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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 7 : Way Up High in The Redwood Giants

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

“I just wish Mr. Hurwitz would go out in the woods and take about a day and just sit down in inside a redwood grove. Maybe he’d have a different opinion (about) what’s going on. Rather than looking at a dollar bill, he’d be seeing a tree for its value.”

—John Maurer, Pacific Lumber shipping clerk, 1976-86.

“The employees of PL have no union or representation; they’ve been kidnapped. Whatever their employer requires, they must fulfill or risk unemployment. They’ve become forced through economics to support practices they would never have supported otherwise. PL employees are paranoid by necessity. Folks are so afraid of losing their jobs. There’s lots of fear in our community, fear that keeps us separated from one another.”

—Pete Kayes, Pacific Lumber blacksmith, 1976-91

Earth First! was committed to their Week of Outrage Against Maxxam, whether or not their message of forests and timber jobs forever was superimposed with images of mill worker George Alexander speaking through the bandages that covered his mutilated face. Greg King worried that the negative publicity for an act Earth First! didn’t commit would indeed distract attention away from the real issue: the long term liquidation of the last remaining virgin redwood forests of Northern California. Darryl Cherney, however, assured everyone, “We will be upholding the laws. It is Pacific Lumber that is breaking them.” [1] Beginning on Monday, May 18, Earth First! planned to conduct actions in several places specifically targeting Pacific Lumber operations, Maxxam offices, and related facilities. [2] The largest and most important of these was to be a multifaceted action on Pacific Lumber land in Humboldt County itself, targeting the Booths Run “All Species Grove” THP concurrently being contested by EPIC. [3]

In preparation for the demonstrations, on the day before a group of Earth First!ers attempted to block Pacific Lumber’s main haul route into All Species Grove, while a second crew, including Larry Evans, Mokai, Kurt Newman, and Darrell Sukovitzen, conducted a group “tree sit” 120-150 high on four three-by-six foot suspended wooden platforms up in the giant redwoods nearby. Only two platforms were successfully deployed, however. Mokai had retreated at the advice of the other sitters for logistical reasons, and instead watched his would-be fellow climbers ascending their trees through binoculars. Newman was able to climb his tree, but his platform was intercepted by P-L security who arrived very quickly. From the canopies, the sitters hung large 30-foot banners with slogans such as “Save the Redwoods” and “Stop Maxxam” which also included a blood colored skull and crossbones. The sitters stayed up for several hours until Humboldt County sheriffs arrived, at which time Evans and Sukovitzen surrendered. Newman, on the other hand, remained in place until a professional P-L climber, Dan Collings ascended to his position, at which time Newman surrendered also. [4] The three tree sitters, three of their support people (Lynn Burchfield, Debra Jean Jorgenson, and Linda Villatore), and Sacramento Weekly reporter Tim Holt [5] were arrested and spent two nights in the Humboldt County jail and faced fines of up to $3000. [6] They had collectively managed to remain in the trees for between 12 and 20 hours, but had hoped to remain longer to give the next day’s action “staying power”. [7]

As it turned out, the tree sits weren’t needed anyway. The next day, the show went on at the enormous P-L log deck at Carlotta nearby, attended by 125 Earth First!ers and their allies holding banners, chanting, and singing songs, led by Darryl Cherney. [8] The tree spiking furor had brought larger than expected numbers of media representatives to the action, and they got a good look at Maxxam’s pillage and the Humboldt County sheriffs’ heavy handedness firsthand. One demonstrator was slightly injured when a pickup truck, driven by a disgruntled, unsympathetic P-L employee, attempted to storm the protesters at the logging gate. [9] A group of three women swarmed the log deck attempting to display huge banners there. [10] Although the sheriffs were anticipating the action and managed to arrest Agnes Mansfield, Aster Phillipa, and Karen Pickett [11], they were distracted long enough for Bettina Garsen, Tierra Diane Piaz, and “Sally Bell” [12] to ascend the log deck with banners conveying messages calling for a halt to old growth logging. [13] The sheriffs eventually arrested the second group, and all six arrestees each spent a night in the county jail. [14] Although the tree sit had been thwarted, the action turned out to be successful anyway, because P-L determined that it was in their short term interest not to haul any logs during the demonstration, and this nevertheless advanced Earth First!’s strategy beautifully. [15]

The Fine Print I:

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