Cascadia Rising to Save the Forest

— Sarah Wald

PROTESTS IN NINE cities across California, Oregon and Washington took place February 23rd, coordinated by the Cascadia Rising Project, in response to the Bush Administration's removal of protections on federal lands for over 100 rare and uncommon species associated with the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.

The removal of these species protections, expected to double old growth forest logging in the region, was just another in a slew of recent changes to the already insufficient protection of National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Oregon, Washington and Northern California under the Northwest Forest Plan. Under the changes, timber industry targets for the region are set at the equivalent of 51,000 log trucks a year.

The coordinated response, which linked Earth First! groups to forest watch groups along bio-regional rather than political boundaries, tested the strength of the newly organized Cascadia Rising Project, and set the standards for coordinated direct action community resistance expected this summer throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The extent of the Bush administration's environmental rollbacks on national forest protections, especially targeting the forests of the Pacific Northwest, should come as no surprise.  Bush has repeatedly broken fundraising records through timber industry donations in visits to Oregon, despite the hundreds to thousands of protestors who have turned out at his every Portland appearance.

In May 2000, at an event which broke all previous records for Oregon campaign contributions, twelve timber executives contributed $100,000 each for a 45-minute meeting with George W. Cumulatively, the rollbacks closely resemble a wish-list of changes contained in testimony by a representative of the American Forest Products Association to the Senate Energy and Conservation Committee in May 2000 (see www.savenationalforests.org).

Democrats' Complicity

The Cascadia bioregion's political situation is particularly revealing, as the Democrats are clearly implicated in the forest protection rollbacks.  The Healthy Forest Initiative was steamrolled through the Senate by Oregon Democrat Senator Wyden and California Democrat Senator Feinstein, as a misleading response to the California wildfires.

The bill streamlines procedures for logging areas furthest from human inhabitation, such as roadless areas, and areas least likely to burn, such as old growth forests, without providing additional funding for the brush removal that may have actually reduced the severity of the arson fires.

The legislation, which passed 80-13 despite national grassroots efforts, would likely have died had it not been for the intervention and leadership of Feinstein and Wyden and their exploitation of the California wildfires.  The Portland paper Willamette Week (November 5, 2003) revealed that while George W. Bush leads for most timber industry campaign contributions in the nation, Senator Wyden comes in a strong second.

The situation facing the Pacific Northwest currently bears great similarity to the Salvage Rider signed by president Bill Clinton in 1996, which suspended most environmental laws governing logging on federally owned forests for a sixteen month period.  The Salvage Rider served to radicalize thousands of people, and resulted in an eruption of civil disobedience in the Pacific Northwest with 683 arrests in Oregon and Washington alone and another 1500 in California.

The message surrounding the Salvage Logging Rider protests was a cry against lawless logging; at its best this exposed the way the current federal forest management system led to the exploitation of land and labor resources by corporate representatives with the collusion of both parties.

If the current movement ignores the role played by Democrats such as Wyden, it stands to feed into an Anybody but Bush platform, which could easily obscure many of the larger issues and coalition building possibilities—the value of community-situated place-based resistance, the commodification of nature and labor by the capitalist system, and the ultimate failure of capitalist democracy regardless of which party finds itself in the White House.

The involvement of a strong grassroots coalition committed to a larger analysis in this pivotal moment is essential to its success.  This is the political significance of Cascadia Rising, an alliance of grassroots forest protection organizations stretching from Northern California to British Columbia and as far east as Idaho, committed to place-based biocentric organizing that confronts oppression in all its forms.

NWFP and the Salvage Rider

The Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was engineered by the Clinton Administration in 1994, to bypass the Endangered Species Act and get out the cut following the judicial halt to all public lands logging in the range of the Northern Spotted Owl after environmentalists sued for its protection in 1992.

The NWFP was justified as a balance between the needs of Oregon's rural timber communities and conservationist concerns over bio-diversity, air and water quality.  The NWFP zoned the National Forests and BLM lands of the Pacific Northwest with different sets of prescriptions and protections for different forest zones.

However, much of the land to be protected as "Late Successional Reserves" had been previously clear-cut, while many of the most valuable remaining forest was designated "matrix" land which had minimal protections.  Under the Plan, ninety percent of the publicly owned forests targeted for logging remained mature and old growth ecosystems.

Most of the NWFP was implemented piecemeal if at all, as environmentalists were forced to sue again and again as violation after violation was discovered.  The amount of time and money to be saved and gridlock prevented had the Forest Service simply followed its own rules is astounding, particularly in light of industry accusations that environmentalists have created "analysis-paralysis."

For its part, however the timber industry remained unsatisfied with the Plan. Under congressional and industry pressure, in 1996 Clinton signed the Salvage Rider (authored by timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey, now Under Secretary of Agriculture in charge of the Forest Service).

The Salvage Rider effectively eliminated environmental protections for almost all federal forest logging projects across the nation for a sixteen-month period.  One of the few positive effects of the Rider was the reinvigoration of civil disobedience and radical environmental activism in the Pacific Northwest.

Eugene, Oregon for example saw the longest road-blockade in U.S. history, and the largest mass arrest in Eugene since the Vietnam War in the resisters' ultimately successful campaign to prevent the "salvage" logging of Warner Creek.  Many mainstream environmentalists rethought their tactics and their political critiques during this period.

Changing Times

The political and economic situation in the Pacific Northwest has changed significantly in the decade since the NWFP and the Salvage Logging Rider were first signed into law. Understanding these differences is key to understanding the difference in responses needed to current Bush environmental rollbacks.

During the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan, the timber industry successfully displaced the blame for massive industry job loss on environmentalist interference rather than where it belonged: increasing mechanization and the exportation of mill jobs overseas.

Contrary to timber industry arguments, studies have indicated that during periods of increased logging (1979-1986) jobs continued to decline, while in times of decreased logging (1986-1996) national employment in lumber and wood products industries actually rose (see www.forestadvocate.org).

The Forest Service's own studies have found that forest dependent industries such as fisheries, recreation, and hunting create 38.1 times more jobs than logging (see www.forestadvocate.org).

Forest conservation groups have increasingly come together with rural communities and labor organizations to explore common ground such as the creation of restoration jobs, and to oppose projects such as the Watch Mountain land exchange, which would have resulted in the clear-cutting of a hillside above the rural logging town of Randle, Washington.

Randle residents organized with Earth First!ers as well as more mainstream environmental groups to successfully stop the exchange.  The resulting protests included tree-sits supported by former loggers, with an ex-mill worker spending the night in the tree.

Exploiting Fire Fears

While much coalition work still needs to be done to find common ground and build interests among labor, environmentalists and rural communities in the Northwest, it is significant that not even the Bush administration is basing their claims on the jobs versus the environment line.

The myth exploited by the Clinton administration in 1996, and more extensively by the Bush administration, is the link between logging and forest fires.  Rather than jobs versus environment, it is the public's fear of fire that these days must be countered.

What is most frightening about the Bush administration's use of fire is that the procedures they advocate may actually increase the risk of devastating wildfires, while diverting funding from strategies that actually protect humans, houses and communities.  Amendments that would have altered the Healthy Forest Initiative to focus fire prevention funds in the area of the urban-wildlands interface, where they could be used more effectively, were voted down.

Additionally, the focus on "Salvage Logging"—such as at the Biscuit Timber Sale in the Oregon Siskiyous, the largest proposed logging project in the modern history of the Forest Service—is likely to greatly reduce biodiversity in one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, increase risk of catastrophic landslides, and erode the drinking water and fisheries of Oregon.

Tens of millions of people living in the United States get their drinking water from sources that originate in our federally owned National Forests.  In the West, over half of our water falls on National Forests, where logging significantly reduces the quantity of rainfall as well as the quality of the water sources.

Major rivers such as Colorado, Rio Grande, Snake, Missouri and Allegheny originate on National Forests lands.  Our ability to afford clean drinking water is going to be drastically affected by increased or continued commercial logging (logging where profit is the primary goal) in our federally owned forests.

The challenge facing environmentalists confronting the Bush administration changes, then, is to educate the public about the real links between logging and fire, and the real value of our federally owned forests, while successfully exposing how these changes benefit private corporations at the expense of land and labor.

This was an easier, or at least more obvious case to make, when the central argument surrounded jobs and the environment, and when the culpable party necessarily included President Clinton.  How easy it seems to be these days to forget, or leave out, Clinton's involvement in the Salvage Rider, or NAFTA, or other numerous unsavory projects.

Cascadia Rising

Cascadia Rising grew out of a coalition of small grassroots direct action organizations that came together in 2003 to form Cascadia Summer (CS)—a national call to action in the Pacific Northwest modeled on Redwood Summer and Freedom Summer.

Despite its flaws, CS succeeded as a learning experience and a model for future regional coordination.  CS worked to unite newer forest activists with more experienced activists, rebuild regional networks missing since the Salvage Rider, and most importantly opened a long-overdue attack on the sexism and homophobia embedded in the movement.

Actions on this front included creating a dispute resolution body for addressing a variety of community issues, kicking out known abusers, and ceasing to support a well-established tree-sit which refused to abide by regionally developed anti-oppression guidelines (their offense included harboring known abusers), and actively organizing trans and womyn's action camps and actions.

Last summer over 100 people came to Cascadia to participate in the programs.  When the summer was over, the organizers and organizations involved in CS decided to formalize their work in a longer-term coalition they named Cascadia Rising (CR).

CR has recently opened a regional office in Portland, Oregon and established a regional website (a href="http://www.cascadiarising.org" target="new">www.cascadiarising.org) still in development that will contain the most current resources available on anti-oppression work, ecological resistance, movement history and upcoming campaigns.

CR will serve as the base for volunteers getting involved to find out where they are needed and what they can do. Cascadia Rising views itself as an ecological movement dedicated to an end to corporate rule, actively opposed to oppression in all its forms, and committed to biocentrism.

Biocentrism is the belief that humans are embedded in an interdependent web of life with all species on this planet from bacteria to grizzly bears.  As members of this web, humans are not superior and our actions must be judged for their effects on all life, including but not limited to human life.

This summer Cascadia Rising will be engaged in campaigns of national significance such as preventing the Biscuit Logging Project, and stopping the development of sacred native ground at Medicine Lake.

How Cascadia Rising continues to frame their eco-defense remains yet to be seen. But CR may be the Pacific Northwest's best hope to show that the radical environmental movement can and will adapt to changed political circumstances, even as it learns from each campaign it takes on.


Sarah Wald has been an active Cascadian forest defender since 1997.  She is currently attending graduate school at Brown University and is the Rhode Island delegate for the National Forest Protection Alliance.


ATC 110, May-June 2004