Defend the Mattole

Ancient trees felled by corporate greed

The struggle to save ancient trees located in the Mattole watershed in Humboldt County – the second largest intact stand of lowland old growth Douglas Fir forest in California – is heating up this summer, and action is needed now to save this treasure. Although forest defenders and residents of the Mattole River basin were successful over the winter in gaining a significant reprieve for the old growth forest through citizen lawsuits and courageous direct action, this spring saw the re-activation of logging plans, along with legal and physical assaults on the forest defenders and their blockades deep in the forest.

Pacific Lumber (PL), which already logged most of the old growth redwoods in Headwaters Forest, began cutting trees in early May, and ancient tress are falling as you read this article.

This exceptionally sensitive ecosystem is home to Coho salmon and steelhead trout, river otters, northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, Pacific fishers, and a small rural community committed to preserving it. Its pristine, remote, very steep and rugged mix of forest and prairie can receive as much as 100 inches of rain annually.

The forests of the Mattole’s Rainbow Ridge hold together the soil in what is likely the most seismically active area in California. Situated at the meeting of three tectonic plates, the area experiences frequent earthquakes and monsoon-like downpours, making it exceptionally vulnerable to the impacts of timber harvest. Clear-cut logging leaves the land exposed to the full force of torrential rains, adding to already high background rates of erosion. Raw landslide scars caused by logging in the 1980s continue to bleed sediment into downstream tributaries, which historically supported healthy fisheries. Some of the pioneer work in stream restoration has been carried out in the Mattole. Further logging would damage what little clean-water habitat remains.

Eight Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) totaling over 400 acres have been making their way through the approval bureaucracy. According to a map prepared by the Mattole Restoration Council, 91 percent of the old growth forests in the Mattole watershed were cut between 1947 and 1988. Of the 9 percent remaining, the largest block is in the Lower North Fork of the Mattole, in the area known as the Rainbow Ridge. Large contiguous blocks are especially important because they insulate the creatures that inhabit them from the edges of the forest.

Before cutting restarted, activists had occupied the forest continuously since late November, spurred by a brief logging spree that month. The raids on the activists’ deep woods camp, where they had erected bipods, “sleeping dragon” lockdowns, tree sits and other blockades, began in earnest in April, with loggers and Department of Fish and Game (DFG) poacher trackers assisting the Humboldt County Sheriffs Department.

The DFG trackers, brought in from Siskiyou county where they normally chase bear poachers, chased two activists off a cliff. One fell about 40 feet and had to be airlifted out to the hospital. The other, a first time forest defender from Toronto, Canada, is still hobbling around on crutches suffering from tendon damage.

Humboldt residents are urging the County Board of Supervisors to send human rights monitors into the forest during protests. On more than one occasion, men from Lewis Logging, a contractor with PL, cut sitters out of trees, after taking their water, food and shoes, without law enforcement even being present.

Sheriff’s deputies have burned materials seized in their ransacking, including plastic tarps, buckets and sleeping bags. As of June 1, there have been 33 arrests in the Mattole since logging began on May 9; 52 since November. Those arrested in April are getting through their court proceedings, and some face inordinately stiff sentences.

On May 23, two activists were sentenced after being found guilty of trespass and resisting arrest (“resisting” usually simply means one is engaged in a lockdown, using a bicycle lock or a “black bear” metal sleeve device) to 30 days and 120 days in jail.

David Werher, a Bay Area activist and Americorps volunteer, is facing trumped up felony child endangerment charges after eight teenagers enrolled in the Urban Pioneer Program at San Francisco Unified School District were arrested on trespass charges in the Mattole area. They had traveled to the Mattole on a school-sanctioned field trip with parental permission to experience this stunning old growth forest and learn about salmon restoration efforts on the river. Werher is facing a stiff prison sentence, although one parent was quoted in the newspaper as saying about her son, “Any danger he was in was from the loggers, the police department and the fish and game dept. I think they came home more courageous, angry at what’s going on in the world.”

In a further attack on its critics, PL filed a lawsuit on April 6 against “North Coast Earth First!” “Mattole Forest Defenders”, 18 individuals, and “Jane and John Does 1 – 200” Many of those Does have since been added as real people, as PL serves those being released from jail on trespass charges. The parents of the Americorps teenagers have also been served.

This lawsuit is a “SLAPP suit” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) – it seeks to punish citizens’ who protest the activities of corporations seen as threatening or damaging to them, their community, and the environment. By suing in civil Court, activists are forced to spend scarce time and resources on lawyers, not in the forests. The suit is clearly designed to quash dissent and protest against PL.

Pacific Lumber is also seeking to get an injunction against the protesters named in the lawsuit. The Mattole, the “Hole in the Headwaters”, and other endangered old growth forest are regarded as the sacrifice zones of the Headwaters Deal that Maxxam (the corporate parent of PL) negotiated with the government two years ago: Maxxam/PL is able to log sensitive areas under the so-called Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and Sustained Yield Plan that would otherwise be subject to legal challenge under the Endangered Species Act. The HCPs compromises the intent of the Endangered Species Act – cutting old growth forest is anything but sustainable.

Forest defenders in Humboldt need material and financial support, publicity and public pressure for their cause, and reinforcements. Consider spending part of your summer agitating for the ancient trees in the city of Sacramento, or coming up to Humboldt County. For more information on how you can get involved contact the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters located at the Ecology Center building in Berkeley: Headwaters Hotline 510-835-6303 and/or subscribe to the BACH listserve (specific to Northcoast old growth forest issues and related events in the Bay Area – no deluges of email). To subscribe, send an email msg to In the text of the message put subscribe BACHlist followed by your email address followed by your name (no commas). Excellent coverage is available on the web at the San Francisco Indy Media site: and Mattole Forest Defense site:

Up north contact: Mattole Forest Defenders and North Coast Earth First! 707-825-6598,

Freedom in Sight for Bear Lincoln

One of the few pieces of good news in November’s elections came from Mendocino county, where DA Susan Massini lost her bid for re-election and Norm Vroman was voted in. Massini, besides having prosecuted many EF!ers and definitely not being a friend of progressives (much less radicals), had been rabid about prosecuting Bear Lincoln, the Indian man accused of fatally shooting a Mendocino county sheriff’s deputy in 1995. In fact, Bear’s friend Leonard Acorn Peters, another resident of the Round Valley Indian Reservation, was killed the night in April, 1995 by the cops in a case of mistaken identity. Most people close to the situation felt the partner of the deputy who killed Acorn did the shooting Bear was accused of.

Bear was acquitted by an all-white jury in a highly publicized murder trial in August 1997. He had spent over 2 years in jail without bail (after 4 months underground) awaiting trial, and the trial exposed corruption, cover-up and racism in the Mendocino county sheriff’s dept. Massini announced after the acquittal that she would pursue a second trial, and filed manslaughter charges. DA candidate Norm Vroman had said strongly and clearly early in his campaign that he would not pursue another trial for Bear Lincoln. So provided he sticks to his campaign promises, Bear Lincoln will finally be a free man, three and a half years after he watched his lifelong friend gunned down on a dirt road on the edge of the reservation in northeast Mendocino county.

Contact the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH) Ecology Center 2530 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley, CA 94702 phone: 510 548 3113 email:

Earth First! Activist Killed In Headwaters Forest

I flash back to 1990. Isn’t this what we were fearful of when we exclaimed, “Jesus, they almost killed Judi Bari! That shows they’ll use lethal force”–they were whipping up a frenzy of animosity against Earth First!ers among the loggers with dishonest rhetoric about jobs, –“Someone could get killed!”, we said. Yeah. And someone did.

Just after noon on Thursday, September 17, Headwaters Forest defender David Nathan Chain, known to his friends as Gypsy, lost his life when a tree cut by a Pacific Lumber logger crushed him to death.

Gypsy and eight other Earth First!ers had ventured into an active timber harvest plan in the Grizzly Creek area of Headwaters Forest complex to protest reported violations of Forest Practice Rules, bring the violations to the attention of the logging crew, and to get the state forestry agency to come out and inspect the site. On the 17th and the previous day, a small group of people had been engaging the loggers on site in dialogue in an attempt to slow the logging down. PL had not amended their logging plan to reflect the road building they were conducting next to marbled murrelet habitat. The day following Gypsy’s death, the California Dept. of Forestry did inspect the site and subsequently issued a finding that a violation had occurred.

After the tree that crushed Gypsy was felled, the small group of people in his affinity group scrambled out of the brush where they had taken cover, yelling at the logger that he could have killed them when one of the group started frantically calling out for Gypsy, saying “Where’s Gypsy, he was right behind me, I can’t find him, Gypsy!” When the logger who felled the tree found Gypsy, he fell to his knees and prayed. Gypsy’s friends prayed and cried near where he lay while one of them ran to the state park phone about a mile and a half away.

The timber company immediately dove for cover, issuing a statement calling the death a “tragic accident”, claiming the loggers were not aware of protesters’ presence and citing what they called their “best in the industry” safety record. They also claimed Gypsy was hit by a “domino tree”, a second tree downed by the tree cut by the logger. These claims had nothing to do with the truth, but were issued before any details emerged.

The fact that the loggers were indeed aware of protesters’ presence was corroborated by a video tape recorded less than an hour before Gypsy was killed, containing threats and admonitions by the logger to ” Get the fuck out of here or there’s going to be a tree coming your way!”

Pacific Lumbers’ disingenuous claim that the loggers didn’t know they were endangering anyone was followed by comments to the media suggesting that it’s time to stop these protests, that organizers are putting young recruits in harm’s way, etc. These media feeds culminated in what looks to be the first volley in a “blame the victims” smear campaign: a press packet containing 2 pages of Earth First!’s Direct Action Manual describing “cat and mouse” woods actions. PL president John Campbell’s comment in the accompanying press release was “If you read the rules, … it’s just a game. Only the people who work in the forest and their families are supposed to be hurt”, seemingly suffering a memory lapse in terms of just who had lost their life.

A vigil and blockade quickly evolved at the site, people locking down to a junked car blocking the access road the next morning. People locked to equipment at the ridgetop where Gypsy was killed, and an alter was set up in the middle of the road near the entrance. Had this blockade not been in place, PL crews arriving for work the morning of Sept. 18 would have hauled out the trees, rendering an investigation of the site impossible. It is not clear what PL’s policy is for workers encountering protesters in the woods but this is certainly not the first time loggers have acted menacingly towards protesters.

The blockade/vigil continued until early in the morning of Oct. 7 when 42 members of several law enforcement agencies descended on the Grizzly Creek site to break up the blockade. They forcibly removed those at the site, breaking up the barricade and moved up the hill to where several activists were attached to a loader. They proceeded to douse two young women who were locked to equipment with pepper spray, pouring the caustic substance directly into their eyes from their hands. These two women, once taken to jail, were denied medical attention for more than 24 hours. The following morning, a group of 30 people returned to the site and set up a road blockade consisting of 9 people linked together across the road. To intimidate those taking part in the blockade into unlocking, sheriff’s deputies singled out one woman and subjected her to three applications of pepper spray, using her pain as a warning to the others. Finally, at the end of October, PL hauled their yarder (the equipment used to remove downed trees) out of the area, indicating that they won’t be clearing the site soon.

While Gypsy’s death is not as overtly political an act as the bombing of Judi Bari was, as the attacks on the Black Panthers were, it was surrounded by, immersed in, fed by and caused by a political attack that has been going on for a number of years, peaking in 1988-1990 and in recent years escalating again.

What happened in 1990 when the bomb was planted in Judi Bari’s car, (a bomb that was meant to kill) was carried out as part of an on-going agenda that was calculated and deliberate. What happened to Gypsy happened rather spontaneously in that the logger didn’t wake up that morning and say, “Hey, I’m gonna go kill me a protester‚Ķ” but the two incidents warrant comparison in that both were promulgated by the climate of violence, by the tolerance of violence against Earth First! that has been bred and fed by Pacific Lumber & the other corporations, and the law enforcement agencies. (That’s here in California‚Ķin Idaho it’s Shearer Lumber and Forest Service personnel in Florida it’s Procter and Gamble, in Maine it’s International Paper; in Nigeria it’s Shell and Chevron.)

Whether or not the logger had fully come to terms with the fact that he could be responsible for taking someone’s life, it is clear he had directly threatened to fall trees in the direction of protesters, and then followed through on that threat. On the video tape are his shouts, “Better wear a hard hat, because this one’s coming for you” Earlier he had screamed “Oh fuck! I wish I had my fucking pistol! I’m going to have to start packing my pistol” .

The Humboldt Sheriff’s Dept. also has a long record of non-enforcement and non-investigation of incidents of violence, harassment and threats of violence when the targets are people associated with Earth First! or Headwaters defense. The backdrop for Gypsy’s death is the tolerance and encouragement of animosity and violence towards Earth First!

Clearly, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Dept., the law enforcement agency currently under litigation for a previous incident of swabbing pepper spray into the eyes of Earth First! activists is not the fair and impartial agency to conduct an investigation.

Scores of organizations and individuals have rallied around a call for an independent investigation in the wake of this killing, including Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America, the Action Resource Center, the Sierra Club, many members of the clergy, and 100 signers on to a letter circulated by EPIC calling for an independent investigation of the incident and of Pacific Lumber’s and Humboldt county law enforcement’s policy of encouraging violence against environmentalists. Humboldt attorney Steve Schectman is preparing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family.

The list of incidents that have been unprosecuted and uninvestigated in course of forest campaigns here is long–they’ve brought snipers out, threatened to shoot people, driven a logging truck into a crowd, broken a nose with a full punch to the face, assaul
ted people, hog-tied c.d.ers, etc.

But it’s worth recognizing that with the exception of the bombing of Judi Bari and the killing of Gypsy, (BIG exceptions, granted) the level of violence against eco-preservationists has been much worse in places other than Northern California, like Idaho…and Nigeria!

When we decry this tragedy and say it must not happen again we have to grapple with why it happens. It’s not because loggers have the bad seed gene, or because there’s a ‘natural’ animosity between loggers and enviros. It is because the greed-driven profit motive seeks a reduction of the numbers of people defending the earth and holding the earth sacred.

Logging is not a safe job. Mill work is not a safe job. That’s why they have safety standards. Protesting is not necessarily a safe job. That’s one of the reasons we have non-violence preps. We’re defenders in a WAR that is being waged against the earth and casualties can be of several species. I’m not suggesting it’s inevitable–I’m contending that’s why it happened. They’re at war.

Let’s neither make a martyr of Gypsy nor a villain of Arlington Ammons, the logger. Gypsy deserves to be a hero, who died fighting for what he believed in. And while blame needs to be laid at the feet of the logger, the bulk of blame needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the corporation: Maxxam/PL.