In the last two isues of The Maine Woods I have written of the struggle of Julia Butterfly and other forest activists in northern California to save the last unprotected old-growth Coast Redwoods, as well as old-growth Douglas-Fir forests, from the ravages of the Pacific Lumber Company. Back in March of this year an important and potentially devastating deal, the Headwaters Forest Agreement (HFA), was signed between the Pacific Lumber Company, the state of California and the federal government. The deal did have one very positive point, the transfer 10,000 acres of redwood forest into public hands, including the 3000 acre Headwaters Grove and the Elkhead Springs Groves of old-growth redwoods, with the purchase of the Owl Creek Grove and parts of the Grizzly Creek Area still being negotiated.
Unfortunately, because of an attached Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Sustained Yield Plan (SYP), the deal also locks a lot of other very bad forest practices into place for the next 50 years, allowing Pacific Lumber (PL) to do pretty much what it pleases with the remainder of its land. PL will be able to log thousands more acres of ancient forests elsewhere in their holdings, forests upon which endangered populations of Marbled Murrelets, Spotted Owls and Coho Salmon depend for their continued survival in northern California. They'll be allowed to log on steep, unstable slopes that will certainly lead to more landslides, more flooding and more stream siltation, and less habitat for the endangered Coho Salmon. They'll be able to reduce the width of stream buffer strips, further threatening the endangered Coho. They'll have an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) allowing them to kill endangered species like the Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl, and destroy critical habitat for those species that otherwise would be protected by the Endangered Species Act.
On top of all that, the HCP/SYP is so full of loopholes and language open to interpretation that PL will be able to skirt even the weak protections it offers. If all that is not bad enough, they are protected by a "no surprises" clause for the 50-year term of the ITP, so that even if better science becomes available regarding the populations and habitat needs of the endangered species concerned, the protections cannot be strengthened. And for all that we, the taxpayers, paid Charles Hurwitz and the Maxxam Corporation $480 million - this to a man who already owes U.S. taxpayers $1.6 billion for bailing out his failed savings and loan company. In Nate Madsen's words, "It's like the government has said, 'Here's half a billion dollars, and here's a permit, go liquidate the rest of the forest.'"
This past June, my companion Teresa Wood and I found ourselves back in northern California. We took the opportunity to visit Julia again and to talk with her and other forest activists about their opinions of the HFA and their hopes for the future. Julia, fellow tree-sitter Nate Madsen, Karen Pickett of the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH), Paul Mason of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), From the Redwood Forest author Joan Dunning, and Earth First! activists Sawyer and Felony all had plenty to say about the deal, the forests, and where they hope the future takes us.
Almost a year, to the day, since our first visit with Julia, Teresa and I were headed back up the steep ridge towards Luna, the 1800 year old Coast Redwood that Julia calls home. With binoculars, we could see that she had hung a huge red and white target banner in the crown of the tree to show solidarity with the civilians in Kosovo then being bombed by U.S. warplanes. Julia stood in the tip-top of the 200 foot tall tree, arms upraised, as a small plane circled to photograph her and the banner. It was an inspiring sight.
A couple of hours later we joined Julia on her platform. As we talked, I could not help thinking that while Teresa and I had spent the majority of the past year living in warm, comfortable dwellings, Julia has been camped out on her 6x8 foot tarp-covered platform up in the fog and wind. That level of perseverance and determination is hard to grasp. On that afternoon in early June, Teresa and I were starting to shiver after an hour or so. I can only guess at how much colder it would feel in January, with a driving rain and a 70 mph wind whipping through Luna's crown, a common weather condition over the past two winters.
When we visited, Julia was approaching the 18-month mark in her vigil, and as I write this in early September, she is nearing the 21-month mark. That's a long time, a VERY long time to spend up in a tree. I, myself, feel connected to trees I have climbed only a few times or spent even a few hours in. I cannot even begin to imagine the connection Julia must feel with Luna. In her words, "I have become one with this tree and with nature in a way I would never have thought possible. I feel one with Luna. I feel like I'm keeping her alive and she's keeping me alive. It's a true understanding of symbiotic balance, I think. The way we should be interacting with all of life I've learned by interacting with this one tree day after day after day."
Looking over the vast landscape visible from her platform,
it seemed that to me that I could see many more clearcuts than
a year ago. When I mention this to Julia she replies, "There
are just more and more and more clearcuts - it never stops. It's
unbelievable. I cannot imagine being a human being that can go
in and do that to a forest, and feel proud about myself when
I go home. When I ask her about the blackened stumps we've noticed
in many of the clearcuts, I learn that it is the result of napalm.
Like a bad re-run of the U.S. war against Vietnam, PL typically
comes in and drops napalm from helicopters to burn off the slash
One of the big reasons Julia is still in her tree is to help people realize that the Headwaters controversy is not over. The Headwaters Grove and a couple of other groves of old-growth redwoods have been saved, but all the many other issues of Headwaters are still there - logging of other old-growth areas, lack of protection for endangered species, logging on steep slopes, stream siltation, increased flooding, clearcutting, unsustainable cut levels, toxic herbicide use, and so on. In Julia's words, "It's been vital that I stay here because Luna and the Luna tree-sit represent all of the things left out or sacrificed, knowingly sacrificed, under this deal. By being here, I'm still able to tell people about the problems with the Headwaters deal. The deal didn't solve the problems.
"The environmentalists, the whole way, were saying, 'If you want to solve the problems, don't sign the deal.' So my mantra is, 'Thank you, we'll take the Headwaters Grove, you can keep the bad deal,' because the deal is bad anyway you look at it. It's bad for the taxpayers, it's bad for the loggers, it's bad for the environment, it's bad for the fish, and the birds, and the trees, it's bad for everything and everyone except for Charles Hurwitz and the government officials who have been able to hold the Headwaters Grove in front of themselves and pat themselves on the back, and say, 'See what we saved, see what we saved.' And meanwhile, everything around the Headwaters Grove is being annihilated.
"The agreement would have been fine - it wouldn't have been great, it wouldn't have been everything we needed - but it would have been fine if it had just been the Headwaters Grove traded for money. Even though, of course, the Headwaters Grove should have been protected from the very beginning.
"The Endangered Species Act in its original form protects that grove. If the government had just upheld the law, the Headwaters Grove would have been protected. But because our government officials are spineless, and because they represent the rights and interests of corporations, period, they're not going to enforce the ESA there. It doesn't make sense to them. It doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make political interest to them, and the government doesn't like upholding the law unless it is in its interest. So if they're not going to do that, then we will trade money for Headwaters Grove, even though Charles Hurwitz already owes the taxpayers money. We'll trade money for it because those forests are priceless.
"If that's all they had done, trade forest land for money, the deal would have been palatable. But they attached an HCP and SYP to the protection of that forest and blew the agreement to bits because HCPs are a Horrible Concept Period. If the very best science were being used, HCPs would never be brought into existence."
The SYP they attached isn't any better. One example of how bad it is concerns the use of diesel fuel as a carrying agent for herbicides. The SYP plan has made it legal for PL to dump 40 gallons of diesel fuel per acre onto their land. PL still owns 211,000 acres, so that comes to 8,440,000 gallons of diesel fuel! The Exxon Valdez oil spill dumped only 2.5 million gallons more. Worst of all, the SYP has locked that dubious practice into place for the next 50 years. Where do the government regulators think that diesel fuel is going to go? Have they heard of groundwater?
Julia continues, "They passed a SYP that will cut the loggers out of a job in 20 years. A SYP requires them to provide for sustainability for 100 years. PL's plan for doing that is to cut virtually all the available timber that they have on their land in the first 20 years and then basically stop production for the next 80. So the loggers lose out right there. What has been a tradition for over a hundred years will disappear in the next 20 years under this deal. And the loggers were duped into asking for the government to agree to it. It's so sad to see the way they were manipulated into coming forward to support the HCP/SYP, and the Headwaters deal."
We can all learn from Julia's parting thoughts: "To me an activist isn't necessarily someone who goes out and climbs trees. Activism is about taking daily action in our lives. And because of the people who have taken daily action in their lives, to walk gently, to leave a kind imprint, there's something left for me. I want to leave that and more for those who come after."
The next day, with a couple of activist friends from the Bay area, Teresa and I headed up the Kneeland Road, to the forests above the community of Freshwater, to visit with Nate Madsen. Nate's doing a tree-sit in another 200 foot tall old-growth Coast Redwood. At that point he'd been up in his tree for almost eight months. As we arrived, he was just finishing with hanging a banner reading "RISE UP" over the road between treetops.
It took awhile for all four of us to get up into the tree. On the way up the rope, about 100 feet above the ground, we had to pass around, of all things, a bicycle. Nate had it suspended in mid-air from ropes so that he can ride it for exercise.
That obstacle surmounted, we eventually all joined him on
his platform at 170 feet. Thick fog enveloped the crown of the
tree, limiting our visibility and isolating us from the rest
of the world. We couldn't see the ground below, and much of the
time we couldn't see the tops of the other redwoods still standing
around us. I had the sensation of being adrift on a raft in a
foggy sea. Nate's an organic gardener by trade, and as we sat
on his platform we were surrounded by his organic garden-in-the-sky.
Containers filled with plants were hanging from branches and
resting atop limbs. Up above the platform was a "black bear",
a welded pipe device for locking himself to the tree in the event
that a PL climber came up to attempt to extract him.
Nate first felt the calling for doing a tree-sit in January 1998 after he'd noticed that the trees in the area had been marked with blue paint, indicating they were slated to be cut. He felt strongly that this was something that couldn't be allowed to happen. Julia had been up in Luna for a month or so at that point and he was inspired by her. When he saw the paint going onto the trees, he knew it was what he had to do. However, months passed before he actually got it together to climb up. For one thing, because of a temporary restraining order, PL didn't start felling the trees until August. After they'd already logged many of the large trees, he went out to check more carefully and found that there were still a few big ones left. Of those, he picked three trees that he thought would be suitable for a tree-sit.
He finally climbed up on 13 October 1998. Deciding on the spur of the moment on his way home from work one night, he had his friend let him out as they passed the area. By then, Mariah, the tree he's in now, was the only one of the three trees he'd chosen that was still standing. The other two had succombeed to PL's chainsaws. Without any gear, he climbed up and spent the first few nights just laying out on the tree's branches.
The first morning he was in Mariah, loggers were felling trees all around him. Some of the falling trees were so close that their branches grazed the branches of his tree as they fell. When the loggers discovered Nate was up in the tree, they began screaming and hollering curses up at him. Then one logger yelled, "Oh ___ it, I'm cutting it down anyway", fired up his chainsaw and started sawing at the base of the tree. This was just two or three weeks after another PL logger had killed David "Gypsy" Chain, and Nate thought, that's it, here I go. Fortunately, they let up on the sawing after about 20 minutes, and Nate is still there.
Another fellow named "Jungle" had climbed up into a nearby redwood a week earlier. He was brought down by PL climbers and arrested. One of the things the loggers told Nate that first day was that if they hadn't spent a day bringing down "Jungle" from his tree, they would have already cut down Nate's. He feels really thankful that he got to the tree in time and has had the chance to do what he's doing to save the it.
PL owns 80% of the Freshwater Creek watershed where Nate's tree is located, and has already logged 60% of it. The cumulative impact of that logging and the resultant erosion of the hillsides is the cause of frequent flooding in the community of Freshwater. Families there get flooded out of their homes every time there is a major storm.The creek has eight feet of new dirt and sediment on top of the original bed. It's a flood waiting to happen.
Because the people of Freshwater have been so negatively impacted by PL's logging practices, Nate has tremendous support in the community. With his tree very close to the road, unlike Luna, Nate's the recipient of a steady stream of hot meals from community members. At the same time, that proximity to the road has made him a target for verbal assaults and violence by crazies. He has been shot at, and his girlfriend, while visiting in the tree, had her car destroyed by a gang with baseball bats and crowbars, then pushed over an embankment with a truck.
Julia and Nate share many qualities. To start with, they are the same age, 26, yet are both wise way beyond their years. While neither one is naive about the harsh realities of the situation, they somehow still manage to remain positive, optomistic and upbeat in the face of the destruction around them. They have both demonstrated their ability to persevere, and they are both full of energy, determination, good cheer, and, amazing to me, respect for their enemies. And like Julia, Nate is open to being up in Mariah as long as what he is doing is effective and necessary. "You know, after eight months it's not like I'm going to be at a point where I'm going to give up on the tree and leave. As long as the tree's in danger I'm going to be here."
Also like Julia, Nate takes a broad view of the problems facing humanity. "I consider clearcutting ancient forests a symptom of a larger problem in our society," he tells us. "I think that when you're treating symptoms, you do everything you can. If you have a patient and certain symptoms are showing up, you take care of each of those symptoms. But ultimately you're going to have to cure the disease before the problem is solved. There are lots of different environmental problems facing us, and resolving them, I think, is going to take a consciousness shift. It's not going to be accomplished through better legislation. The system, as it's set up, is not really designed to allow the type of change that we need."
Meanwhile, back in Garberville, Paul Mason and the rest of the staff at EPIC are putting much of their energy into mounting a number of lawsuits against PL, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Dept. Of Forestry, legally challenging the HCP, the SYP, and various state permits associated with the deal. In Paul's words, "EPIC's strategy is to find solid handholds in the law that we can win on even against big money lawyers." They've had quite a bit of success with that strategy, with some pretty significant wins to their credit.
Back in Stafford, Mike O'Neal and other victims of PL's careless and destructive logging practices have filed a class action suit against the company. Mike's was one of the seven homes destroyed by the disastrous clearcutting-caused mudslide of New Year's Day 1997. So far the victims have not received a penny in restitution from PL. Hopefully the lawsuit will finally force the company to face up to the consequences of their recklessness. The case will comes to court in October.
And way back in Oakland, Karen Pickett and the staff of BACH
are doing their best to educate people to the fact that the Headwaters
problem has not been solved. They are putting much of their hope
into the possibility of a debt-for-nature swap. The Office of
Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,
two arms of the U.S. Treasury, still have outstanding claims
against Hurwitz and Maxxam stemming from the United Savings Assoc
of Texas's 1988 failure, which cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 billion.
If assets other than cash could satisfy Maxxam's debt, such as
Maxxam's old-growth Coast Redwood and Douglas-Fir forests, this
swap could achieve much greater protection for Headwaters. They
are also working to ensure that the land the government has already
purchased will be properly protected.