Does Violence Again Threaten California’s Northern Wildlands?

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A tripod set up by anti-logging protesters in northern California's Emerald Triangle this summer. Photo courtesy Lear Assets Management

In California, air temperatures are triple digits and strong winds have fanned at least 14 serious fires, most notably the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest fire in California history.

But there are other “hot spots” in heavily forested Mendocino County in northern California that aren’t getting nearly enough attention, due to state budget cuts. One is the uphill battle to contain thousands of illegal marijuana grows, which I have written about before in The Crime Report, and which continue to preoccupy conservationists.

Here’s another that may have escaped your attention.

The area, site of a months-long 1990 battle, dubbed “Redwood Summer,” between eco-activists and loggers, is heating up again. During that tense summer, the woods witnessed some strange sights: 1,500 activists dressed as owls, singing protest songs as they chained themselves to trees and heavy equipment.

Redwood Summer

A 1990 poster advertising the summer of protest in the northern California forests. Photo by Worldwide Hippies

The environmentalists, who came from around the nation, blocked logging roads, climbed trees, and suspended themselves by wires above highways to protest the logging of old-growth redwoods. Unfortunately, there were incidents of violence as well—in what some observers described as “guerilla warfare.”

On May 24, 1990, protest organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland to recruit college students to join Redwood Summer when a pipe bomb exploded under Bari’s driver’s seat.

Bari was seriously injured—and although the FBI first suspected they had been carrying the bomb themselves, later stories suggested that it was planted by others.

The issue driving Redwood Summer was that 95 percent of the original two million acres of virgin redwoods in the so-called “Emerald Triangle” had been cut down, and more logging was planned. Redwood Summer ended with an uneasy truce, but with some good results. Virtually all remaining redwoods are now protected and restoration efforts are planned or underway.

But the truce effectively collapsed a year ago.

The Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC), which had bought the old-growth forest at the headwaters of the Mattole River and promised not to log it, attempted to resume logging in May, 2017. Crews were sent to “restore the balance” of species by using herbicides to remove madrones, tanoaks, canyon oaks, and other hardwoods from nearly 200 acres of forest.

No Douglas firs were to be touched. Nevertheless, in June, 2017, forest activists blocked the access road under the banner “Save the Mattole’s Ancient Forest,” stopping the herbicide operation. Although no timber was extracted, the stage was set for a new battle over Rainbow Ridge.

This one pits environmentalists against the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), a logging operation formed in 1998 that took over one of the companies (Pacific Lumber) that was involved with Redwood Summer.  The conflict focuses on an 18,000-acre forested tract on the headwaters of the Mattole River, where there are about 1,100 acres of old-growth Douglas fir and associated hardwoods—but no redwoods.

The stated goal of MRC, which the Forest Stewardship Council has endorsed as a sustainable forestry company, is restoration of coniferous forests.

The battle began with lawsuits, but when California’s logging and fire prevention agencies didn’t object, protesters began sneaking onto Rainbow Ridge to block logging. In addition to climbing and chaining themselves to trees, the eco-activists have developed two new protest strategies: building a tripod structure over the access road to Rainbow Ridge, preventing lumber trucks and heavy equipment from entering; and deploying the “Sleeping Dragon” protest method of wrapping their arms and hands together with chains and other materials to make their extraction more difficult.

No Trespassing

Photo courtesy Lear Assets Management

There are two subspecies of Douglas fir. “Green” is found along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to northern California; and “blue” is found in the Rockies from Canada to the Mexican border. The total acreage of Douglas fir forests has declined from approximately 15 million to five million acres, but it’s not an endangered species.

Most of the original old-growth Douglas fir forests have been logged, but reforestation is widespread.

But even as firefighters battle what has become an environmental catastrophe in the state, Rainbow Ridge is threatening to heat up into another kind of battleground. Protesters face arrest by the private security company, Lear Asset Management. (LAM), whose services became necessary because the already strapped state budget, under pressure from the needs of fighting both the forest fires and the illegal marijuana grows, has been cut further.

Right now, both sides are at an impasse.

Mendocino Redwood Company says that it will cut only 14 percent of the old-growth fir trees on Rainbow Ridge, and promises to remove hardwoods to allow for better reforesting with Douglas firs. The protestors want all logging stopped and the property transferred to the University of California Natural Reserve system.

On July 22, LAM security guards arrested three protesters who wouldn’t leave, and county sheriff deputies came to take them away. LAM brought along dogs, and tasers. Some contest the arrests, but entering an area displaying “No Trespassing” signs is a misdemeanor or a felony.

In support of LAM and other law enforcement agencies, how do you know if a trespasser isn’t a terrorist? Terrorist websites are encouraging people to use fires as a weapon.

In environmental conflicts like this one, both sides need to understand the law, tell the truth, understand the opposition, and stick to the facts.

Over the spring and summer, there have been a number of articles featuring the protesters’ views. In one piece, Humboldt Redwood Co. Director of Forest Policy John Andersen said the company felt a need to intervene after learning recently that one of the protesters suffered a bad burn to her leg, necessitating medical treatment.

Some eco-activists claim that several endangered species will be harmed by logging Rainbow Ridge—specifically: Pacific fishers, coho salmon, northern goshawk, golden eagle, northern spotted owls, and even a fungus, Agarikon.

A fact check finds:

  • Pacific Fishers are common weasel-like animals found in the forests of Canada and the northern US. Only the Pacific Coast subspecies, the Pacific Fisher, is listed as “threatened.”
  • Coho salmon were once common in the Mattole River that runs past Rainbow Ridge. Today, there are only a few left. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lists one subspecies of coho salmon as “endangered” and three other subspecies “threatened.” Coho salmon are very common father north.

The protesters say that the decline in Mattole salmon is primarily due to road building, logging and farming leading to stream-bed damage. Actually, there’s a restoration program underway involving the Mattole Restoration Council, Mattole Salmon Group, and Sanctuary Forest, working with the watershed landowners, and multiple private and agency funders.

Environmentalists also claim that the Northern Goshawk, the Golden Eagle and Northern Spotted Owl as threatened by the logging activities. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only lists the spotted owl as “threatened.” Meanwhile, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists the Goshawk and Golden Eagle as of “least concern.”

And what about Agarikon (Laricifomes officinalis)? This wood-decay fungus, found in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, causes brown heart rot on conifers including Douglas firs. It’s commonly known as “quinine conk” because of its bitter taste. However, it doesn’t contain quinine, and it has no anti-malarial properties. Extracts do have antiviral activity against some viruses.

The fact check suggests it’s time to apply some cooler thinking to this California hot spot.

A repeat of the violence that marred the 1990 protest would be catastrophic to anyone who cares about preserving our natural wilderness areas.

People have a right to voice their opinions. Rainbow Ridge is a beautiful area, but not telling the truth undermines all conservation work.

Instead of lawsuits and protests, why not create problem-solving alliances like the Mattole River Restoration Program?

James Swan

James A. Swan

The other day a security guard dozed off in his truck at Rainbow Ridge. When he awoke, he stepped out of the truck and met a mountain lion ten yards away. They eyed each other for a tense minute, and then the lion slowly walked away.

It was the second mountain lion that’s been spotted on Rainbow Ridge. That, according to local native Americans, is Mother Nature’s judgment on this conflict.

James A. Swan, Ph.D., is Co-Executive Producer of the “Wild Justice” TV series and co-author with Lt. John Nores Jr. of “War In The Woods: Combating the Marijuana Cartels on America’s Wildlands.” He welcomes readers’ comments.

One thought on “Does Violence Again Threaten California’s Northern Wildlands?

  1. i come from both sides of the redwood summer conflict..i grew up with friends who were close with Judy Barry..i was subjected to interrogation after the bombing..yet my father was a second generation logger and an overly outspoken one (you might recall an incident where a logger fired up his saw near protesters and struck a protester who attempted to take it from him…yep thats my dad… in his defense he always lectured me about clearcutting and even socked a boss and quit when he was ordered to do so..but his face lit up with dollar signs whenever he was given a strip that required him to thin old growth.. )

    Needless to say i had a hard life back invites to parties on either side.. how could someone back such an outspoken and violent father..and “how can you call yourself my son and hang out those hippies”… it conditioned me to seek a rational compromise in everything..and i learned that there is always a middle ground that fits both issues..i mean there had to be cuz thats the only place i could fit and i was alive so i must be standing in it.. but that middle ground can turn to indifference if you dont hang on to the moral integrity inherent in all of us(most).. and sometimes it can be hard to we need to see one thing..extremists serve to define that boundary..listen to them on both ends..and find the edge where they come together and introduce it being mindfull of the opinions of both.. and when both sides hate the same idea you know you found it!

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