The Eagle Creek Free State
When I learned that Alfonso, an old friend, was spending the summer
living in the Eagle Creek Free State in defense of an area of forest,
I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about it first
hand. I'm pretty aware of environmental issues and forest ecology
and view our forests as important resources intact. However, I don't
vigorously keep tabs on forest activism news and haven't been involved
personally. I know there are a lot of people out there like me who
want to hear about environmental activism and get more exposed, if
Forest Activism and Forest issues are a hot topic in the Northwest,
and in California particularly, because of the abundance of National
Forests. Many states east of the Rocky Mountains cut their native
forests out of existence in the 19th Century. In Oregon, because
of the relatively small population of 3 million, concentrated primarily
in the Willamette Valley west of the Cascade Range, there are actually
a few remaining old-growth forest fragments that have never been
logged, or at least never logged by non-indigenous groups. Diversely
populated forests and roadless wilderness are increasingly rare due
to logging. I have found such areas that I have hiked into to be
unique and wonderful places especially when contrasted with
clear-cut areas. Forest activism calls attention to the behavior
of logging corporations and of our National Forest Service, with
a hope of preventing unnecessary and excessive logging and increasing
public awareness of forest issues.
Clamor: I've heard about the Eagle Creek sale situation, but
could use a summary as could a lot of other folks. What's
the history of the situation and what's going on right now that
people should know about?
Alfonso: The Eagle Creek Free State is a motley, yet effective,
collection of structures (tree sits and road blockades), individuals,
and base camps in the Mt. Hood National Forest. The Free State is
located within the Eagle Creek Timber Sale that is about an hour
and half outside of Portland, Oregon. The Free State is currently
stopping the logging of native forest within the Eagle Creek watershed,
which provides water for over 250,000 people.
In 1995, the US Legislature passed this really fucked bill that
allowed "salvage logging" all over the northwestern part
of the United States. This bill allowed the US Forest Service and
other governmental organizations to facilitate their destruction
of indigenous eco-systems. The "salvage logging" bill allows
timber harvesting that is not regulated by other environmental laws
such as the Endangered Species Act. This creates a situation in which
groups can't really challenge the fucked-up, ecologically unsustainable
practices of corporate timber harvesting such as clear cutting or
logging in old growth and native forests. In addition, the "salvage" bill
was only passed because it was put in front of the legislature as
a rider on to the same bill that authorized relief funds for the
victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing. No representative in her right
mind would have voted against that.
Anyway, folks have been working to stop the logging of Eagle Creek
for 5 or 6 years. There have been full-time direct actions in the
woods for 3 years. These actions have included lock-downs, tree-sits,
suicide platforms blocking the road, and disruptions of active logging.
Why Eagle Creek and not some other part of the patch-work of
clear-cut forest plots in the mountains around Portland, or some
other area of old growth?
Nobody wants this forest to be cut down. It is native forest. That
means that it has never been logged. It is the home of red tree voles,
spotted owls, cougars, salamanders, and dirty kids in the trees.
The logging company doesn't want to cut it. The locals don't want
it cut. The people of Portland don't want it cut. The eco-groups
don't want it cut. The only group that wants to cut it is the Forest
Service. Well, so far, this logging season as of September 2001,
they have failed. Not one single tree has been cut or taken.
Furthermore it is right next to the Salmon-Huckleberry wilderness
area, a huge untouched wilderness area that is only over the ridge.
Eagle Creek is an important chunk of roadless area that is integral
to the habitat contained within the Salmon-Huckleberry area.
Why is the preservation of remaining old-growth forest so important
We have so little intact wilderness areas left in this part of the
world. I could give all sorts of valid ecological reasons for maintaining
watersheds and bio-diversity. But to be completely clear, I think
that our culture has developed an unhealthy way of viewing our relationship
with each other and the Earth. I believe in revolution for social
and ecological reasons. And I think that defending the little wilderness
we have left is a part of that revolution.
Yes. So what type of resistance is actually going on at Eagle Creek?
What are the activist tactics?
The entire campaign is using several different types of strategies.
We, as a campaign, engage in lobbying the Forest Service, the Department
of Agriculture, and the Legislature. We would challenge the sale
in the courts, but the "Salvage" bill effectively limited
that option. We build mass support against the sale, and we engage
in direct action in the woods.
At this point, I am most knowledgeable about the direct action in
the woods end of the campaign at Eagle. In the woods, folks are involved
in sitting structures, which physically protect a tree and a circle
of 250 feet around the structure or last support line. We use tree
sits and suspended platforms at heights of up to 150 feet, but often
We have also engaged in lock-downs to gates and vehicles on the
road to limit their access to the timber sale. In addition, for the
two logging seasons before this current one (2001), there were suicide
pods suspended over the roads. In short, folks couldn't drive down
the road or through the gates cuz if they did, activists would fall
to their deaths or be hung. We've also played cat and mouse with
the Freddies (Forest Service Officers) and the loggers in active
cuts. This is a method of putting our bodies physically in the way
of logging on the ground. It is very dangerous, scary and strenuous.
This is the tactic that Gypsy was engaged in in Humboldt County,
when he was killed by a logger in 1998.
That sounds pretty scary. Are the activists at Eagle Creek pretty
flexible about who does that type of high-risk stuff? I know there
are usually a few activists who are real risk takers and others who
choose not to do everything that is thought up...
Of course. Folks decide for themselves what types of activities
in which they want to be involved. And people have different levels
of comfort, skills, and sheer dedication. In general, all the forest
campaigns that I've been a part of have had really good operational
security. This means that folks are careful about whom they involve
in illegal actions such as building sits, sitting structures, supplying
structures, etc. I should really point that at Eagle we try hard
to root out the stupid macho patriarchal pressure that is often placed
upon activists to be "core." We try and respect folks'
comfort levels, and get rid of macho attitudes.
Is forest activism a full-time commitment and if so, how do you
guys support yourselves?
It depends on the activists. There are some activists who have a
place in town and come out every once in a while. And there are some
activists who work in town with getting supplies, making phone calls,
etc. And there are some activists who pretty much live in the woods
full time. People support themselves in different ways. In general,
we are a community and we take care of each other. We salvage most
of our supplies/building materials. Local stores kick down an amazing
amount of goods and supplies. And Eagle is lucky enough to have a
strong donation base.
I know there's constant conflict with the Forest Service in actions
like the one at Eagle Creek. How much trouble is there with the
forest service/police? What kind of interaction have you seen or
experienced up there?
The forest service's job is to harass us and stop us from interfering
in the logging operations. They constantly spy on us, file made-up
charges, and generally act like assholes. For example, just a few
months ago, there was this one Freddy who would dress in camo, night-vision,
and face make-up. He'd be out spying and surveilling us all night.
It turns out that his co-workers are even scared of him cuz he is
a real fucking psycho.
I've seen Freddies try and get [our] dogs to come close to them
so that they can mace them or hit them with tactical batons. I saw
a Freddy and four paramedics tackle and hit a wounded activist. I
saw one Freddy almost cut a support line that was holding an activist
up in a blockade. That activist was 70-80 feet up in a collapsible
suicide platform that was blocking the road. Right after that, the
Freddy cut an activist's hand with his knife. I have to admit that
we kinda hate the Freddies. It is hard watching them consistently
torture and threaten your friends lives.
What's the legal authority of Forest Service officers? How are
they different from cops encountered in urban activism?
The Freddies are definitely cops. They carry weapons. They have
police powers. They have investigative authority. In fact, they are
Federal officers. They can carry weapons over state lines. They file
federal charges. They are frequently transferred from one National
Forest to another.
I debate "activism" and direct action within myself
a lot, often because I tend to be cautious and avoid situations
where there is a possibility of arrest, getting sucked into the "justice
system," or just getting hurt. What is it that empowers you
to be an activist and put yourself at risk? Do you feel like this
issue strikes something deeply personal, or it's something about
your personality makes you inclined to act?
I hate being arrested. I hate losing my freedom. I hate being vulnerable
to the police and those with police powers. So, I don't put myself
in positions where I'm definitely going to be arrested. In the woods,
it is totally different than in the city. If a Freddy is trying to
arrest a person, they have to catch that person first. And most Freddies
are fat assholes who can't walk through the forest without falling
on their ass. Of course, there are exceptions (i.e. Super-Freddies,
poaching enforcement agents, etc.). Or you are 150 feet in the canopy
and they can't get you.
Activism is empowering. It makes me feel like I have some control
in my life. It allows me to look myself in the mirror in the morning
without being disgusted. Furthermore, with forest defense, you can
see the results. They are right in front of you. There are parts
of Eagle Creek that would be totally destroyed if it weren't for
our silly little tactics. But, nope, the forests are still forests.
The forests keep you going.
And of course, I have to admit my class privilege that allows me
to be an "activist," whatever that is. I'm definitely a
privileged member of society. Hell, I'm on vacation from the woods
typing this interview on my mamma's computer, in her middle class
Have there been any victories for the activists' movement that
give you and your colleagues momentum to continue in Forest Activism?
Well, I'm pretty new to backwoods direct action, but there are definitely
some victories. For example, Warner Creek is a notable victory. Warner
Creek was a salvage sale in the mid-late '90s. There was a Free State
blockade. It was totally empowering and successful. There is a documentary
on it called Pickaxe. Another inspiring campaign is the Watch mountain
campaign. Watch mountain is a great example of direct action and
local support coming together to stop Capital and State from destroying
When I spend time in the national forests hiking and camping,
I always laugh at the irony that literature for hikers and backpackers
stresses the "Leave No Trace" ethic, encouraging us not
to take shortcuts on trails because it causes erosion. But then
in the same forest we pass steep, chewed-up hillsides where every
tree has been cut and erosion is destined to occur. Do you encounter
this conflict in encounters with forest service employees? Do you
sense the competing interests within the "opposition" which
tries to silence and eradicate activists in the forest?
Definitely. The Forest service likes to green wash itself as protecting
the environment. However, they are really there to promote timber
agriculture. Hell, the USFS is part of the US Dept. of Agriculture.
The Forest Service constantly sends out these press releases that
say that activists are destroying "Resources." For example,
they will tell the press that we are shitting in the watershed. Well,
I have to admit that it is true. We are shitting in the watershed.
But, everyone shits in a watershed. Everything is a watershed. The
entire planet is comprised of different watersheds. Or, the Forest
Service will say that we are trampling under-growth under the tree-sits.
This is also true people have to make paths to walk around
under the trees. But if there weren't tree-sits, then the whole stand
would be a big clear-cut. It is totally ridiculous.
I believe that forests have value as natural systems, and appreciate
old growth and naturally diverse tree populations. But, I also
know there is a huge demand for wood products. What would you envision
as the ideal policy for the forest service and the country toward
our forests that would provide a healthy ecosystem and timber for
the wood product demand?
First of all, I personally am not against all logging. I think that
humans can log sustainably. At this late point in the game, I am
against all logging on lands that are old-growth or native forest.
As a society we can do much to limit our consumption of wood products.
A few examples: stop using stud framing and return to timber frame
construction, use more natural alternative construction materials
such as straw bales, or cob. We could use far less paper.
As for supply, I think that it is possible to log selectively and
sustainably (although, many places use those terms to green-wash
their clear cutting practices). In British Columbia, a First Nation
has created a timber company with Weyerhauser (a pretty horrible
company). But the First Nation has retained a permanent majority
in stock. I haven't seen it, but supposedly on Cat Mountain, they
are doing really revolutionary and sustainable selective logging.
At the very least, I would hope that multinational corporations
would be broken up, and the local logging companies would be returned
to local hands. Many of the huge timber companies became really horrible
after being purchased by these huge multinationals that have no ties
to the local communities.
Anything else I should have asked you or that you really want
to tell me about?
It is amazing traversing from one huge old Doug Fir tree to another,
150 feet from the ground with snow falling around you. It is amazing
running through the forest with the pigs chasing you only to get
away, cuz you are a part of the forest and they are just in it to
destroy it. It is amazing stumbling back into camp after a 15 mile
hike up and down ridges with a heavy pack. The circle of firelight
is filled with your friends, lovers, and annoyances. Smoke is the
smell of home. Soup is dinner. The forest is alive.
Are there any good resources on Eagle Creek, forests, or environment
in general that interested people should be looking up that
Folks should come out and visit us if they are in Portland, Oregon.
We have an office at 1540 SE Clinton, Portland OR, 97208. Our phone
number is 503.241.4879. And our web site is at www.cascadiaforestalliance.com.
As well, folks should check out the Pickaxe video on Warner Creek.
And visit/support your local Forest Defense Campaign.