WARNER CREEK, Ore. - For the timber industry, this summer was to have been a return to the good old days.
The salvage logging rider, signed by President
Clinton a year ago, had released thousands of timber sales on
public lands from endless appeals and lawsuits. At last, loggers
would have unfettered access to the national forests of the Pacific
Northwest and the intermountain West, much as they had a decade
But by late summer, with time running out
on the logging rider, a vastly different scenario had unfolded. The
Forest Service still had not offered hundreds of salvage sales
identified by activists and scientists as potentially damaging to
wildlife and water quality. Timber industry officials were
bellowing at the Clinton administration for canceling sales and
"micromanaging" the forests. And President Clinton seemed to be
campaigning on a platform that called for saving trees.
Public opinion and the media had turned nastily
against the Forest Service, the timber industry and the Congress.
Everywhere, it seemed, people ranging from New Agers to Earth
First!ers to businessmen and "little old ladies' were sitting in
roads, waving signs at television cameras and generally gumming
What happened? Although the answer
is as complex as a forest ecosystem, one part of it could be found
at Warner Creek, Ore., where in late July two dozen activists
huddled under a blue tarp as a light rain fell.
For 343 days, these people, taking names such as Madrone, Otter,
Birch and Spring, blockaded a logging road leading to a 14-acre
timber sale on the Willamette National Forest. They dug
15-foot-deep by 10-foot-wide trenches in the road and buried steel
barrels and cement blocks in the ground. They built a fort from
logs left behind by loggers.
Warner Creek was
the longest blockade of a forest road in history. The activists
even weathered a soggy, cold winter in the Cascades. Yet, early on
the morning of Aug. 16, the blockade fell with ease, just as
several others had in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Forest Service
law enforcement officers moved in and arrested seven. By the end of
the day, bulldozers had pushed the mile-and-a-half long jumble of
stuff off the road.
But it didn't matter. Just
before the Forest Service moved in, the Clinton administration
"saved" Warner Creek and more than 150 other controversial sales
around the West from logging. It promised to buy out the small,
14-acre sale near the blockade, and it delayed another future sale
of 206 acres until after the salvage rider expires Dec. 31. Then
the sale would be open to court challenges and appeals, the kind
the salvage rider had barred.
"Warner Creek was the pivot
point of resistance to salvage logging, and I believe it will be
the Waterloo of salvage logging," said Tim Ingalsbee, a Eugene
activist soon to be an assistant professor of political ecology at
Humboldt State University. "There was nothing stopping the chain
saws but this nonviolent citizen resistance of bodies on the line."
The battle is
It was a startling reversal. For months
after the passage of the salvage rider in summer 1995, everything
had gone the timber industry's way. It prevailed in several key
court cases that expanded the salvage rider's scope to allow
cutting of more old-growth timber than most observers had
anticipated. Industry allies in Congress stalled the efforts of
Democrats to repeal or modify the rider, and President Clinton
seemed uninterested in the fight.
Then the big
trees started falling, and activists kicked into gear. Under names
such as Cascadia Forest Defenders and Witnesses Against Lawless
Logging (WALL), they held "action camps' to train activists in the
arts of tree-climbing and blockades. Coordinating via e-mail, they
quickly learned of new sales and bombarded the Clinton
administration with letters and phone calls every time another
controversial sale approached.
literally took to the hills. There was Sugarloaf in southern
Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest, Enola Hill in the Mount Hood
National Forest near Portland, the First and Last sales in southern
Oregon's Umpqua National Forest near Roseburg, and the Red 90 sale
about an hour's drive east of Salem on the Willamette National
As the year wore on, the controversial
sales - and protests against them - spread into Idaho, Montana,
Colorado and New Mexico. But the salvage logging proposed at
Oregon's Warner Creek proved to be the top draw, attracting
visiting schoolkids from New Jersey and activists from all over the
Warner Creek was as noticeable for
what had been cut as for what hadn't. The blockaded road lay in an
area that has endured logging on an almost unbelievable scale.
Clearcuts and second-growth stands derided by activists as tree
farms dominate the steep hills and valleys.
portions of the Warner Creek drainage had never been cut, and
because of the presence of the endangered northern spotted owl,
they might have quietly stayed that way - if it hadn't been for
fire. In 1991, an arsonist torched 9,000 acres of old-growth
Douglas fir, sparking a debate over salvage logging.
Some places burned crisp as toast, leaving the
blackened skeletons of ancient trees; others browned lightly, and
the big trees survived; here and there the fire missed trees
altogether. Most of the owls survived, returning to raise young the
following year. In places, a thick carpet of Douglas fir seedlings
sprang up on the forest floor.
"The patchwork in this area
hits you in the heart," said Birch, a 20-year-old University of
Oregon student who first visited Warner Creek last February. "I'd
come here for one week, (then) got a job down there, but I couldn't
Environmentalists wanted to preserve
Warner Creek as a living laboratory for the study of post-fire
ecology. Logging would devastate the natural recovery process, they
said. And though there was no evidence that the unknown arsonist
had any connection with the timber industry, they worried that
allowing logging would send the message that arson pays.
The conjunction of arson, old trees, salvage
logging and civil disobedience made Warner Creek a natural magnet
for the media. Coverage of the battle extended far beyond the
region in forums such as the New York Times and television's 60
If the activists' strategy was to
attract the media into the woods by staging protests, the Forest
Service's was to keep everyone but loggers out of the forests
As the cutting started, forest
officials closed off surrounding areas to the public in the name of
protecting loggers and officials from "disruption" by activists. At
the Red 90 timber sale near the town of Detroit, Ore., for
instance, the agency first closed 14 square miles, an area 10 times
the size of the timber sale, then scaled back the closure to 3.5
square miles as the sale was gradually
"We knew the sale was
controversial. We were fearful of unlawful activity disrupting
logging and other activity," said Bill Funk, the agency's district
ranger in Detroit.
At Red 90, 28 protesters
crossed the closure lines, singing "This Land is Your Land" and
chanting "The whole world is watching" as police picked them off
the ground and hauled them into vans. The arrested protesters
argued that the closures violated First Amendment rights and kept
people from seeing the huge trees fall. Their court cases and
numerous others in the Northwest are still pending, although a
federal judge has thrown out one closure on the Olympic National
Forest in Washington as excessively broad.
mid-August, more than 600 people had been arrested in the region
and forest officials had spent half a billion dollars corralling
"We haven't seen
protests this big since the Vietnam war," said Andy Stahl,
executive director of the Association for Forest Service Employees
for Environmental Ethics, based in Eugene.
Turning the tables
protests, along with letter-writing, phone calls, faxes, direct
lobbying, media coverage and some limited lawsuits, began making
headway as the summer approached. In May, protesters of a timber
sale on the Umpqua National Forest convinced the Clinton
administration to initiate a land swap to protect an ancient grove
of trees. In June, the administration, backed by environmental
groups, secured a federal court injunction halting logging of 200
million board-feet of timber in the Coast Range, home to the
threatened marbled murrelet.
At the same time,
Congress' support for the salvage-logging program began to crumble.
By a razor-thin margin of 211-209, the House fought off an attempt
to repeal the rider in June, with many Republicans crossing the
aisle. A bill by Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, R, which would put in
place a permanent emergency salvage program, was taken off the fast
Backpedaling continued in July, when
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman issued an order restricting some
salvage sales under the rider, including those in roadless areas,
to make sure that "emergency" sales were truly emergency. Though
the order did not outright kill any sales, it forced the Forest
Service to immediately back off on more than 150 sales and send
them through regular channels, where citizens could challenge them
on their merits. That brought cheers from environmentalists in
Idaho and Montana, where the Forest Service was planning to log
dozens of roadless areas.
"For the first time in
history, we got the White House to tell the Forest Service how to
cut trees," said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho
Though the order did not
apply to old-growth sales allowed by the rider on the west side of
the Cascades, it did apply to one salvage sale there: the burned
timber in still-roadless Warner Creek.
upshot: By late July, the Forest Service had sold barely a fifth of
the billion board-feet of timber that it had planned to sell in the
Pacific Northwest in the rider's first year. While the pace of
timber sales typically picks up towards the end of the fiscal year
(Sept. 30), timber industry spokesmen were still buttonholing
congressmen back in Washington to complain about what they saw as
Forest Service foot-dragging in carrying out the
At a hearing in early August, Sen. Craig
grilled Glickman about some cancelled sales, charging the secretary
with currying favor in an election year with "national
environmental group leaders who oppose all timber harvesting on
secretary's not in anyone's hip pocket," Glickman fired back. The
secretary told the panel of Western senators that his order was
necessary to restore some level of trust between the public and the
Forest Service, a trust which the rider had helped destroy.
The administration's actions, however, were not
doing much to restore public confidence. As Glickman announced his
intentions to buy back the timber at Warner Creek, Forest Service
lawyers were arguing successfully in court that the rider should
apply to the Warner Creek sales. And though in mid-August
environmentalists were still fairly optimistic that the
administration would deliver on the buyout at Warner Creek - it
announced a $475 million settlement with Thomas Creek Lumber Aug.
23 - they were bothered by its fickleness.
"One week they are on the
timber industry's side, and the next they're on ours," said Doug
Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "That's the way
it's been all year."
The split between the
administration and Forest Service didn't surprise one long-time
observer. "No administration has ever been able to control the
Forest Service," said Andy Stahl. "It's the most independent agency
in the government, and it doesn't like to listen to the Department
The timber industry had less
ambivalent feelings about the logging rider. It was enraged by the
would have been unbelievable 10 or 15 years ago, or even five years
ago, to imagine the White House would be pulling strings on tiny,
tiny 10-acre sales in the Pacific Northwest," said Mike Beard,
communications director of the Northwest Forestry Industries
Association in Portland. "Those are sales that back then the
district ranger wouldn't even bother with."
"It was election-year
grandstanding, as far as I'm concerned," said Tim Hirons, president
of the logging company that was to cut the dead, burned trees at
Warner Creek. "The timber sale program on federal lands has been
reduced by 90 percent in the past seven years, but that's not
enough for some people."
left speculating on how they'd managed to slow the salvage logging
train. Some believed they'd tapped the distrust the American people
have for government. Others credited the general environmental
leanings of the public. Still others cited political expediency:
Clinton needs to win Oregon, California and Washington in
But behind all the explanations lay
one inexorable fact: A relatively small group of people confronted
timber-cutting in the woods, injecting drama and immediacy into the
action has helped communicate to the public what this terrible law
is all about," said Jim Jontz, the former Indiana congressman who
directs the Western Ancient Forest Campaign. "It has put a human
face on the issue." Last spring, a suit-clad Jontz protested the
Sugarloaf sale and was arrested for blocking a national forest road
Doug Heiken, who has been
embroiled in Oregon's logging protests all year long, believed
citizen resistance to the rider reverberated far beyond the
forests. It gave the 104th Congress' pet legislative tactic - the
anti-environmental rider - an ugly name, he said. With the evidence
of the rider's effects in his face every day, Clinton found the
courage to reject dozens of industry-sponsored riders: everything
from drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to
giving cement kilns an exemption from pollution
"We sacrificed our
national forests to stop these other horrible riders," Heiken
"This Congress lost all
sense of reality. It listened only to its contributors and their
lobbyists," said Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League.
"You can only push people so far before they take to the streets."
Tony Davis works in Salem,
Oregon, for the Statesman-Journal. Paul Larmer, HCN associate
editor, contributed to this