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Earth First! Replies to Critics

By Judi Bari – Santa Rosa Press Democrat, April 10, 1990

Charges against Earth First! have been flying lately. Spearheaded by Louisiana-Pacific, state Sen. Barry Keene, and International Woodworkers of America union representative Don Nelson.

They accuse us of being somehow responsible for L-P’s recent decision to lay off 195 workers because of the “hostile political climate” we have supposedly created on the North Coast, and they accuse of us provoking violence with our call for a “Mississippi Summer” of mass nonviolent protest to save the redwoods.

This type of doublespeak seriously misrepresents the very real and intense struggle that is going on in the redwood region. It is time to set the record straight.

First, the L-P layoffs. It’s getting harder and harder to convince the people up here that environmentalists are to blame for the cruel business practices of the timber corporations. When L-P opened its redwood milling operation in Mexico it showed us how little it cares for employees or our community. If L-P officials can get people to work for $85 cents an hour in Mexico instead of the $7 an hour they pay at the Ukiah mill, then that’s where they’re going to send the trees and jobs.

But this latest round of layoffs reflects an even more disturbing trend at L-P. If you drive the back roads of Mendocino County and see the miles of clearcuts you will know the truth—L-P has overcut the forest and destroyed the timber base.

According to the Mendocino County Forest Advisory Committee, L-P is cutting at more than twice the rate of growth in our county’s forests. This area was once the heart of the redwood ecosystem. But there is almost no old growth left in Mendocino County, and the second growth is going fast.

In 1975, the Oswald Report predicted that, if harvest rates continued, a sharp fall-down in saw-timber supply would hit in 1990. Young stands would be growing but there wouldn’t be enough mature trees to keep the area’s mills going. This prediction was right on target, but no one predicted L-P’s unconscionable response to the problem.

Rather than slowing down to save the trees and jobs, L-P kept cutting at full throttle. And instead of letting the remaining young stands mature, L-P’s President Harry Merlo began a policy of “logging to infinity,” or taking all trees regardless of size. Those that are too small to saw are chipped up and sent to pulp mills.

Watching truckload after truckload of trees of only 8 to 10 inches in diameter rolling down our county’s roads is sickening. Those trees are our county’s future, and if L-P had any interest in staying here, it would let them grow another 50 years.

The loggers know this as well as the environmentalists and are no happier about it. “We’re killing babies,” one logger told me. “I can’t feel good about what we’re doing anymore.”

L-P is engaged in a mop-up operation in Mendocino County, stripping our children’s trees and jobs and threatening our area with the collapse of our forest ecosystem. Earth First! could disappear tomorrow and the mills would keep closing.

In his Press Democrat interview last year, Merlo said he wants it all, and in Mendocino County he has taken it.

So of course tensions are high here. We’re facing a desperate situation. Along with the destruction of the forest is coming an equally devastating economic and social disruption, on the scale of Flint, Michigan, or Youngstown, Ohio.

Corporations like L-P treat their employees the same way they treat the forest. Both are used up and discarded.

The timber corporations would love to keep the workers and environmentalists fighting each other, but the real problem here is not the workers against the environmentalists. It is the giant corporations against our entire community.

Our call for mass protest this summer is a last ditch attempt to slow the corporations down to sustained yield before there is nothing left to save. It is not directed against the timber workers—every day we slow the corporations down is another day employees can collect a paycheck before the final layoff.

But Barry Keene, Don Nelson, and others have been portraying this struggle as a “war” between workers and environmentalists. They have been making statements that would incite people to violence against us, and this must be stopped.

We are calling only for nonviolent protest this summer. We will be providing nonviolence training and strict nonviolence guidelines. We stand by our unbroken record of four years. We have held hundreds of protests, and, although violence has been directed against us, we have never initiated violence against others.

Mississippi Summer in the Redwoods is happening this year whether L-P, Barry Keene and the rest like it or not. If they had been doing their legislative jobs we would not be in the desperate situation we are now. If we can’t slow the timber corporations down this summer there won’t be much left to save by the time legislation takes effect.

The real reason they are so upset with Earth First! is because we have proposed a strategy that just might work. The eyes of the nation will be on us this summer, and we don’t believe that most Americans want to see our redwood heritage destroyed for part-term profit.

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