High in Idaho's snow-clad Nez Perce National Forest, chain saws whine and logging trucks thunder down frozen roads through the night in a frantic effort to fell 8 million board-feet of timber. Downed trees - in stacks higher than ever before seen on the forest, protesters say - tower above the logging trucks.
"They're cutting as fast as they can and putting
them on the ground faster than they can haul them out," says Tom
Fullum of the Native Forest Network.
cofounder Mike Roselle, now with the Cove-Mallard Coalition, was
arrested Feb. 8, along with Fullum, for blocking a road to what is
called the Noble Timber Sale. Under a new Idaho law they were
charged with a felony.
The activists said they
were drawn to acts of civil disobedience after federal judges
lifted the court injunctions that had kept loggers at bay for more
than a year. Now, the trees are falling - at least until March 15.
That is the date U.S. District Judge David Ezra reconsiders an
injunction stopping any activity that might harm endangered salmon
habitat on six Idaho national forests, including the Nez
The Noble is just one of eight timber
sales totaling 81 million board-feet the Forest Service has slated
for the Cove-Mallard; the arrests are the latest in a series of
protests staged by Cove-Mallard Coalition members over the past
three years to stop the tree-cutting. In 1993, heated
confrontations resulted in 150 activist arrests (HCN, 3/21/94).
Roselle says the Forest Service is the real lawbreaker because it
never complied with a National Marine Fisheries Service biological
opinion that required a resurvey of planned cuts and their impacts
on salmon habitat.
It was on those grounds that
U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan granted the Idaho Sportsmen's
Coalition a temporary injunction against the Cove-Mallard sales in
September 1993. But when Judge Alan McDonald, filling in for a sick
Judge Ryan, lifted the injunction in early December 1994, the
Forest Service felt vindicated.
"We are good
land stewards and we have followed the law," said forest supervisor
Mike King after the decision.
As a result of
McDonald's decision, a road was plowed into the Noble Timber Sale
area on Jan. 4, and trees began to fall again on Jan.
Ron Mitchell, of the Idaho Sportmen's
Coalition, believes the logging is still illegal. He says the
Forest Service pressured federal biologists into weakening their
recommendations for protecting salmon. The National Marine
Fisheries Service subsequently changed its deadline for a habitat
monitoring plan to a time after, and not before, logging began. The
Sportsmen's Coalition, which has withdrawn its appeal of Judge
McDonald's decision, may sue the Fisheries Service for capitulating
to the Forest Service, Mitchell says.
Cove-Mallard defenders were disappointed that McDonald lifted the
injunction, they had high hopes for a second lawsuit covering six
national forests in Idaho brought by the Pacific Rivers Council and
the Wilderness Society. On Jan. 12, 1995, Judge David Ezra granted
the plaintiffs an immediate injunction against all activities
affecting endangered Snake River salmon until the Forest Service
revamped its forest plans. The decision affected logging of the
Noble timber sale by the Shearer Lumber Products
But just days later, after local
forest-dependent communities, and even some Idaho-based
environmental groups, protested vigorously, the Wilderness Society
asked for a delay until March 15 (HCN, 2/20/95). Judge David Ezra,
also filling in for Judge Ryan, threatened to penalize the
plaintiffs for arguing against their own case. But he granted the
stay and allowed logging to continue.
angered front-line activists in the area. "When national groups get
involved in litigation, they've always gotten cold feet after
protests," Roselle says.
"The Wilderness Society
has never cooperated with grass-roots organizers in Idaho," agrees
Ron Mitchell, of the Idaho Sportsmen's Coalition. He says his
organization withdrew its direct challenge to the Cove-Mallard
sales partly because it figured that the Wilderness Society's suit
would accomplish the same goal.
pulling back from the injunction weakened the environmental cause:
"It sets a precedent that environmentalists will back off if
threatened with violence or challenged with financial arguments."
Roselle and Fullum attended their preliminary
hearing Feb. 27. Fullum says protesters, who have been coping with
waist-deep snow this winter, have earned begrudging respect from
locals, after a four-year presence. Roselle adds that the new law
will not dissuade protesters. "Grass-roots groups don't bow to
* Ross Freeman, HCN