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Chapter 33 : The Ghosts of Mississippi Will be Watchin’

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

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Now when the timber barons heard the news they geared up for the fight,
And we laughed away the death threats and we cried to sleep each night,
And the media walked right into our homes,
As if they really were one of our own.
Now Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney left this little racist town,
Drove down that Mississippi highway to the place they would bed down,
But in the mirror they could see the Sheriff’s light,
No, they never did make it home that night.

—lyrics excerpted from Ghosts of Mississippi, by Darryl Cherney, 2004[1]

Now Judi Bari is an Earth First! organizer,
The California Redwoods are her home,
She called for Redwood Summer,
Where the owl and the black bear roam;
Charlie Hurwitz he runs Maxxam out of Houston,
Harry Merlo runs L-P from Portland town,
They’re the men they call ‘King Timber’,
They know how to cut you down;
And Shep Tucker spewed their hatred,
As Candy Boak laid out their scam,
John Campbell called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari?, by Darryl Cherney, 1990[2]

Judi Bari didn’t have time to be frightened. Even though the organizers of the coming season of protests shortened the name “Mississippi Summer of the California Redwoods” simply to “Redwood Summer,” the situation—she thought—was starting to more and more resemble the violent and threatening conditions of the original Mississippi Freedom Summer anyway.

While the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference was in progress in Oregon, the representatives of Corporate Timber on California’s North Coast were in the process of polishing their image. Louisiana Pacific, Pacific Lumber, and Simpson through the auspices of yet another front group known as the “North Coast Forest Industry” (NCFI)—which had existed quietly for twelve years—created a series of advertisements promoting themselves as “good neighbors”, “economically beneficial to the local economies” of Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, and “careful stewards” of the region’s forests. The campaign included radio spots and full page ads in the region’s local and corporate newspapers. The NCFI didn’t merely limit itself to representatives from the three corporations and the local gyppo firms, however. It opened up its membership to other local businesses, ostensibly because they depended upon the timber economy for their own viability, but more likely because the NCFI also functioned like the “good citizens’ leagues” of old ensuring loyalty to the dominant power. One such business owner speaking approvingly of the effort declared, “The only way that the timber industry makes the newspaper is if somebody is sitting in one of their trees or chained to the back of one of their logging trucks.”[3]

The NCFI campaign was ironic, given the fact that the north coast timber corporations had been producing such ads already for years, particularly in the Eureka Times-Standard, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Ukiah Daily Journal, and (naturally) the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance. In fact, the bias was so blatant, that even a few readers of the last publication had already been incensed enough to accuse the editor of “shameless corporate bootlicking”.[4] The effort nevertheless brought many local employers into the fold, and following the ads, the NCFI’s membership increased by 30 to 40 members from its original membership of barely one dozen.[5]

Two days after the NCFI announced its campaign, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s, Ukiah bureau chief and head timber reporter, Mike Geniella, wrote a fairly extensive and article about the Mississippi Summer of the California Redwoods, or “Redwood Summer” as it was now being called. One week previously, Bari, Cherney, and other North Coast Earth First!ers had made their presentation to the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) who had held a conference in Sacramento. The SEAC organizers had been so inspired that they agreed to include the Redwood Summer organizing call out in their newsletter. “They (sent it) to thousands of colleges in the United States”, commented Betty Ball.[6] Over the course of the next two weeks, the story made national press wires, and thousands of people suddenly began showing interest in what was happening behind the so-called “Redwood Curtain”.[7] The Timber Association of California, a supporter of the NCFI was not pleased. Speaking on their behalf, Kevin Eckery declared, “(it) trivializes the real sacrifices made in Mississippi as part of the Civil Rights movement. The situation (here) doesn’t hardly seem to be the same.”[8] He would soon be proven very wrong, and in a sense, he was wrong from the get-go. Candy Boak continued to call Judi Bari and let her adversary know that she was still being watched, which was an ominous—even threatening—gesture. This would only be the start of things to come.[9]

Chapter 31 : Spike a Tree for Jesus

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

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In spite of all of the Corporate Media’s claims that both Redwood Summer and Forests Forever could potentially polarize timber dependent communities into opposing “green” and “yellow” camps, and despite all of the efforts by Corporate Timber to manifest those divisions, Earth First! – IWW Local #1 continued to slowly gain support and influence among rank and file timber workers on the North Coast. As a result, Judi Bari was invited to participate in a “Labor and the Environment” workshop, called “Bridging the Gap” at the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference in early March in Eugene, Oregon. [1] Several Earth First!ers from the Pacific Northwest were invited to participate and did, including Karen Wood from an Oregon Earth First! chapter; George Draffan, Mitch Friedman, and Mike Jakubal from various Washington Earth First! groups; as well members of the Save Opal Creek, the Eugene Springfield Solidarity Network (ESSN), and Jeff Debonis of Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (AFSEEE). Oddly, however, no rank and file timber workers received invitations. [2]

The Labor and Environment Panel consisted of Judi Bari, a university professor whose area of study was physics, and “the owner of a company who (made) fancy yuppie houses out of old growth wood and doesn’t want the old growth eliminated.” Bari felt that the panel wasn’t representative enough, so she gave the organizers the name of a certain rank and file mill worker from Roseburg, Oregon, with whom she had happened to have been corresponding. Gene Lawhorn had recently been speaking publically for the preservation of the Spotted Owl, against the yellow ribbon campaign, and in defense of union timber workers, and Bari intended to cede some of her time to him, because the organizers had not thought to include any actual timber workers on the panel, and they had refused to let Lawhorn be on the panel. [3]

A week before the conference it seemed as if the AFL-CIO intended to keep both Bari and Lawhorn off of the panel. Bari received a phone call from Paul Moorhead of the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIW) who identified himself by name, and said, nastily, “You better not think that you can come to Oregon because you won’t find a welcome…If any member of my union talks to you, they’ll be out of a job.” [4] Moorhead also contacted the conference organizers and the University of Oregon and told them that Bari was an inappropriate speaker for the panel. [5] He had no real grounds to complain, however, because the WCIW no longer represented any workers in Mendocino County, as its last bargaining unit had been eliminated in 1986. In response to his threats, Bari notified the press and conference organizers. She also contacted the WCIW and requested that they openly debate the issue with Bari (and Lawhorn) at the conference. The conference organizers agreed to the debate, but the WCIW declined the invitation. [6]

Gene Lawhorn would get his chance to speak. There was just one small problem, however. In between the time that Bari had extended the invitation to Lawhorn (who accepted) and the conference, an IWW member in Oregon gave the latter a copy of Darryl Cherney’s album, They Sure Don’t Make Hippies Like They Used To, which has four songs on it that include references to tree spiking, all of which are favorable to the tactic. In spite of the fact that Cherney had declared two years earlier that he “would never spike a tree (himself)” [7], at the same time he had written “pro spiking” songs, including Earth First! Maid (set to the tune of Union Maid), They Sure Don’t Make Hippies the Way They Used To, Ballad of the Lonesome Tree Spiker (coauthored with Mike Roselle), and Spike a Tree for Jesus. [8]

Chapter 7 : Way Up High in The Redwood Giants

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

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“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 disgruntled, unsympathetic P-L employee attempted to storm the protesters at the logging gate by ramming them with his pickup truck. [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]

Chapter 6 : If Somebody Kills Themselves, Just Blame it on Earth First!

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

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Haul it to the sawmill, Got to make a buck,
Your blades are worn and dangerous, Better trust your luck,
Don’t stop for the workers’ safety, Never fear the worst,
‘Cause if somebody kills themselves, Just blame it on Earth First!,
L-P…

—Lyrics excerpted from L-P, by Judi Bari, 1990.

“Anybody who ever advocated tree spiking of course has to rethink their position.”

—Darryl Cherney, June 1987.[1]

Earth First! received much negative press for its advocacy of biocentrism, the notion that all species (including humans) were intrinsically valuable. Their slogan “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!” was forceful and militant, and given the misanthropic leanings of some of its cofounders, it was often taken to mean that they valued the lives of nonhuman species above humans—even if it meant the suffering or death of the latter—which wasn’t actually the case. The situation was complicated further by Earth First!’s advocacy of monkeywrenching: industrial “ecotage” which included everything from deflagging roads to putting sugar in the fuel tanks of earth moving and/or logging equipment. Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman described monkeywrenching thusly:

“It is resistance to insanity that is encapsu­lated in Monkeywrenching…(it) fits in with the bioregional concept. You go back to a place and you peacefully re-inhabit it. You learn about it. You become a part of the place. You develop an informal and al­ternative political and social struc­ture that is somehow apart from the sys­tem… it’s also a means of self-empowerment, of finding alternative means of relat­ing to other people, and other life forms…there is a funda­mental difference between ecodefense resistance and classic revolutionary or terrorist behavior.” [2]

Such a description, while informative, was hardly likely to silence critics on the right. The most controversial of these controversial tactics by far, was Earth First!’s advocacy of “tree spiking”, the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter timber sales. [3]

Chapter 3 : He Could Clearcut Forests Like No Other

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

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“Come to light: L-P’s literally poisonous policies literally poisoning forest workers. Has any other business a higher profit-to-wages ratio? And yet, are any local workers at higher risk? Where’s the IWW? The first Wobbly who writes in gets a free lunch, courtesy of RADIO * FREE EARTH.”

—Marco McClean, Mendocino Commentary, April 18, 1985.

Harry Merlo is one of the highest paid executives in the industry. He makes $353,000 and he just got a 10 percent raise”

—Harold Broome, carpenter.

“Harry was down to see the strike in his mink coat the other day.”

—Walter Newman, spokesperson and business representative for Lumber Production and Industrial Workers Union Local 2592.

Americans are raised on the mythology of the “self-made man”, the “enterprising go-getter” archetype who creates his own fortune and charts his own destiny. Very often he faces incredible odds, and, armed only with his wits and will to succeed, he alone overcomes disadvantages to become a leader among his fellow Americans. The gender specific pronoun is intentional, because in these stories, women more often than not play a subordinate role. There is an element of “pioneer” spirit within this narrative, and this is not entirely coincidental, because much of the narrative stems from the European-American subjugation of indigenous peoples and the wild. This archetype certainly matches the description of most “captains of industry”, particularly railroad bosses, oil magnates, and timber barons. There is more than folktale about such individuals. Indeed there is a strong ideological component to them, a personification of capitalism, perhaps expressed most unapologetically, albeit crudely, in the narratives of Ayn Rand, particularly Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead.

Whether fact or fiction, in these narratives, the entrepreneur is always the hero—virtuous to the core—and he is held up as an example to the rest of us to follow. Very often they not only rely on their own means, they often struggle against a cool and callous society, usually personified by a bureaucratic government, who appropriates some or all of the hero’s self-made fortune to serve its own political ends. What these stories consistently omit, is that most often these “conquering heroes” are neither self-made nor are they virtuous. They often lie, cheat, bend or break the rules, stab those close to them in the back, and rely on the benefits provided by the very same “government” they decry when it doesn’t serve their every need. They appropriate the fruits of others’ labor and call it their own. If there are consequences to their actions, they are shifted to the general public, usually upon the backs of those most unable to resist. And, it is the richest and the most powerful among them who commission the narratives that celebrate their triumphs, sanitizing their own histories so that it is difficult to tell what constitutes fact or fiction.

Harry A. Merlo Jr. was such a man. He began his career as a shipping foreman at a small, independently owned mill, advanced to partner, and then, after the mill was bought out by Georgia Pacific (G-P) he quickly moved up ranks of the G-P corporate structure.[1] Georgia Pacific spun off Louisiana Pacific (L-P) as a result of an antitrust suit brought by Boise Cascade (B-C) against the former for monopolistic practices in 1973. The Federal Trade Commission had threatened to break up the former for monopolizing the timberlands of northwestern California after acquiring holdings formerly held by Boise-Cascade, including the Fort Bragg California mill.[2] Merlo took over as head of the newly created L-P, and, under his management, the latter quickly expanded to become the second largest lumber company in the United States with 110 plants and at least 13,000 employees nationwide, with annual sales in excess of $1 billion.[3] Despite Merlo’s reputation as a self-made man, he received achieved many of his “successes” on the backs of others.

Chapter 2 : Pollution, Love it or Leave it!

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

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"Since when are humans solely a biological product of wilderness? (What is ‘wilderness’?) If you accept an evolutionary development of Homo sapiens, as I do, it does not mean that you profess a disbelief in God. Quite the contrary. It was God, the Creator, who created humans, who imbued them with a will, with a soul, with a conscience, with the ability to determine right from wrong. It is inconceivable that the Creator would create such vast resources on earth without expecting them to be utilized."

—Glenn Simmons, editor of the Humboldt Beacon and Fortuna Advance, February 1, 1990.

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

—Edward Abbey

Earth shattering though it may have seemed, the IWW’s victory was both transitory and incomplete, and historical currents would never again mesh as perfectly. To begin with, the strike on the job had taken place only in the Pacific Northwest, and had excluded California at that. The Wobblies recognized one strategic weakness in this situation in noting that the employers could have eventually organized a lockout of that region and relied instead on wood production from the southern or eastern United States. They knew—in the abstract at least—that their victory would never be complete until they organized all lumber workers nationally and internationally.[1] The Wobblies inability to make inroads among the highly skilled redwood loggers of California’s North Coast was especially troublesome, and it portended their undoing. Two companies, Pacific Lumber (P-L) and Hammond Lumber Company (HLC) had each adopted separate techniques that had kept the IWW out and would soon be duplicated by the Lumber Trust elsewhere. That combined with the much larger shockwaves brought on by the Russian Revolution in 1917 conspired against the One Big Union and led to the eventual decline of the American working class as an adversarial force and the liquidation of the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Although most corporations comprising the Lumber Trust had refused to budge, lest they embolden the Wobblies, there were those that adopted “welfare capitalism” on their own initiative, in which they would provide amenities and benefits to their workers—union or not—in an attempt to win over their loyalty. It was in the crucible of timber worker unionism, Humboldt County, where this was first attempted with any lasting success, by the Pacific Lumber Company (P-L), based in Scotia, beginning in 1909. P-L had discovered that by creating a wide variety of social programs, employee benefits, and community based events, it was able to secure the loyalty and stability of its workforce. P-L general manager A. E. Blockinger described these efforts in great detail in an article featured in the Pioneer Western Lumberman:

"A reading room with facilities for letter writing and any games, except gambling, is easily and cheaply put into any camp. Arrange subscription clubs for papers and periodicals or let the company do it for the men. If you can have a circulating library among your camps and at the mill plant, it will be much appreciated. Let the daily or weekly papers be of all nationalities as represented in your camp. Lumber trade journals are especially interesting to the men and they can and will readily follow the markets for lumber and appreciate that you have some troubles of your own.

“Organize fire departments among your men. The insurance companies will give you reductions in rates for such additional protection while it offers another opportunity for your men to relax and enjoy themselves.

“Shower baths at the camps or mill are easily and cheaply installed. They will be used and appreciated after a hot, dusty day’s work.

“Get your men loyal and keep them so. Let this replace loyalty to a union. The spirit is what you want in your men. Ten good men will accomplish as much as fifteen ordinary laborers if the spirit and good will is there. Treat them right and they will treat you right.”[2]

The employers’ introduction of paternalism achieved its intended goal. The Secretary of the Pacific Logging Congress, an employers’ association had declared in his 1912 report, “The best cure for the IWW plague—a people without a country and without a God—is the cultivation of the homing instinct in men.”[3] When the IWW campaign for the eight hour day ensued in 1917, P-L simply added more programs. Carleton H. Parker, a onetime U.C. Berkeley economics professor working for the War Department as a mediator during the lumber workers’ strike, had previously conducted sociological studies on workers, including agricultural and timber laborers. Parker was familiar with P-L, and had some fairly extensive knowledge of the Wobblies.[4] Some of the latter had been gained through first-hand studies by two of his assistants, Paul Brissenden[5] and F. C. Mills[6] who had posed as IWW members and later produced extensive studies on the organization. Using this knowledge, Parker offered many suggestions to Disque which the latter somewhat reluctantly adopted. The LLLL created social halls for its members and replaced the employment sharks with free employment agencies. The IWW quite rightly recognized these amenities as a means to buy the workers’ loyalty and likely to be liquidated when the employers drive for profits once again accelerated, but this process would take a long time, and convincing the workers of a threat that could take one or more generations to manifest proved futile.[7]

Chapter 1 : An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

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

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The mill men all insist on one thing: that the Government will grant the manufacturers protection from the lawless element of the I.W.W.’s”

—J. P. Weyerhaeuser, 1917

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might,
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
The union makes us strong…

—Lyrics excerpted from Solidarity Forever, by Ralph Chaplin, ca. 1915

The timber industry has, throughout nearly its entire history, been in the control of an elite minority of the very rich and powerful, and they have been especially avaricious, violent, and repressive towards all who would challenge their power. They have also—in spite of a barrage of slick propaganda trumpeting their careful management of the resource—depleted most of the virgin forests of the Pacific Northwest. Many environmental organizations can trace their origins to opposition to such practices, and in the struggles by environmentalists to preserve forestlands, timber workers have had a reputation for being their fiercest adversaries, and in many cases, this is true. Timber workers have a well deserved reputation for being outspoken about the pride of purpose in their job, as well as a deeply ingrained cultural machismo. Yet lumber harvesting and production is historically one of the ten most dangerous jobs in the industrialized world, and timber workers are among those most exploited by their employers. One would logically expect the timber workers to be highly resistant to such treatment, but in recent years they haven’t been. This wasn’t always so. To understand why, one must examine the industry’s origins.

Before the arrival of European-American settlers to the Pacific Northwest, the entire region stretching from northern California to Canada and Alaska from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains was dominated by coniferous old growth forests. At least 20 million acres of this land was forested, dominated by various species of trees, some of them hundreds of feet in height, over a dozen feet in diameter, and centuries or even millennia old.[1] In the southwestern part of this region, stretching from Big Sur to roughly what is now the Oregon state line, in a belt that was at least twenty miles wide for most of its expanse a very unique species of tree dominated, Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the California redwoods, some of them standing over 350 feet tall. Their close (and similarly large) cousins, Sequoiadendron giganteum, better known as the Giant Sequoia, only grew in a few isolated spots in the southern end of the Sierra Nevada foothills. These vast forests were far more then the trees, however. Hundreds, if not thousands of plant and animal species lived and flourished within these wooded habitats, and as far as is known, the indigenous population of the Americas had no significant lasting impact on California’s ancient redwood forests, nor did they have any lasting effect on the timberlands of the Pacific Northwest in general.[2] Like the Native Americans, the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest had remained left more or less untouched for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

The coming of the white man changed all of that. The Russians first began exploiting the redwoods for the construction of Fort Ross in 1812, during their very brief settlement there.[3] As more Europeans arrived, the forests south of San Francisco were the first to be logged, usually through clearcutting, until these ancient stands were completely liquidated by 1860. In those days, loggers used hand saws, and felling an ancient redwood could take anywhere from two-to-five days to complete. The redwoods to the north of the Golden Gate in what is now Marin County were logged next, especially along rivers that allowed easy transportation by the available modes of the day. By this time, around 1881, the steam engine had replaced pack animals. Though this first wave of automation did not have a significant impact on the number of workers involved in the logging process, it greatly increased the impact logging had on the redwoods. Entire forests were liquidated, no matter how small the tree, because even the baby trees were used to build the skid roads used for hauling the larger ones. These forests were never replanted, and very few of them grew back, and in some cases, farmlands replaced them. By the beginning of the 20th Century, all but a few of these ancient trees were gone and logging operations migrated north to Sonoma County. One quarter century later, most of these old growth forests were likewise gone.[4]

Redwood Uprising: Introduction

By Steve Ongerth

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The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

I know, I know. I need to write a book about all this. Fighting to save the redwoods, building alliances with the loggers, getting car bombed and finding out what we’re up against not just the timber industry but also the FBI. Then coming back home and ending up back on the front lines again. I fully intend to write about it eventually, but it’s hard to write about something when you’re still in the middle of it.”

—Judi Bari, introduction to Timber Wars, 1994

“All this,” is a very complex and intriguing story (not to mention a call to action), and while most people have never heard it, a great many are at least partially aware of its defining moment.

On the morning of May 24, 1990, two activists, Judi Bari and her friend and comrade Darryl Cherney, set out from Oakland, California, while on a tour to organize support for a campaign they had organized called Redwood Summer. They were part of the radical environmental movement known as Earth First!, which had a reputation for militant tactics, including the sabotaging of logging and earth moving machinery as well as spiking trees—the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter logging operations. The previous year in Arizona, five environmentalists, including Peg Millett and Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman, had been arrested and charged by the FBI for a conspiracy to sabotage power lines in protest against nuclear power. Some welcomed Earth First!’s uncompromising reputation. Others denounced them as reckless, or even as terrorists.

According to the mainstream media, Earth First!’s radical agenda earned them the animosity of the timber workers whose jobs the environmentalists supposedly threatened. They were described as “outside agitators” (among many other things) who had “polarized” the timber dependent communities of northwestern California’s redwood region—historically known as the “Redwood Empire”, but more recently as the “North Coast”—with their militant and uncompromising “environmental extremism.” Their alleged hard-line anti-logging stances were seen as too extreme even by most environmentalists, and they supposedly stood upon the radical fringes of the ecology movement. Redwood Summer was reportedly planned as a summer-long campaign of direct actions by these “fringe” environmentalists to thwart the harvesting of old growth redwood timber in northwestern California, specifically Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties.

On May 24, however, Bari’s and Cherney’s planned destination was Santa Cruz County, where—just one month previously—power lines had supposedly been sabotaged by unknown perpetrators calling themselves the “Earth Night Action Group”. Just before 11:55 AM a bomb in Bari’s car exploded, nearly killing her and injuring Cherney. Within minutes the FBI and Oakland Police arrived on the scene and arrested both of them as they were being transported to Highland Hospital. The authorities called them dangerous terrorists and accused the pair of knowingly transporting the bomb for use in some undetermined act of environmental sabotage when it had accidentally detonated. The media spun the event as the arrest of two potentially violent environmental extremists.

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.

Earth First! and the IWW, Part 4 - I Knew Nothin' Till I Met Judi

By x344543 - Industrial Worker, November 2013

"Every once in a while a new radical movement arises and illustrates the social firmament so suddenly and so dazzlingly that many people are caught off guard and wonder: “What’s going on here? Who are these new radicals, and what do they want?...

"This new movement...starts delivering real blows to the power and prestige of the ruling exploiters and their governmental stooges. This in turn inevitably arouses the hostility of the guardians of the status quo...who raise a hue and cry for the punishment and suppression of the trouble making upstarts...

"The new movement, with wild songs and high humor, captures the imagination of masses of young rebels, spreads like wildfire, turns up everywhere, gets blamed for everything interesting that happens, and all the while writes page after page in the annals of freedom and justice for all..."

These words were written by IWW member Franklin Rosemont in one of his four articles about Earth First! In the May 1988 edition of the Industrial Worker. In doing so, he brought the IWW squarely into the middle of a firestorm of controversy, and not just on the left, but in timber dependent rural communities as well.

On the left, Earth First! had been (with some justification) excoriated for the reactionary sounding positions taken by Dave Foreman, Ed Abbey, and Chris Manes on starvation among Africans, limiting immigration, and AIDS being "nature's" remedy for excess population, all of which were based on the wrongheaded notion that Thomas Malthus's views on population and starvation had any merit or any relevance to the environment (they don't).

Timber dependent communities lambasted Earth First! for entirely different reasons. Obviously, the bosses hated Earth First! because the latter threatened their profits. Timber workers--many of whom suffered from a sort of capitalist induced "Stockholm Syndrome", not the least of which was made worse by collaborationist business unions (where they existed at all)--echoed the bosses rhetoric, particularly when the capitalists used the word "jobs" when they actually meant profits. Earth First!'s association with tree spiking, and their stubborn refusal to jettison the tactic didn't help matters much.

Ironically, few on the left, and practically nobody in the corporate media paid any attention to what was going on in "ground zero" for the timber wars, California's northwestern redwood coast. Earth First! there had never used tree spiking, and they had gone to great lengths to express their sympathy for the timber workers' plight-identifying capitalist timber harvesting practices as the actual threat to the workers' livelihoods.

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