Saving the Old-Growth in the Mattole Valley
from Mattole Forest Defenders/Northcoast Earth First!
A remarkable drama is playing itself out in the remote Mattole Valley on northern Californias Lost Coast. Residents of the remote watershed are rising up in growing numbers in opposition to logging in one of the last great stands of old growth Douglas fir still in private hands in the entire region. At stake is almost 3000 acres of previously unentered forest as well as the rights of a local community to protect their watershed and their future against the economic demands of a distantly run corporation.
The Mattole has been the scene of one of North Americas most comprehensive entirely citizen-run effort to take on the restoration of an entire watershed. Since 1975, the people of the Mattole have been struggling to rescue their once great salmon runs from an oblivion to which 40 years of intensive and often damaging logging seemed to have doomed them. (93% of the valleys forest lands were logged since WWII. Salmon runs are at about 5% of their original stature.) Now, residents of all ages and walks of life are rising up, literally, at three in the morning every day, to stand vigil at the gates that loggers must use to get to Rainbow Ridge, the site of the challenged timber harvest plans.
Rainbow Ridge is currently the property of Pacific Lumber Company, once a well-run family-owned operation, that was taken over by corporate raider, Charles Hurwitz and his Houston, Texas-based Maxxam corporation in 1985. Hurwitz has since been rapidly and systematically reducing the standing timber volume, especially the old growth, on the companys 200,000 acres. Prior timber harvest plans on PLs lands in the Rainbow Ridge area, like the current ones, call for clearcutting in old growth forest stands, a practice largely discredited elsewhere in California. The earlier logging has resulted in delivery into the river system of so much sediment from steep eroding slopes that the whole lower mainstem of the Mattole has been destabilized.
Most recently, PL gained a measure of attention when they sold to the government some of their last stands, amounting to thousands of acres, of old growth redwood. This Headwaters deal was sold to the public by the Clinton administration and others as an unqualified environmental success. In fact, the deal gave the company almost a half a billion dollars plus the latitude to log heavily on its other holdings under a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). These HCPs have come to be the preferred tool in the Clinton era for abetting resource extraction that endangered species considerations might otherwise prevent.
Residents in the Mattole and in other watersheds in the area began to think of their valleys as Orphans of Headwaters since their old growth and associated endangered species seemed to have been thrown up for grabs. When PL began to submit a series of eight timber harvest plans for Rainbow Ridge over the past two years, all of them calling for clear-cutting in old growth, people began to fight back. How they have fought is a combination of legal challenges, public relations campaigns and, when all other means to stop the logging failed, direct action in the woods and at the gates.
The leading edge of the citizen struggle are a group of dedicated young people who call themselves the Mattole Forest Defenders among whom were core members of the team that supported Julia Butterfly in her two-year long tree sit and defended Headwaters Forest with nonviolent direct action. Some are local, some from out of the area, all are willing to make considerable sacrifices. They set up a camp on Rainbow itself in the deepening winter, a 12 mile hike in, and faced rain, snow, cold and hunger while waiting for the logging to begin. When it finally did, they were ready.
Their method was to stand between the loggers and the trees to slow down the rate at which the big stems could be fallen. It is very dangerous work. The fact that the loggers have been accompanied each day by 9 to 12 Humboldt County Deputy Sheriffs has not limited the activists effectiveness. The sheriffs role in the woods was described by one of the Forest Defenders as that of blocking backs for the tree fallers.
Its now been four months since Maxxam/Pacific Lumber sent in Columbia Helicopter loggers accompanied by Humboldt County Sheriffs to clearcut the old-growth. Since then, the Mattole Forest Defenders have moved almost 2 miles up Long Ridge to create the Mattole Free State, a blockade complete with several lockdowns, a junked car and hanging pods across the road. The idea is to stop Maxxams crews before they can get their chainsaws in the forest. Clearly Maxxam has chosen not to challenge the blockade and the near constant presence of 30 non-violent forest defenders in the woods has effectively shut down their operations for 16 weeks, a growing Humboldt County blockading record.
Meanwhile, groups of Mattole residents, with an average age of 50 years old, kept up blockades at the outer gates into the property to slow down access and engage loggers in dialogue. Their ultimate hope, though, is for PL to sell the land to a Humboldt County group that recently formed a non-profit organization to manage timber lands for maximum ecological and economic benefit to the local community. Maxxam still refuses to become a willing seller.
Editors note: "The Mattole Forest in northern California
is a war zone. The defenders of ancient trees were raided and the barricades
destroyed. The force used and the burning of individuals' property was reminiscent
of the raid on the Minnehaha Free State. (The largest police action in Minnesota
history broke up the Highway 55 resistance in 1998.)
For an update as of Oct. 18, 2002, on the Mattole and Freshwater forests, click here.
For more information: Mattole Forest Defenders, 707-825-6598 P.O.Box 28, Arcata, CA 95518
Coast Earth First!, 1-707-825-6598 P.O.Box 28, Arcata, CA 95518 email: firstname.lastname@example.org