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Walter Smith

The Secret History of Tree Spiking, Part 3

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 11, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Note: The Secret History of Tree Spiking Part 1 and Part 2 were written by Judi Bari in 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, a group of Earth First!ers, including Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney, and Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle held a press release in Samoa, California (a small town west of Eureka, in Humboldt County, northwestern California) at the Louisiana-Pacific lumber mill and export dock. There, they issued the following statement:

In response to the concerns of loggers and mill-workers, Northern California Earth First! organizers are renouncing the tactic of tree spiking in our area. Through the coalitions we have been building with lumber workers, we have learned that the timber corporations care no more for the lives of their employees than they do for the life of the forest. Their routine maiming and killing of mill workers is coldly calculated into the cost of doing business, just as the destruction of whole ecosystems is considered a reasonable by-product of lumber production.

These companies would think nothing of sending a spiked tree through a mill, and relish the anti-Earth First! publicity that an injury would cause.

Since Earth First! is not a membership organization, it is impossible to speak for all Earth First!ers. But this decision has been widely discussed among Earth First!ers in our area, and the local sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of renouncing tree-spiking. We hope that our influence as organizers will cause any potential tree-spikers to consider using a different method. We must also point out that we are not speaking for all Earth First! groups in this pronouncement. Earth First! is decentralized, and each group can set its own policies. A similar statement to this one renouncing tree spiking is now being made in Southern Oregon, but not all groups have reached the broad consensus we have on this issue.

But in our area, the loggers and mill workers are our neighbors, and they should be our allies, not our adversaries. Their livelihood is being destroyed along with the forest. The real conflict is not between us and the timber workers, it is between the timber corporation and our entire community.

We want to give credit for this change in local policy to the rank and file timber workers who have risked their jobs and social relations by coming forward and talking to us. This includes Gene Lawhorn of Roseburg Lumber in Oregon, who defied threats to appear publicly with Earth First! organizer Judi Bari. It also includes the Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber employees who are members of IWW Local #1 in northern California.

Equipment sabotage is a time-honored tradition among industrial workers. It was not invented by Earth First!, and it is certainly not limited to Earth First! even in our area. But the target of monkey wrenching was always intended to be the machinery of destruction, not the workers who operate that machinery for $7/hour. This renunciation of tree spiking is not a retreat, but rather an advance that will allow us to stop fighting the victims and concentrate on the corporations themselves.”

For those not familiar with the tactic of "tree spiking", Earth First cofounder Dave Foreman describes the act in great detail in the book, EcoDefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. While that text is not official Earth First! literature--in the sense that Earth First!, as a loose ad hoc organization that prefers to think of itself as a movement, has long distanced themselves from the text, and Dave Foreman, due to the latter's borderline racist and classist perspectives, has long been associated with Earth First!, and Earth First! has long been associated (for better or worse) with Tree Spiking, and to this day, there are many Earth First!ers who continue to support the tactic, or--at least--choose not to renounce it.

Chapter 32 : Now They Have These Public Hearings…

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Now back in Sacramento town sits the Board of Forestry,
And they log their land, they work their ranches, and they teach in the universities,
And the nine who sit in judgment as they massacre the trees,
Are Russ and Rose, Small, Berridge and Barnes, Atkinson, Shannon, Walt and Yee…

—lyrics excerpted from the Board of Forestry Song, by Darryl Cherney, 1989 [1]

Now they have those public hearings where they ask our point of view,
Like what do ya think of this here thing on page 4,002,
And they're so easy to get to if you just know how to drive,
And you don't work and you've got no kids and your rich uncle just died…

—lyrics excerpted from the Ballad of BLM, by Darryl Cherney, 1986 [2]

As the “Timber Wars” heated up, it was not uncommon to see counterdemonstrators at Earth First! protests bearing signs which read, “Earth First! is the problem, not the solution.” At these same events counterdemonstrators were quick to bandy about several Corporate Timber talking points. Four widely held notions were parroted in particular: First, corporations were “good neighbors” that supported ecology and contributed to the community. Second, they asserted that harvesting old growth forest stands was beneficial to the environment because removing the older trees allowed quicker growing (not to mention, managed) younger trees to flourish thus removing more CO­­2­ from the atmosphere. Third, they claimed that California had the most stringent forestry laws in existence, namely the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practices Act and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and these were already restrictive enough to make logging almost unprofitable. Lastly, government agencies had been hijacked by radical environmentalists, and for this reason the proposed listing of the spotted owl as threatened was merely an attempt to appease an out of control, overly vocal but tiny minority. However, in February and March of 1990, a series of unrelated events debunked all four such claims thoroughly.

Earth First! in Northern California – Interview with Judi Bari

By Douglas Bevington, Summer 1993 – reprinted in The Struggle for Ecological Democracy

Douglas Bevington: Please describe the region in which you are organizing and that region’s key players. How far do your activities and influence extend?

Judi Bari: The area is the northern California red-wood region, which at this point is mostly Mendocino and Humboldt counties. It’s a big, sprawling area, rugged and sparsely populated. There are only 80,000 people in Mendocino County, where I live, and there are no large towns, no urban centers. Humboldt is a little different be-cause they have a university, Humboldt State, and a large town, Eureka. Both counties are rural impoverished areas. Our county governments are broke. They are closing down libraries and cutting back on police. Because of this, and because of the lack of urban influence, there is kind of a “wild West” mentality. There are some towns—Whitethorn and Covelo come to mind—that are virtually lawless areas, over two hours’ drive from the nearest sheriff’s deputy.

There are three main corporations in the redwood region. Louisiana Pacific (L-P) is the biggest redwood landowner, with 500,000 acres spread over the entire area. Tied for second are Georgia-Pacific (G-P), which owns 200,000 acres in Mendocino County, and MAXXAM, which owns 200,000 acres in Humboldt.
L-P has been around since 1975, and they’ve been liquidating ever since they’ve been here. Last year, they even admitted that 90 percent of their marketable trees in this county have already been cut. They are a cut-and-run company and they are almost done. G-P has been here a little longer. G-P has just one big sawmill and it’s still running. But most of their timberlands have been clearcut. They are about 70 percent done, so it’s just a matter of time.

MAXXAM is probably the best known of the three companies, mostly because of its outrageous financial practices. The 200,000 acres now owned by MAXXAM used to be owned by Pacific Lumber Co. (PALCO), a 120-year-old locally owned company, one of the oldest in the area. PALCO didn’t clearcut, and they had the closest thing to sustainable logging practices around. Because of this, they have the most old growth left. They have the best of what is left in the world. But in 1986, MAXXAM Chairman Charles Hurwitz, a corporate raider from Texas, took over PALCO in a forced junk bond buy-out scheme and then tripled the cut of old-growth redwood to pay off their junk bonds. This area has had pretty much a singular economy based on timber. Many of the logging families here go back five generations. Everybody knows each other, everybody grew up together and often are related to each other. It’s hard to understand the phenomenon of the company town until you live in one. King Timber controls all aspects of the society—the jobs, the schools, the hospital, the newspaper, and the police.

This singular economy and isolated rural culture got interrupted around 1970, when the back-to-the-land hippies moved in with their politically sophisticated, radical urban culture. What the hippies do for a living is grow the best marijuana in the world. In the mid-1980s, they actually included marijuana in the agricultural report of Mendocino County and found that it was the biggest cash crop, bigger than timber. This gives people a way to live in this area without being economically dependent on timber. Because timber is such a fluctuating market of booms and busts, during the low periods it is the marijuana money that keeps the towns going. Garberville, in southern Humboldt County, is probably the best-known local town built up with marijuana money. Many early growers used their money to open “legitimate” businesses. As the hippies gained economic influence, they also gained political influence, including passing voter referendums on local issues and electing candidates to the Board of Supervisors.

So, we basically have a bipolar social situation, with the hippies and the loggers. Of course, there are other social/cultural groups in our community, including Mexicans, Indians, fishermen, etc. But the main players in the Timber Wars are the hippies, the loggers, and, of course, the big timber corporations.

Timber Wars: Footloose Wobs Urgently Needed

By Judi Bari, Industrial Worker, October 1989; Reprinted in Timber Wars, © 1994 Common Courage Press.

"You fucking commie hippies, I'll kill you all!" A shotgun blast goes off and the Earth First!ers scatter. What started as a peaceful logging road blockade had turned violent when a logger sped his truck through our picket line and swerved it towards the demonstrators. The loggers also grabbed and smashed an Earth First!er's camera and, for no apparent reason, punched a 50-year old protester in the face, breaking her nose.

The environmental battle in the Pacific Northwest has reached such a level of intensity that the press now refers to it as the Timber Wars. At stake is the survival of one of the nation's last great forest ecosystems. Our adversaries are giant corporations--Louisiana Pacific, Georgia Pacific, and MAXXAM in northern California, where I live, joined by Boise Cascade and Weyerhauser in Oregon and Washington.

These companies are dropping trees at a furious pace, clogging our roads no less than 18 hours a day, with a virtual swarm of logging trucks. Even old timers are shocked at the pace and scope of today's strip-logging, ranging from 1000-year old redwoods, one tree trunk filling an entire logging truck, to six-inch diameter baby trees that are chipped up for the pulp-mills and particleboard plants.

One-hundred-forty years ago the county I live in was primeval redwood forest. At the current rate of logging, there will be no marketable trees left here in 22 years. Louisiana Pacific chairman Harry Merlo put it this way in a recent newspaper interview: "It always annoys me to leave anything lying on the ground. We don't log to a 10-inch top, we don't log to an 8-inch top or a 6-inch top. We log to infinity. It's out there, it's ours, and we want it all. Now."

So the battle lines are drawn. On one side are the environmentalists, ranging from the big-money groups like Wilderness Society and Sierra Club to the radical Earth First!ers and local mountain people fighting the front line battles in the woods. Tactics being used include tree-sitting, logging road blockading, and bulldozer dismantling, as well as the more traditional lawsuits and lobbying.

On the other side are the big corporations and the local kulaks who do their bidding. Tactics used by them have included falling trees into demonstrators, suing protesters for punitive damages (and winning), buying politicians, and even attempting to ban the teaching at a local elementary school of a Dr. Suess book, The Lorax, which the timber companies say portrays logging in a bad light.

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