When the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon first received letters last winter from “the Bonnie Abzug Feminist Garden Club” warning of booby-trapped trees in Willamette National Forest, officials suspected a hoax. But their skepticism turned to anger when crews equipped with metal detectors had to begin removing footlong metal spikes from the trunks of more than 500 trees scheduled for cutting. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., a major Oregon lumberer, labelled the spiking tactics “environmental terrorism” and the Forest Service posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible. And last year, during the confrontation over logging on Meares Island in British Columbia, radical ecologists boasted to the Vancouver press of “spiking so many trees that it would take the lumber company five years to find them all.” Now, officials are concerned that the practice is spreading on the forested west coasts of both Canada and the United States.
To logging companies, tree spiking is more than a nuisance. Chain saws that hit spikes can kick back and maim loggers while, in the mill, the blades of high-speed band saws can explode into lethal shrapnel when they hit undetected nails. Rodger Manning, president of Western Forest Products Ltd. in Vancouver, said that tree spiking is “attempted manslaughter.” He added: “It is yellow-bellied. The people who would do this are beneath contempt.”
The majority of environmentalists are equally quick to condemn the practice. James Monteith, director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a coalition of 92 conservation groups, said that tree spiking and other forms of forest sabotage are “detrimental to our efforts.” But he added that he expects such tactics to increase because of the difficulty of challenging logging operations through legal channels. Said Monteith: “You need tremendous patience and financial resources to fight forest companies. A lot of protest organizations rightfully expect more response than they have been getting.” For his part, Adrian Dorst of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, the protest group that opposed MacMillan Bloedel’s attempts to log on Meares Island, noted ruefully that the issue came to national attention only after the spiking threats. Said Dorst: “We had been fighting this for years but that was the first time we received headlines.”
One group that takes a more ambigu-
ous stand on the use of violence to combat loggers is Earth First!, a national U.S. movement. The group has published a handbook on forest sabotage, which it calls “ecotage.” While explaining that it does not necessarily condone the practice, a recent issue of its periodical contains instructions on how to boo-
Logging firms call it manslaughter, but some activists claim that embedding spikes in trees is like a religion
by-trap trees with ceramic nails that remain invisible to metal detectors. It also recommends burning trees down to save them from loggers and declared: “If you really care about wilderness and wildlife, never travel without matches. When conditions are right, do your part to save America’s remaining roadless areas.” Said Richard Bailey, an Oregon
trucker, former logger and member of Earth First: “Ecotage is almost like a religion. It represents the ultimate sacrifice in taking a personal risk that you will be jailed for doing what you believe in.” Although he said he does not spike trees himself, Bailey added that such activities are not meant to endanger loggers but rather “to get the message across that it will cost a lot of money and time if logging companies continue to rape the wilderness.”
In the United States most forest sabotage is now concentrated in the Santiam region of southern Oregon, where environmentalists have been trying to stop Portland-based Willamette Industries Inc. from logging the last great stands of Douglas fir in the area, which are hundreds of years old. After the failure of a legal challenge to halt the logging, observers are concerned that the violence could escalate. But Williamette is determined to fight back. Said company spokesman Catherine Baldwin: “We have a contract to log, and that is what we intend to do. We are not going to be deterred by threats of violence.” While forest sabotage has yet to hurt anyone seriously and has only occasionally slowed logging, the increasing bitterness on both sides of the debate seems bound to worsen the situation.
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