Mick Garvin wants loggers to know that when he’s not getting arrested for protesting a timber sale, he’s working in the woods just like them. He’s a topper, cutting the tops out of trees to create wildlife habitat.
Familiarity, he hopes, will forestall contempt. His message to the loggers:
“I am Mick, and you are somebody who might know me as a topper who likes to have a beer and has a couple of kids. When you read about me in the newspaper, you’re not thinking about me as a deadbeat, hippie, welfare leech quasi-eco-terrorist.”
Garvin is one of the thousands of forest workers, landscapers, dropouts, house painters, students, artists and others who have devoted their lives to saving the old-growth forests of the Northwest.
Some do it part time, contributing money, food or time on the weekend. Others organize their lives so that their jobs don’t get in the way of their real full-time work.
Whether they are camped in the woods, gathering food and handing out leaflets in the city, or reaching out to the world on the Internet, they have dedicated themselves to making sure that when a tree falls in these forests, plenty of people will hear about it.
“There’re a lot of subcultures in America besides the dominant one accepted as normal, and this is one of them,” said Garvin’s girlfriend, Cindy Noblitt.
Garvin and Noblitt are members of Cascadia Forest Defenders, a group of environmental activists based in Eugene who came together around the Warner Creek timber sale in the Willamette National Forest.
Burned in a 1991 arson fire, the Warner Creek site became a symbol because it was in an area off-limits to most logging as habitat for the spotted owl, a threatened species. When it burned, the Forest Service decided to cut down the dead timber and some green timber with it to lessen the danger of future fires.
Environmentalists argued that allowing logging on Warner Creek would inspire others to burn old-growth forest reserves so they could be cut.
However, last August a federal judge ruled the logging could go forward under the so-called salvage rider enacted by Congress. The measure suspended enforcement of environmental laws to put more timber on the market at a time when mills were hungry for logs.
Around the Northwest, hundreds of people have been arrested protesting logging that was allowed by the salvage rider.
In another era, Randy Shadowalker, 30, might have looked forward to seeing those logs rolling into the veneer mills in Eugene, where his father, mother and most people in his neighborhood worked.
Instead, he became a landscaper.
When the judge opened Warner Creek to logging, Shadowalker joined his friends blocking the road leading to the sale. Never seriously challenged by the U.S. Forest Service, they defiantly held the road through the winter and spring, living in tepees covered with blue tarps behind the drawbridge of a stockade.
“I feel this is an obligation,” Shadowalker says. “It’s an empowering feeling to get together with other people. You feel far more empowered than you do by yourself, alone, thinking these thoughts while sitting on the couch.”
Working with him was a 19-year-old woman who calls herself Madrone Rain. After spending a weekend at Warner Creek, she decided to stay, giving up her home with her mother, who is a Corvallis kindergarten teacher, and her job working with a grass-roots environmental group.
“I think I’m going to be involved in this struggle for a long time,” Rain said. “My goal is to one day have a house, friends and pets and a garden and a bicycle. And to be able to do that without neglecting my duty.”
Others have come to Oregon from across the country, people such as Peter MacAusland, 43. He took a year off from painting houses in Burlington, Vt., and has been arrested four times while protesting.
“Being arrested is a good tactic,” he said. “You break the law because the law is wrong.”
One theme that binds these protesters is the idea that humans can’t exploit the environment for resources, such as timber, at the expense of fish, wildlife, clean air and water.
A Zen Buddhist for 25 years, Dot Fisher-Smith sees it as a recognition of the interdependency of all things, an idea central to her religion.
“It’s as simple as that,” said the 67-year-old artist, counselor and great-grandmother at her home outside Ashland. “We can’t live without the forest.”
The theme also resonates for Garvin, who grew up in the Episcopal and Mormon churches.
“In a Christian sense, these are all works of the Creator,” Garvin said. “It is the highest sense of hubris that drives people to think they can destroy these things wholesale for the sake of the money.”
A veteran of protests going back to the Vietnam War, Fisher-Smith joined a group last February that waylaid a log truck at a timber sale and locked herself by the neck to the trailer. She wound up on national television.
“I felt by doing this, I was making my statement clearly and it might begin to wake people up,” she said. “I wanted to say it’s not only kids who will do radical actions. Older people will too when things get bad enough.”
On Francis Eatherington’s World Wide Web home page, Internet surfers are confronted by pictures of clear-cut timberland and reports on the damage it causes. She offers links to other Web sites, where people can discuss issues and find postings on upcoming demonstrations.
“In a way, the Web page is a release for me, to be able to show what atrocities I see every day working out there in the woods,” said Eatherington, who does forest surveys under contract to the Forest Service.
Noblitt grew up the daughter of an airline pilot, but spent nine years in Austin, Texas, helping Central Americans win political asylum. She later moved to Eugene to get her master’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Oregon.
Living in her camper, she has scrounged trash bins and solicited businesses for food to feed the Warner Creek protesters.
“I learned a lot in the last year and a half about getting by,” she says. “If you keep your rent low, scrounge around for food, you really don’t need much if you don’t have a family.”
Fisher-Smith lives more conventionally in a wood-frame house. She and her husband are couples counselors. But in the summer, she leaves it all behind to work on a traditional farm in northern India.
She drew her inspiration for locking herself to the log truck from a 500-year-old Douglas fir on the Oregon Caves National Monument.
“I stood next to that big tree and made a vow I was going to do something significant,” she said. “That vow was between me and that tree.
“The Vietnam War felt like this--just too much. People used to say, ‘You’re not stopping the war in Vietnam.’
“But we did.”