Friday, September 18, 1998
©1998 San Francisco Examiner
Felled tree kills redwood logging protester
Earth Firster was trying to stop cutting near Headwaters
By Eric Brazil
of the Examiner staff
An Earth First activist from Texas has become the first fatality in the
long struggle between environmentalists and the timber industry over
logging old growth redwoods in Humboldt County.
David Chain, 24, was struck in the head and killed by a falling redwood
shortly after noon Thursday in a grove near Grizzly Creek, 15 miles east of
Fortuna on Highway 36.
Chain - known as "Gypsy" among his Earth First colleagues - "was out there
running through the woods, trying to talk to loggers, telling them not to
fall the trees" when a falling tree cracked open his skull, said Darryl
Cherney, a North Coast Earth First leader.
The fatal accident occurred in a grove being logged by Pacific Lumber Co.,
owner of Headwaters Forest and the focal point of anti-logging
demonstrations. Chain's body was removed by a California Department of
"Gypsy was the first person ever killed at an Earth First protest," Cherney
said of Chain, who was originally from Austin, Texas.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident but
did not return phone calls late Thursday requesting details. The coroner's
office declined comment, except to confirm that a forest death attributable
to a falling tree had occurred.
Pacific Lumber President John Campbell said the logging crew did not see
anybody in the area and had no idea Chain was standing nearby.
"They felled a tree and apparently heard some yelling, and then the feller
was cutting the tree into segments when the body was found under a limb,"
Campbell said. He added that sheriff's investigators said Chain's death was
"an unfortunate accident," and that the company would conduct its own
An environmental spokesman agreed.
"We have no details and we're not assigning blame to the feller or Pacific
Lumber Company or anybody. It's just a complete tragedy," said Earth First
spokesman Josh Brown.
Earth First activists have been protesting what they contend is illegal
logging by Pacific Lumber near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park for more
than a week. They contend that the company has committed multiple
violations of state law and is destroying the habitat of the endangered
marbled murrelet, a bird that nests in the tops of old growth redwoods.
Eight activists were arrested for trespassing on Pacific Lumber's Grizzly
Creek logging operation on Wednesday.
"This is going to change things in ways we can't even see," said Brown of
Earth First. "We can only hope something good comes of it."
Earth First veteran Karen Pickett said the protests will go on.
"We've been at this for 12 years and we're still working on it," she said.
"There's no doubt that direct action will continue. It has been an
effective part of the whole campaign."
At least two Earth First "tree sitters" remained high aloft in their
protest perches Thursday night, despite the fatal accident earlier in the
day, said spokesman Josh Brown. A vigil for Chain was to be held early
Friday near Carlotta, Humboldt County.
In a prepared statement, Pacific Lumber Co. said it was "deeply saddened
(by) what appears to be a tragic accident on its property."
But Pickett said the lumber company knew the protest was out there.
"A number of people were out in the forest, and in fact a tree-sit was
going on," Pickett said. "It was a public protest. There had been two press
releases in the past two days."
The Grizzly Creek grove where Pacific Lumber is logging is near but not
within the Headwaters Forest and adjoining acreage that is being purchased
by California and the federal government from Maxxam Inc., Pacific Lumber's
parent company, for $495 million.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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