The Last Stands

A little more than a year ago, “Remedy” — she uses a pseudonym to elude being served with a civil lawsuit for trespassing — was working in a bookstore in Olympia, Washington. That September, she took a nine-day vacation to California’s Humboldt County to raise her awareness about logging issues. She learned that a debt-laden Maxxam Corporation, which owns the local logging company Pacific Lumber, was liquidating some of the last remaining old-growth redwood and Douglas fir habitat in the country. The last day of the vacation was September 11, 2001. As an entire nation turned inward with grief and fear, Remedy decided to act.
“I saw there was a hell of a lot more than nine days’ worth of work to be done,” the 27-year-old Illinois native said.
“I couldn’t go back to something that wasn’t helping the state of the planet and people. I would lose my own integrity.”
In Humboldt County, Remedy spent six months learning about forest ecosystems, protest methods, and non-violence techniques. On the first day of spring, March 21, 2002, she climbed the tree she now calls Jerry. Her feet haven’t touched the ground since.
“From up here,” Remedy said, peering out at the jagged scars on the hillsides surrounding her tree-sit, “you can see the clearcuts, like mange on a dog. You can hear the trees fall, feel the earth shake. It’s a cracking, breaking, awful sound. There’s nothing right about that sound. Nothing OK about it.”
Remedy is perched above a 138-acre parcel approved for clearcutting in the Freshwater Creek watershed near Eureka. Her entire living space consists of three small platforms 180 feet above the ground. By rope, sympathetic locals must periodically help her haul her bathroom bucket, food, and laundry up and down. At the site, her blond hair barely visible through the branches overhead, she shouts down that she does, above all, miss dancing.
But she is not alone. An underground network of anti-clearcutting activists, usually at least several dozen at a time, has circulated in and out of the North Coast and deep into Maxxam territory in recent years. Mostly in their 20s, some of them students, the activists get rides to Humboldt County; they give up dancing, jobs, and homes — for dirt, rain, hostile loggers, and the prospect of jail — to defend the last stands of California’s old-growth forests.
Through Pacific Lumber, Houston-based Maxxam owns some of the last remaining old-growth redwood and Douglas fir habitat in the country. According to several sources, only about 3% of the world’s ancient Sequoia sempervirens ecosystems remain; of that, Maxxam owns an estimated 6%. Since taking over Pacific Lumber in 1985, the company has doubled its logging rates to pay back almost a billion dollars in debt [see next page]. The result has been floods, landslides, silted-up drinking water, angry property owners, lawsuits, and disappearing species [see Terrain, Spring 2001]. With the backing of Governor Gray Davis, recipient of $61,000 from Pacific Lumber in the past two years, state forestry regulators have done little to stem the damage. In September, the regulators failed to enforce a judge’s order blocking Maxxam’s logging on all its land.
The regulatory vacuum is filled by civil disobedience.
The most famous tree-sit, Julia Butterfly Hill’s two years in Luna, which saved the tree and three surrounding acres in December 1999, brought international attention to Maxxam’s rampant logging on the county’s watersheds. Like Hill, Remedy has recently become something of a celebrity. In August, she was profiled in The New York Times and on the Today show. But most of the civil disobedience has not reached the headlines. From 1999 to 2000, Nate Madsen quietly stayed up in a Freshwater Creek tree-sit for two years, while Guano, Ladybug, Felony, and others also spent time locked to equipment or sitting on platforms. Despite occasional lulls as logging ebbs and flows, the protesters have never gone away.
Now they’re back with a vengeance: Since Remedy scaled Jerry in March, more than a dozen sitters have occupied trees on hundreds of acres of Maxxam land, trying to keep ancient trees from being cut into decking and fence posts. In the process, they have been met with arrests, physical retaliation, two chilling civil suits, and threats of prosecution as terrorists.
Maxxam’s land contains three hot spots for protests: Remedy and about ten other tree-sitters occupy the Freshwater watershed, where Pacific Lumber plans to cut the equivalent of 500 clearcut-acres per year indefinitely. Since January, another tree-sit has occupied “Gypsy” Mountain near Fortuna, where the protester David “Gypsy” Chain was killed by a felled tree in 1998. And in September, at the remote Rainbow Ridge in the Lost Coast’s Mattole River watershed, protesters working at night erected a Douglas fir tree-sit, defying earlier crackdowns and a civil lawsuit. Later that month, 11 new tree-sitters took their positions throughout Maxxam land. As of October, the total reached 17.
“We set one up [in early September] about 20 feet from a logging operation,” said Jack Nounnan, 71, a local retired schoolteacher and lifelong activist, who regularly hikes out to Rainbow Ridge to support the direct-action group Forest Defense. “We were sneaking up on a tree that they were going to get the next morning. We get the sits together with the platforms, the rigging, then they go up.”
Remedy’s neighbor, about 50 feet away as the marbled murrelet flies, is Wren. At 26, Wren showed up directly from New Jersey and has been up in her tree since May. “I decided it was worth it to risk going to jail because if I didn’t,” she said, “I could turn around and this ecosystem could be destroyed.
Corporations have too much power. We can definitely do something about it.”
The action involves personal risk.
Since late 2000, authorities have made 50 to 60 arrests related to logging protests, most for trespassing — including 24 since September, with six jailings, said County Sheriff Gary Philp.
Over that time, activists have also reported at least ten incidents of physical retaliation from Maxxam/Pacific Lumber workers and security. The reports could not be confirmed by Maxxam — or by Humboldt County, which has refused residents’ requests to dispatch official observers to keep a truce between the two sides.
Most of the alleged incidents involve the remote Rainbow Ridge on the Lost Coast, near Petrolia. Rainbow Ridge is a 14-mile hike from the nearest public road. The underground network of activists who make that hike includes tree-sitters, those who block roads with their cars or bodies, slash pilers (who pile up logged branches to hinder equipment), people who lock themselves to logging equipment, and people who provide support — hiking in supplies, hiking out waste.
There’s also tactical support. “If someone is locked down (locked to a piece of equipment), you don’t just leave,” said Ayr, who has spent time on the front lines of direct action at Rainbow Ridge and has been arrested once. “You have to have a group to greet the loggers and be a witness.”
It’s not an easy time in the Mattole woods. Since 2001, Maxxam has had authorities forcibly remove two Mattole protest base camps and regularly take down tree-sits. In early 2001, an Earth First! press release reported that while temperatures were in the 40-degree vicinity, law enforcement, including California Fish & Game wardens, poured cold water on protesters ten times over four hours. Observers took photographs of the event and later posted them on an Earth First! web site. Fish and Game Captain Steve Conger denied the incident. In June, 2001, Fish and Game employees helped the county sheriff chase protesters with dogs, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, according to activist supporter Nounnan. “How can they treat us like poachers?” Nounnan asked. “They’re the poachers.” Both agencies denied the account; Fish and Game Lieutenant James Barton said, “We did chase people around on foot.”
Pacific Lumber spokesperson Mary Bullwinkle said she was unaware whether company representatives have been involved in any physical encounters with protesters. But in early August, observers reported that Maxxam security forces did not wait for county sheriffs to arrive before using a metal grinder to cut through a pipe shackling a protester to a loader. Among other injuries, she reported burns from the cutter’s sparks.
In April 2001, Maxxam raised the stakes, filing a far-reaching civil suit against protesters and their local supporters. “These people entered into a conspiracy,” said Pacific Lumber attorney Paul Brisso. “By blocking access of contractors and subcontractors, [they’ve caused] a substantial amount of damage just in down equipment time, helicopters, and crews idled.”
The civil suit, which has targeted actions from locking down to supplying food to talking on the radio, demands restitution for the time and cost of uncompleted logging. Maxxam is going after all protesters as a single entity, threatening them with group liability for the full amount of damages. Those damages could total $100,000 or more, as Brisso counts it. And the economic liens that could result from it could hang over protesters’ heads for the rest of their lives, jeopardizing their ability to get jobs, buy houses, or secure credit.
The suit started with nine defendants, but Maxxam has since added more than 50 names, leaving room for 200 “John and Jane Does.” Every time a new protester is arrested, “jailers would serve them with the (civil) lawsuit,” said attorney Jay Moller, who represents many of the accused.
One local resident, Ellen Taylor, was sued simply for speaking on the local KMUD radio station against Maxxam’s logging. Defended by the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, Taylor won a dismissal on grounds of free speech. Maxxam has appealed the dismissal. In 2001, a similarly open-ended suit targeted protesters on the South Fork of the Elk River.
In April, Pacific Lumber launched a new assault on the protesters: Pacific Lumber president and chief executive officer Robert Manne asked the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to apply for federal anti-terrorism funds to fight what the company branded “eco-terrorists” on its property. Humboldt County Sheriff spokesperson Dennis Lewis said the county does hope to get some funds through the Homeland Security Act — but not necessarily for eco-terrorism.
But that hasn’t deterred Maxxam. “In April, when I warned the supervisors that eco-terrorism was coming to Humboldt County, there were those who scoffed,” Manne stated in August, after protesters locked themselves into a car at the entrance to the company’s office. “This kind of activity, coupled with (late July’s) illegal blockade of Highway 36, where protesters chained themselves to a logging truck near our Carlotta Mill, fits a pattern of behavior that the Department of Justice will be keenly interested in reviewing.”
But protesters and their supporters have their own idea about what the courts should be “keenly interested” in reviewing: Maxxam’s pattern of destructive, illegal logging — and complicity by regulators.
They point out that in 1998, after it incurred more than 250 violations of state forestry laws, Maxxam had its timber license revoked. In 1999, the license was granted conditionally and restored at year’s end. But since 1999, Maxxam has run up about 100 more violations, according to Garberville, California–based Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC).
In August 2002, ruling in an EPIC suit, Judge John Golden of the California Superior Court in Humboldt ordered Maxxam to halt logging, finding that regulators had failed to provide documentation demanded by challenges to logging permits. Maxxam ignored the order, claiming the stay doesn’t unequivocally block its harvest, and continued to log even after Golden issued a September clarification: Logging should stop. The California Department of Forestry (CDF), enforcer of state law, hasn’t challenged the companies’ response to Golden. “In terms of ongoing [logging],” CDF spokeswoman Karen Terrill told KMUD radio following the stay, “We’ll defer to Pacific Lumber. We’ll just defer to them.”
That deference is not cutting it with activists. On June 20, EPIC helped launch a petition to challenge the forestry department’s sole authority to approve logging operations, citing its neglect of the federal Clean Water Act. On Maxxam land alone, five streams have been rated as “degraded” by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The petition is still pending.
“The regulatory process is more of an enabling process,” said Maxxam neighbor and sustainable forestry advocate David Simpson, who is advocating a community purchase of Maxxam land. “[Regulators are] enabling companies to continue operations in an era when the public is demanding more oversight.”
The regulatory void has brought devastation to places like Rainbow Ridge, which locals call “the sacrifice zone.”
In 1999, when taxpayers bought 7,500 acres of Maxxam’s ancient redwood forest known as Headwaters, the company was awarded a loophole to the Endangered Species Act in logging its remaining acres, including some of its old growth.
“We in the Mattole knew that if we got those old-growth redwoods at Headwaters, they’d come after the old-growth Douglas fir [on Rainbow Ridge],” said Jane Lapiner, a Mattole watershed resident for nearly 30 years.
She was right. And that’s not good news for the Mattole.
Throughout the watershed, Maxxam’s logging has already caused excess runoff, silt, and debris that have mucked up swimming holes, destroyed coho habitat, flooded property, and damaged 20 years of nationally renowned, publicly funded efforts to restore salmon runs.
Maxxam’s current harvest plans on the Mattole, at least ten in all, would accelerate the damage. According to the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, the plans amount to a liquidation of Maxxam’s entire 3,000 acres of old growth on the ridge.
Straddling several earthquake faults, precipitously steep in places, Rainbow Ridge is one of the most earthquake-prone places in California. It also receives one of the highest rainfalls in the state — up to 200 inches, about ten times the state average. Since trees absorb rainfall and bind soil with roots, they are a hillside’s primary buffer. After heavy logging, even moderate rains can cause floods, mud flows, and landslides. Throw in earthquakes, and “it’s a prescription for environmental disaster,” said Michael Evenson, a downstream rancher who successfully sued Maxxam after its previous logging triggered a flood that damaged his property in 1997.
Maxxam was logging Rainbow Ridge with abandon over the summer. During interviews for this article, activists were responding to phone calls through their networks advising that Maxxam had just begun cutting in several stands during a weekend. Within days, treesitters had surreptitiously erected an 80-foot-high platform linking four Douglas fir trees on the ridge.
On the other side of Maxxam’s holdings, in the Freshwater Creek watershed, local support for Remedy, Wren, and the other protesters is boosted by similar concerns — including the prospect of silted-up drinking water and imminent landslides. In 1997, the town of Stafford suffered a catastrophic slide, originating from a Maxxam clearcut. Residents sued over related damages and settled for $3.3 million.
But even such lawsuits have not stopped Maxxam’s logging.
“There’s no other way of dealing with it at this point,” said Remedy. “People have done everything that they’re supposed to do. They’ve taken them to court. They’ve gone to the state Board of Forestry. The legal channels have been exhausted. What Maxxam is doing is extreme — and it calls for an extreme response.”

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