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Synthesis/Regeneration 15   (Winter 1998)

The Next to Last Stand

by Billy Stern, Native Forest Network

On September 17, after 74 days, the second longest timber sale blockade in US history was busted. This was no simple tree-sit. The Forest Service had to bring in a 50 foot high "cherry picker" over 70 miles to take down activists sitting on platforms suspended from four huge wooden tripods and bipods. But before they could even get to the sitters, they had to deal with the "Dragon."

The Dragon consists of a metal pipe large enough to put your arms through, with a metal pin welded in the center. The pin is positioned so you clip or lock a small chain to it, with the other end locked around your wrist. This set-up is then encased in a pear-shaped concrete slab, and buried in the ground. Above the dragon sits a carefully constructed huge pile of slash timber (left over from road building). It took authorities over seven hours to cut and chisel out the blockader locked into it.

The Cove/Mallard timber sale in the Nez Perce National Forest in central Idaho has all the hallmarks of the Forest Service's failing land use policies. The sale calls for 200 clearcuts and 145 miles of new roads in a 76,000 acre roadless area. All this at an estimated cost of only $6 million to the taxpayer, for preparing the sale and road subsides, bringing out 26,000 truck loads of profit for timber companies.

It's hard to describe the subtle ecological treasure of Cove/Mallard. It isn't the most spectacular landscape in the West. Its magnificence comes rather from its wild expanses and diverse wildlife. Cove/Mallard is home not only to deer, elk, moose, cougar, and an array of smaller critters, but also to numerous rare, threatened, and endangered species, including bull trout, chinook salmon, steelhead, westslope cutthroat trout, fisher, martin, lynx, wolverine, river otter, gray wolf, bald eagle, golden eagle, boreal and flamulated owl, goshawk, and winter wren. It's also prime grizzly habitat for their expected reintroduction.

This (previously) roadless area forms the only viable migration corridor between Idaho's Gospel Hump and River of No Return Wilderness areas. These in turn lie in the middle of a 26 million acre complex of national forests, roadless, and wilderness areas known as the Greater Salmon/Selway Ecosystem-the largest untouched ecosystems in the lower forty-eight. Relatively untouched that is, as every year logging further intrudes on unprotected roadless areas.

The old timers say that the Cove/Mallard area was sold out by the Wilderness Society in a back room deal-intentionally left out as a sacrifice to timber interests, in a trade for expanding the River of No Return Wilderness. As the west coast timber supply slowed, it didn't take long for the Forest Service to propose the Jersey/Jack sale. The local sportsman and recreationists came together to fight this sale, winning on the grounds that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was insufficient.

...more than a few sales have been started, or even finished, and then ruled illegal.

Forced back to the drawing board, the Forest Service renamed the sales Cove/Mallard, finishing its EIS in 1990, again offering them up to the chopping block. Undoubtedly, the decision-makers weren't aware they were about to set off a six year series of protests that continue as I write. The call went out to the forest activists of the West and dozens showed as the snows melted in 1992. Since then, protests, blockades, and well over 200 arrests. These were not mass arrest like those of Headwaters, but mostly 1's, 2's and 3's-the biggest after the blockade in 1995, fondly nicknamed "The Dirty Dozen." This set of arrests was planned to slow the cutting as much as possible.

Perhaps you're wondering why someone didn't just sue to stop the sale before taking to the woods in protest. Actually, Idaho Sporting Congress did sue, first in 1993, after the Spring and Summer Chinook Salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act, and again in 1995. But the Idaho District Court let the cutting continue, letting the slow wheels of justice creak, as they set the court date, heard the case, and deliberated. In one of the greatest ironies of environmental injustice, more than a few sales have been started, or even finished, and then ruled illegal. A moral victory, but empty.

By inaction, the Forest Service has continued to endanger the threatened Snake River Chinook Salmon, in violation of the Endangered Species Act…by increasing sediment levels… the Forest Service is violating the Clean Water Act.

Over the years, two injunctions have slowed the sale. But in Summer, 1997 the Ninth Circuit again denied an injunction on the second lawsuit and will hear its appeal in January, 1998. The suit claims that these sales fail to comply with conditions imposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service. By inaction, the Forest Service has continued to endanger the threatened Snake River Chinook Salmon, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Further, by increasing sediment levels in Big Mallard and Little Mallard Creeks, both of which have been declared Water Quality Limited by the state of Idaho, the Forest Service is violating the Clean Water Act. In addition, the Cove/Mallard timber sales are based on an EIS produced in 1990. The suit asks that to comply with the law, the Forest Service produce a Supplemental EIS (SEIS) .

The courts are not the sole source of injustice at Cove/Mallard. This summer one of the slash piles used to block the road was set on fire, presumably by local loggers. The pile could easily have been human occupied-and most loggers are aware that blockaders often inhabit these piles. This is just the culmination of a six-year pattern of physical and psychological aggression that locals have repeatedly displayed, and officials consistently ignored.

...loggers "teased" blockaders with gunshots fired over their heads...

Although I've heard of harassment and assaults from as early as 1992, my direct experience started in 1995, when loggers "teased" blockaders with gunshots fired over their heads, and after a "citizen's arrest" put a chain around one activist's neck and toyed with him until federal officials came, threatening to kill him, or just drag him tied behind their pickup for 10 miles to the nearest town. The following summer Forest Service employees dropped one tripod-sitter over 15 ft, dislocating his shoulder. They could easily have broken his neck.

This August (a few days before the firebug's attack) two activists were assaulted from behind. Further, the one who tried to report it had his life threatened by his assailant, in front of both Forest Service and County law officials, who did nothing. As workers caught in the middle of a political dispute, the loggers' frustration and anger are understandable, but the passivity on the part of local officials is inexcusable.

Finally, after years of protesting in central Idaho, at times blockading roads in the forest and at times chanting slogans to the unreceptive ears of citizens in the small city of Grangeville, the protests are spreading out. On September 18, the day after the blockaders were arrested, a tripod went up in the middle of campus at the University of Montana, and literature was distributed to 1700 students calling for them to write Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, a great verbal proponent of ecosystem management. On September 22, two citizens were arrested after locking themselves to the doors of the Boise Federal Building calling for an end to the cut.

Again, on September 24, another tripod was erected on Jack road, with the occupant locked into a metal pipe nicknamed "Larry Craig." The blockaders joke about how Senator Craig stalled logging for eight hours. Unfortunately, loggers have redoubled their efforts and are now logging night and day.

This encouraged 25 University of Montana students to lock the front doors of the Forest Service Headquarters in Missoula, Montana, and construct a 28 foot high tripod on the sidewalk outside. The student who locked himself to the doors was arrested. Two others, who had locked themselves to the step railing, were also cited. The next day, the Regional Supervisor Hal Salwasser agreed to a tape recorded meeting with a representative of the students to hear their concerns.

Due to the six years of protests and lawsuits, only 20% of the sale has been completed. A third lawsuit has just been filed that cites the impact of the sale on steelhead, newly listed under the Endangered Species Act. With luck, the courts will cancel the sale, or at least call for a SEIS. The hope is that the Forest Service will not bother with the SEIS, and if they do, it would still delay the sale 2 to 3 years.

...the industry gives politicians big donations, the politicians lobby for big cuts and subsidized access, the subsidies can then be used to finance the big donations.

Unfortunately, in the high money game of western resource politics, you can never count on luck. Local political pressure is high to continue this sale. Idaho's Senator Larry Craig and Rep. Helen "Salmon aren't endangered-I can buy them in the supermarket" Chenoweth both receive large campaign contributions from the timber industry, and not surprisingly, are two of its biggest proponents. Forest activists see them as a big part of the timber triangle: the industry gives politicians big donations, the politicians lobby for big cuts and subsidized access, the subsidies can then be used to finance the big donations. A cozy scheme.

At times, it seems that the industry wants to continue the cut in Cove/Mallard just because environmentalists have put so much effort into stopping it. Both sides see it as a major fulcrum in the struggle over timber politics in the Rockies, and the West. Environmentalists hope that stopping the sale could that an end is in sight to all intrusions into roadless areas. Conversely, the timber companies see completing this sale as the green light to future sales in the area, and freer access into roadless areas.

It's time that the citizens take a stand. Time to call loudly and clearly for the end to the Cove/Mallard timber harvest. Time to call for a stop to road building on our national forests, a stop to cutting in our roadless areas, and a stop to the cutting of our old growth. It's time to call for zero commercial cutting on our public lands.

Please write, call, or fax Chief Dombeck, Congress, and Bill Clinton: Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck USDA Forest Service P.O. Box 96090 Washington, DC 20090-6090 Phone: (202) 205-1661 FAX: (202) 205-1765.

Billy Stern, based in Missoula, Montana, is the Pulp and Paper Strategist for the Native Forest Network. He is also working on a Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. He can be reached at billysun@wildrockies.org

The tripod erected outside the Forest Service Headquarters in Missoula stayed up for nine days, maintained as a continuous vigil. Although the local community was generally supportive, bringing food, water and good cheer, one young man, reported to be a Forest Service intern, came by after a night of drinking and shook the tripod, and another passing driver threw a bottle that broke on the street next to the tripod.

On October 3, ex-Vice Presidential Candidate Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls, who were in town as part of their 18 city Honor the Earth Tour, held a brief press conference at the site in support of the protest. Their thumbs-up brought applause and cheers and they were each given T-shirts with the slogan, "Two Timber Sales Too Terrible To Ignore."

Finally, on October 9, the student protest ended with a demonstration and second action that drew over 150 people and tallied six cited or arrested. This time, just before noon, two student protesters locked themselves onto a 1200 lb cement barrel that they placed in front of the doors. Others moved the 28-foot tripod, previously standing on the city sidewalk, onto federal property, and I sat on a platform up in the tripod.

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