'Two weeks of hell' saves a stand of old-growth trees

  • Activists from Cascadia Forest Defenders block logging road

    Francis Eatherington

Six years ago, Francis Eatherington fought to keep loggers out of a roadless area in western Oregon's Umpqua National Forest. A seasonal employee for the Forest Service, she felt passionately about the area's 1,000-year-old trees and the spotted owls and runs of salmon and steelhead they harbored. With the help of a lawsuit, she and other activists forced the Forest Service to cancel proposed timber sales in the area.

But in late March, Eatherington, who has lived on the forest's edge for 20 years, couldn't believe her eyes: Trucks had entered the forest and loggers began cutting ancient trees.

"These areas were supposedly saved forever," she says. The salvage logging rider passed by President Clinton last summer, however, had brought two timber sales in the Boulder Creek Roadless Area back from the dead.

Eatherington decided to put herself on the line. She led a group of eight activists to the entrance of the Last and First timber sales, and on March 23 they were arrested after stepping into territory marked off-limits by the Forest Service. Other protests and arrests followed, and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund brought a new lawsuit.

Still, stopping the chainsaws seemed a long shot; these tactics have consistently failed since the rider passed (HCN, 3/18/96). But this time, the Clinton administration saw an opportunity to make environmentalists happy.

On March 29, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman announced a rule change that allows the Forest Service to offer timber companies substitute volume outside of the original sale area. The rule change led to an agreement between Roseberg Forest Products and the Forest Service: The company, which had cut approximately 15 of the planned 299 acres of old growth, released its hold on the Last and First sales in exchange for timber in a roaded and partly cut area of the forest.

"It's nice to take a break after two weeks of hell," said Ken Carloni of the Umpqua Watersheds, a local environmental group. Carloni, who teaches microbiology at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, spent his spring break protesting.

Administration officials say they hope the rule allowing exchanges of timber will apply to every sale where old growth is threatened by the rider. "The Clinton administration is exercising every option available to prevent the logging of these remarkable, environmentally critical old-growth areas," Glickman says.

But forest officials point out the rule's widespread application will depend on the willingness of timber companies holding the contracts. Umpqua forest spokeswoman Cheryl Walters says Roseburg officials were willing to negotiate for substitute timber from the start. "In all my years with the Forest Service, I've never been so impressed with a timber company's cooperation," Walters says. Other companies might not be so eager.

Environmentalists who have followed the salvage timber rider from its inception see the Umpqua situation as a minor victory. "It's nice that they saved some 1,000-year-old trees," says Steve Holmer of the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, "but to view this as a resolution to the salvage logging rider is ludicrous."

Local activists, in the meantime, say they are not counting on a lawsuit or Congress to stop more than a dozen other old-growth sales scheduled for the Umpqua National Forest and adjoining Bureau of Land Management lands. Instead, they are scouring the forest for more potential substitute timber in hopes other trades are possible.

They are also poised to put their bodies on the line again. Eatherington, who has been arrested twice, says she may find herself in cuffs again if she sees more old growth falling. "People know me here," she says. "It makes them feel something when they see me being dragged over the ground."

Bill Taylor is an HCN intern; Paul Larmer is HCN associate editor.

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