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 listproc@envirolink.org. 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: www.indybay.org and Mattole Forest Defense site: www.mattoledefense.org.

Up north contact: Mattole Forest Defenders and North Coast Earth First! 707-825-6598, necf@humbolt1.com