Timber interests, local
leaders criticize Earth First!
Sep. 28, 1998
By MIKE GENIELLA
Press Democrat Staff Writer
When Elizabeth Rieke and other nationally
known experts on environmental issues are
asked to peek behind the redwood curtain,
express amazement at how intensely longtime
foes practice ritual combat.
"Few places experience that level of
environmental issues, and the absolute
some of the parties to deal,'' said Rieke,
director of the Natural Resources Law
the University of Colorado School of Law.
Rieke in the early 1990s led a federal team
successfully mediated a landmark three-year
agreement on water quality standards for
Francisco Bay and the Delta.
Rieke, and others like her who have played
major roles in national environmental
are deeply troubled by the Sept. 17 death
24-year-old Earth First! follower in the
redwoods of Humboldt County.
They feel the fallen redwood that crushed
"Gypsy'' Chain shattered an illusion that
combatants in the state's longest running
environmental controversy were merely
in a war of words. The young Texan's death
the first fatality in a decade of
Not since "Redwood Summer'' of 1990 have
tensions run as high in timber country and
sunk so deep.
"It's a terrible time. I think we all
worst was behind us,'' said Claudia Lima,
runs a North Coast logging company with
Chain, an Earth First! recruit from Austin,
fatally crushed by a falling redwood after
other activists trespassed onto Pacific
Co. timberland and attempted to disrupt a
logging operation in a remote area adjacent
Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park.
Chain's family is to arrive today on the
Coast amid an angry chorus of
about who's to blame for his death. Since
young man was killed, combatants have been
relentless in their attempts to sway public
to their viewpoints.
Despite activists' outcry that local law
enforcement and Pacific Lumber can't be
to honestly investigate Chain's death,
Attorney General Dan Lungren has refused to
step in and conduct an independent
"We have full and complete faith in the
County Sheriff Department's ability to do
job,'' said Lungren spokesman Matt Ross.
Earth First! organizers are under fire from
timber industry, and from local community
political leaders, for encouraging
antics in the woods that critics feel
lives of young followers, of timber workers
of local law enforcement officers forced to
with increasingly sophisticated protest
But activists place blame for Chain's death
timber companies. Although they have
no proof for their assertion, they contend
corporate bosses have encouraged logging
crews to recklessly fall trees in the
intruders in hopes of scaring them away.
Earth First! leaders justify disruptive
dangerous logging sites by arguing the
needed to draw public attention to their
that state and federal regulators aren't
adequate job of protecting the environment.
Chain's death, and the controversy that has
erupted since, has cast a shadow over Gov.
Wilson's signing of legislation to complete
purchase of Headwaters Forest, the last
significant grove of ancient redwoods left
private ownership, and impose the strictest
environmental standards ever on a
Two days after Chain's death, Wilson and
Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., publicly
acknowledged the tragedy. Both said they
acquisition of Headwaters and 6,000 acres
surrounding redwood timberlands would be a
major step toward resolving an epic
environmental battle that's achieved
Despite the landmark Headwaters agreement,
however, radical environmentalists persist
protests. They claim the government deal is
giving Pacific Lumber a "license to kill''
endangered wildlife species, and threatens
With Chain's death, the focus has shifted
disputed terms of the Headwaters purchase
Earth First!'s controversial tactics on the
Coast and across the West. It also has
media spotlight on Pacific Lumber's sharply
accelerated logging during the past decade
the corporate ownership of Texas financier
As if to underscore the turmoil around
guests this past week on a Humboldt County
radio talk show debated whether Chain is
casuality of a "war'' that clearly has no
Earth First!'s tactics have been the
controversy on the North Coast since
Summer, when an unsolved car bombing
the late Judi Bari and organizer Darryl
on the eve of massive anti-logging protests
Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Since
Pacific Lumber logging crews have had to
regularly cope with road blockades, people
sitting in trees targeting for cutting, and
using sophisticated devices to lock
logging equipment on site.
Costs to the company, and local taxpayers
the past decade have been staggering.
County authorities believe it costs the
treasury at least $200,000 a year to police
activists. Pacific Lumber says it's
now tops $800,000 annually.
Similar protest tactics are used by radical
environmentalists across the West. In
Earth First! activists have hung themselves
teepee-like devices to block roads and keep
loggers out of a national forest. Most
carload of activists traveled up and down
miles of dirt roads in Wyoming cutting
wire fences in an escalating battle with
ranchers over the fate of federal grazing
About the combat there, the New York Times
on Sept. 20 proclaimed, "It's Cowboys vs.
Radical Environmentalists in New Wild
Seldom, however, have radicals anywhere
waged a battle with such intensity and for
as they have fighting North Coast timber
"Those kind of heated conflicts have pretty
subsided, although there are a few here and
there,'' said Ed Marston, publisher of High
Country News, a Colorado weekly that's
national recognition for its environmental
But on the North Coast, the story is
Nearly 10 years after tactics during
Summer first triggered controversy, Earth
organizers Cherney and Karen Pickett defend
the continuing practice of sending young
like Chain into the woods to conduct
"cat-and-mouse'' games with loggers. In
games, intruders try to slow down the pace
logging by darting through the trees,
themselves to logging equipment, or
platforms in towering redwoods and defying
loggers to cut the occupied trees. Julia
Arkansas woman who saw her first redwood
two years ago, has occupied one giant
near Stafford since last December.
Pickett and Cherney say recruits like Chain
Hill are first trained in non-violent
being sent out to the woods. Their goal is
logging, while attempting to engage timber
workers in conservation. But more times
not, loggers react angrily to the
view their presence as a threat to their
livelihoods. Pickett and others blame
Lumber managers for promoting a campaign of
violence and hostility against the youthful
But critics contend Earth First! tactics
definition of non-violence.
Arun Ghandi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi,
said he's troubled by how American
easily lay claim to non-violent principles
famous by his grandfather. Since 1991, Arun
Ghandi has been director of the non-profit,
non-sectarian M.K. Gandhi Institute for
Nonviolence at Christian Brothers
"To be true to the teachings of Gandhi is
adhere to a practice of seeking solutions
creating confrontations or bitterness,''
He said his grandfather believed
nonviolence could expect to lose their
resisting oppressors. But he said the
generally arisen from passive resistance to
authorities, rather than actively engaging
"Deliberately sending people into a danger
is troubling. I don't think that's right.
be alternative ways of dealing with such a
situation without losing a life,'' he said.
Gandhi said he has only received sketchy
information about Chain's death in the
"I'm hesitant to pass judgment without
more, but I fear his life may have been
wasted,'' Gandhi said.
Elizabeth Rieke, in her role as an adviser
government agencies and an instructor, has
studied environmental conflicts across the
country for nearly 30 years.
She said for there to be hope for
the North Coast, environmental activists
timber companies must be willing to step
from dangerous confrontations like the one
led to Chain's death.
"There are no easy solutions when valuable
natural resources are at stake, and vast
differences in values and deep-seated
exist among combatants,'' Rieke said.
Rieke said solutions arise only when
are willing to come to the table and start
"At that point, leadership is crucial. And
leadership is usually homegrown. People
be willing to take risks, to listen to the
person and find a common ground. It's not
It's not often successful. But it can be
"For this dangerous period to end, people
North Coast must come to the table. There
other way,'' Rieke said.
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