When the crackdown came

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to a feature story.

For nearly a year, the Forest Service patiently accepted the presence of the protesters at Warner Creek. But after the Clinton administration announced that logging would be at least delayed at Warner Creek, the agency's attitude toward the protesters changed abruptly.

Law enforcement officers moved in rapidly on Aug. 16, arresting a reporter and a photographer with the Eugene Register-Guard, along with five activists. They seized and examined the journalists' notes and developed the film to search for evidence that they had trespassed in a closed area. That raised First Amendment fears among journalists, although the officers returned the material early the following week.

Forest officials claimed their actions had nothing to do with logging or sour grapes.

"We don't know what's going on (with the administration's negotiations for a buyout or land exchange with lumber company Thomas Creek)," said forest spokesman Mike Morris. "This has been illegal occupancy of a public land, and vandalism and blockage of a public road. We are in the middle of a fire season; we have bow-hunting season about to start; people who have been going (to Warner Creek) for years want access to the area."

Environmentalists didn't take the breakup of their encampment sitting down. Three days later, at the arraignment of four young protesters who went by the names Hemlock, Lupine, Madrone and Raven, some 250 activists converged on the Lane County Jail.

After county sheriff's officers would only let one protester into the arraignment room, the crowd stormed the building. A demonstrator broke a window, igniting a scuffle that resulted in the arrest of 39 people. Police used stun guns and grabbed protesters by the hair and neck as activists chanted, played drums and sang.

"They were brutal. I was dragged down the hallway by my hair and carried through the jail with my arms in handcuffs and my pants down to my knees," said Tim Ream, who gained national attention earlier this year when he fasted for 75 days in protest of Warner Creek. "By the end, I could pull my hair out of my head in clumps."

Just after the arrests, the Agriculture Department said it and Thomas Creek Lumber and Log were close to signing an agreement to stop the smaller Warner Creek sale. Still, the Forest Service crackdown showed the fragility of the activists' success.

"The key word in most of this talk is temporary," activist Otter said. "(One sale) is temporarily taken away from the threat of logging, but it can always come back."

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