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The Eagle Creek Free State

Beth Barnett

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 not involved.

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 to you?

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 lower.

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 bourgeois paradise.

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 wilderness.

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 you recommend?

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

As well, folks should check out the Pickaxe video on Warner Creek. And visit/support your local Forest Defense Campaign.

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