Forest’s life on the line – Tree-sitters protect salmon, owls, and bears from suburban development

Cutten, South Cascadia: the McKay Tract canopy. The landscape below presents itself as a patchwork quilt of war.

Looking West one sees the suburb, which is Progress enacting its will upon occupied land. More ‘development’ is slated, but is being blocked. We have met primarily friendly people here who enjoy hanging out in the forest. We’ve asked them if they want their suburb to grow, and they emphatically do not.

Among the second- and third-growth trees to the South lie a few erroneous mini-mansions with stumps in their yards wider than any of the three SUVs in their driveways. The residents enjoy a quiet life, until one of them starts running power tools.

We look East and see the tops of enormous old growth redwoods towering above the hundred-year-old second growth trees. Some friends live here including spotted owls, ospreys, turkey vultures, black bears, newts, voles, flying squirrels, and the occasional arboreal human.

To the North lies a clearcut. Three years ago, Green Diamond came in and cut down every last tree in the marked ‘unit’, leaving a few huge burned-out snags. Pampas grass and milkweed grow to human height in the trees’ absence; this area is dry and becoming dryer. The company planted a few baby confiers, redwoods and others after cutting the area; but those young trees are waiting until a couple more units are razed, then all the land will be re-zoned from ‘timberland’ to ‘residential’, bringing more mini-mansions, more people. So it goes…

Except the forest friends disagree. They want to live, and the forest is their home. For the past several months we’ve been occupying two tree villages in the McKay Tract, tying in as many Giants as possible with traverse ropes to protect them, with our own bodies, from being cut down. Tree-sitting has been used to defend forest land in Humboldt for decades, and traverses enable a few humans to defend large numbers of trees without descending from the canopy one hundred feet off the ground.

We chose this grove because the trees stand directly against the march of Leviathan in the form of suburban development, and the neighbors, human and nonhuman alike, stand with us to give us love and support. One of the groves scheduled to be clearcut features an osprey nest, at least one spotted owl nest, flocks of turkey vultures circling overhead, a trail and campsite used frequently by bears, and a creek that serves as watershed for the Humboldt Bay’s healthiest population of coho salmon. Surely, not just timber-land. The critters have shown much love for our efforts, particularly the flying squirrels and owls who provide moral support and watch us climb.

Green Diamond (GD), formerly Simpson Timber Company, is now the most active transnational timber corporation remaining in Humboldt County. They have clear-cuts scheduled each year all across the Northwest, and have largely escaped public scrutiny by a process of the 21st-century called Greenwashing (see: their name + their website) and alliances with the State.

Example: the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for spotted owls, which gives the owls a vague, constantly shifting zone of ‘habitat’ on GD land and a few selected remaining ‘wildlife trees’, usually of low monetary value. In return, the GD gets a bunch of ‘Incidential Take’ permits for owls, basically, a license to kill them at will. The GD’s plan for the McKay Tract is clear-cutting, followed by residential development to double the size of Cutten, of course adding more residents to the city of Eureka and more overall stress upon the environment.

So far no chainsaws have fallen upon the McKay Tract this year, so tree-sitters are still needed to live in the canopy to protect this refuge of wildlife from the perpetual war that is Human Progress. Anyone wishing to join us in the forest or in town are encouraged to contact Earth First! Humboldt at (707)-834-5170.