Roadless Rule - that defined our success. Looking back, those were banner years for forest activism. Although each gain came in tiny, painfully won increments, at least we were gaining.

Since 2000, our fall has been swift and hard. On every front, we are losing what we built in the 1990s. Two weeks ago, Bush's forest chief, Mark Rey, announced the end of the Roadless Rule. The government is systematically chipping away at the Northwest Forest Plan protections and using the fear of wildfire to drive the logging program. Scientific objectivity has been buried under a mound of logging slash.

At 9 o'clock on Monday morning I joined my neighbors and friends for a women's protest action at the Biscuit Timber Sale - the largest timber sale in US history and one that will set new precedents for busting down protections for old growth forest reserves (set aside under the Northwest Forest Plan) and roadless areas. For more background on the Biscuit Sale, see the article by Kathie Durbin from High Country News, posted on Truthout.

Here is the story, in their own words, of a community that refuses to stop caring about ancient forests, as they turn out one more time to stand tall for the trees. On this day, seven women decided to block a logging truck and get arrested to make their statement. It was the second all-women's action since the logging began in March. I also spoke with John West, owner of Silver Creek Lumber, which has purchased the portion of the sale now being logged.

    Joan Kalvelage - 55-year-old professional

I'm here today because I've known this part of the woods for 20 years. I've backpacked here every summer. The last time I backpacked here, I came at my son's request to scatter his father's ashes in the place that was the first place they ever went backpacking, and I checked it out carefully to make sure it wasn't an area scheduled for logging - it was where the roadless area meets the wilderness - and now they are going to log it.

'm here because I don't want to say to my son that I didn't pay attention when our government showed a flagrant contempt for 30 years of dialogue involving local citizens, environmentalists, and also loggers who came to an agreement with the Northwest Forest Plan that this would never come to pass. It's also contempt of scientists who are in consensus that salvage logging is not restoration and can only do harm to the forest. I'm also here to stand up to a violation of the separation of powers of our government. This is a case that is still pending in the courts and they are logging the trees.

You think of these old growth trees as dead; they may be black, but many of them are still supporting needles in their branches and their roots are supporting new growth. There's a tremendous life force out there that we are now tampering with. And those that are doing the tampering know that they are not doing it in good faith. That's why this road is closed. They don't want witnesses to what they are doing. And that's why were going to walk up the road, to witness it.

    Annette Rasch (on right) - Illinois Valley Enthusiasts

I am here because I feel compelled to be a voice for the voiceless. We get to hear from the timber companies, we get to hear from the Forest Service, but the public is being blocked out of the process and has been from the start. That’s one of the reasons why you’re seeing increasing levels of civil disobedience. Of the 55 people who have been arrested so far, a lot of them are first time arrestees. A lot of them are over 50, but they have become so frustrated with the Bush Forest Service. All these emergency exemptions, the refusal to hear appeals, and now the unconstitutional blocking us out of our forests - we’re feeling like what else can we do?

    Q. Wasn't there a public comment period on this project?

    A. Yes. 23,000 comments came through. Maybe the largest number of comments on a single project like this and they were overwhelmingly against logging.


    Linda Richards

    Q. Linda did you tell me that you are a Truthout reader?

    A. I am. I love Truthout. It's a great way to get information. Without Truthout I wouldn't know too much about what's going on, because the mainstream press doesn't really report on what's important. You can really tell when you read the Truthout articles.

    Q. I am so glad you like our service. So Linda, you're out here today and what's your purpose for being out here?

    A. I wanted to draw national attention to the fact that our forests are closed to the public, and I want people to know what’s going on out here - that our old growth reserves have been logged. They are being logged as we speak and it’s really heart-wrenching for all of us. Earlier today a log truck went by with some of the hugest old growth I’ve seen in a long time. We want people to know it’s not burnt twigs they are taking out of there. They are logging illegally, and we wish the Forest Service and the timber companies could have waited until the court cases get heard. It’s a huge, huge loss for our grandchildren, for us, for the world. This area has the greatest variety of plants and animals that you can find anywhere. And, right now there’s a lot of talk about global warming, and we all know that old growth reserves help with that problem, so this is the wrong time to be letting go of them and increasing the risk of climate change. If people could see these trees, they would do something about it, but they’re just not hearing it because the mainstream press isn’t talking about it.

    Q. In fact, the mainstream media is not even here today. Only Truthout is here. Correct?

    A. Yes that's correct. They didn't come. They knew all about it. They just didn't come to tell the story.

    Dot Fisher-Smith

Dot Fisher-Smith, left, and Joan Norman, right. Dot and Joan are both veterans of the March 14th women's action as well as many others.
    Q. Dot, why are you here today?

    A. Specifically, I came here to convey two women whose consciences were strong enough that they are willing to put their bodies at risk. I say convey, because it is a sacred matter. It's like a ritual or a rite of passage. Because they came in response to information I had given them, I wanted to be a witness for them and be their support person. When people are so deeply moved to act on their conscience, it moves me.

    Q. You were arrested in the first women's action on March 14th. How does it change you, to put your body on the line like this for the forest?

    A. So many ways. I’ll tell you, the most amazing thing for me was when I came out of jail after two days, went home and John, my husband, was all in a snit about all these piddly little things in his life and I had this huge perspective. It gets your priorities straight. You get really clear about what’s important. Making a statement for the trees, for the voiceless, doing whatever I can to preserve what’s left for future generations is top priority for me. When we think about our children and their children looking back and asking: “How could you let this happen?” I want to be able to say I did what I could to stop it.

    Sherry Borowski - legal observer

    Q. I wanted to ask you about the legal ramifications that protestors face when they stand up for their conscience here today.

    A. Well it's not as scary as you might think. It was my first arrest back in March and there is such a feeling of solidarity and strong feelings of standing up for our forests. The legal ramifications for your first arrest are not all that serious. You'll probably get charged with something like disorderly conduct, maybe trespassing if you go over the invisible line that's keeping us out of the forests now. We think that's illegal. The log trucks are coming out with trees that aren't even burned - very big trees.

    Barry Snitkin

    I'm here because the Forest Service policy of devastating forests is a travesty and should be stopped.

    Q. Do you know this area well?

    A. Yes I've lived here for more than 20 years. I've hiked and kayaked all over.

    Q. What sorts of rules and principles are being violated by this particular timber sale?

    A. All the ecological rules of the universe! The only way to create soil in places like this is to allow dead and dying material to accumulate on the ground and become soil. There's no other way to do it. The rocks don't turn into soil, so when you take that material out of the forest you are actually stealing it from future generations and future forests.

    Q. So what they are doing is not going to help the forest recover from that fire.

    A. It's not possible for it to help. No.

    Q. You are a kayaker and I know you have lot of experience with the rivers around here. How will this timber sale impact the Illinois River and its tributaries?

    A. It's going to put mud into the river in different spots and when we get heavy rains these streams that are normally crystal clear are going to run too muddy for too long.

    Q. This area is an important salmon refuge and now there is an unanticipated crisis with salmon with the result that they are shutting down the fishing season in many places. Why do you think the Forest Service is not taking their mission to protect salmon seriously?

    A. It's political - the Bushies want to pay back the timber industry for their campaign contributions. But the Forest Service has never put as much importance on habitat for wildlife. They always lean towards cutting trees.

    John West - Silver Creek Lumber

    Q. I wanted to ask you, since we can't get up there to see what it looks like, is there a big erosion problem up there? Do you see a lot of muddy running water from where you've been getting in there and cutting?

    A. We actually haven't had that. The ground has been pretty dry. Even though we've had showers like this, ten minutes later, with the hot sun, the ground is dry again. We haven't gotten inches and inches of rain. We haven't gotten enough precipitation to know. You're going to know more about anything like that when it comes next winter.

    Q. You've been logging since when?

    A. March 7th is when we started cutting. So we're on the spring and summer end of it.

    Q. How do you feel about this timber sale being subsidized by taxpayer dollars? How does that make you feel?

    A. I don't know. When you say it's being subsidized - the Forest Service is getting a million dollars and I know it didn't cost them that to lay it out.

    Q. That's what you're paying, a million dollars?

    A. I think it's a million-one.

    Q. For how many board feet?

    A. Well they said 14 and a half million but we're not going to get 14 and a half million

    Q. Really? Why not?

    A. Because the riparian protections ate up a percentage of it, wildlife trees ate up a percentage of it and then there's a percentage of it, that's no good. The bark's coming off of them and they're checking.

Kelpie Wilson is the t r u t h o u t environment editor. A veteran forest protection activist and mechanical engineer, she writes from her solar-powered cabin in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon. Her first novel, Primal Tears, is forthcoming from North Atlantic Books in Fall 2005. Check out truthout.com.
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