Salvage rider will destroy sacred sites

  • Enola Hill project

    Diane Sylvain
  • Rip Lone Wolf: Defender of Enola Hill

    E. Feryl/Environmental Images
  • Enola Hill defenders turn out for a rally this spring

    E. Feryl/Environmental Images

When Rip Lone Wolf felt it was time for his 14-year-old son's vision quest, he did what Oregon's Nez Perce have done for generations: He headed for the sacred land at Enola Hill. The 350-year-old Douglas fir trees that loom over this part of the Mount Hood National Forest, 45 miles east of Portland, shelter ceremonial sites known only to Native Americans.

"It's where I go to learn the good way," he says, "and I guess I took it for granted that it would always be there for my people to use."

But Lone Wolf, spokesman for Native Americans for Enola Hill, has recently spent more time in courtrooms than in the forest. The salvage logging rider signed by President Clinton last July woke up a dormant timber sale to Hannell Lumber to clearcut 158 acres of old-growth trees on Enola Hill. Although environmentalists and Native Americans have sued four times to stop the sale, Judge Malcolm Marsh ruled this April the selective logging was legal. The next day Hannell Lumber started cutting the steep slopes of Enola Hill, using helicopters.

Lone Wolf, 62, says when all the trees go, so will Enola Hill's spiritual power. "These trees are our temples," he says. "They represent how we get our strength - from the natural world."

His group and the Anglo-dominated Friends of Enola Hill have tried for over a decade to establish that the land is a sacred spot for native people. Through a long and tortuous legal battle, the Forest Service has resisted their efforts every step of the way. When both groups sued the Forest Service in 1990, the agency was told to complete a study of Enola Hill to determine its meaning for Native Americans.

Anthropologist Robert Winthrop, hired by the Forest Service to oversee the study, concluded that "Enola Hill merits nomination to the National Register of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property." Forest Service anthropologist Beth Walton, however, dismissed Winthrop's findings as inconclusive, saying she was unable to find sufficient evidence indicating Native Americans use the land. Although the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians told the Forest Service its members use Enola Hill for vision quests and sacred burials, no one would point out specific sites for fear they would become public knowledge.

And not every Native American opposes the logging. In fact, Beth Walton interviewed Les McConnell of the Cherokee Nation, who believes the land is not sacred, as the tribal liaison to her study. So the Forest Service told the court the land did not warrant protection.

Michael Jones, director of Friends of Enola Hill and cultural and natural resource consultant for the Cascade Geographic Society in nearby Rhododendron, says the findings did not surprise him. Jones, who has been working to save Enola Hill since the first timber sale was proposed in 1980, says, "They had planned to cut all along. I am no longer shocked by their lies."

After the ruling, Lone Wolf and a group of Native Americans built a sweat lodge at Enola Hill to demonstrate their use of the land. When Lone Wolf was issued a citation for "camping without a permit," then-Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., contacted the Forest Service asking it to leave Lone Wolf and his sweat lodge alone. But when Lone Wolf returned to the forest, he found the lodge in pieces on the ground. Forest Service spokeswoman Gayle Aschenbrener admits her agency was responsible, but says, "We weren't sure who built it. We thought it was vandals."

It was only after an adjacent private inholding was logged and the lumber trucked out through Enola Hill that the case reached the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. During the appeal, officials from the National Trust for Historic Preservation testified that Enola Hill deserved to be on its list, and the court ruled with them. It seemed that Enola Hill was protected from future logging.

But 10 days later, on July 27, President Clinton signed the salvage rider, which suspends all environmental appeals pertaining to logging, and the Hannell sale was taken off the shelf. Friends of Enola Hill and Native Americans for Enola Hill made one last attempt to stop the sale: They filed yet another lawsuit arguing the salvage rider restricts First Amendment rights of access to the courts and the religious freedom restoration act. But on Feb. 28, the court ruled with the Forest Service and Hannell Lumber had the go-ahead to cut.

"From the beginning this has been a war for the truth about Enola Hill," says Jones of Friends of Enola Hill, "and now we have lost that war." He says every tree will be cut by the end of June.

Despite the setback, public opposition continues to mount. On May 7, 38 protesters, including a 15-year-old boy, were arrested after moving into closed areas where cutting was in progress.

For Rip Lone Wolf, there are no limits to how far he will go to save his sacred land. He says he is now willing to divulge the locations of the sacred sites if that will build a stronger case with federal judges. He told 700 people at a rally on April 21, which The Oregonian reported was the largest anti-logging rally in Oregon in the last two years, that "giving up is not my way. When I make a commitment, I follow through."

For more information, contact the Forest Service at 503/622-3191 and Michael Jones at 503/622-4798.

Bill Taylor, HCN intern

High Country News Classifieds