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Earth First! A Voice Vying for the Wilderness : Group Says Radical Tactics Will Continue Despite Arrests

September 05, 1985|ANN JAPENGA | Times Staff Writer

The snow was deep in the Cascade Mountains of western Oregon last Jan. 14 when Willamette National Forest headquarters received a letter pasted together from words cut out of newspaper headlines:

Dear Freddies:

As the destruction of old growth timber on public land continues , so will the spiking of forests slated for clearcutting. You'll find that sale unit 8 of the Pyramid Creek timber sale has been spiked with 50 lbs. of 20 penny spikes .

This is just an example. The spiking of other sale units will not be as easy to detect.

Have fun looking.

--The Bonnie Abbzug Feminist

Garden Club

District Ranger Leonard Lucero said he attempted at the time to investigate the charge of spiking--a practice intended to keep loggers' saws from biting into old-growth timber--but that snow and stormy weather prevented him from entering the timber sale area. It wasn't until spring that Lucero discovered the letter was not a hoax.

"We determined that that entire cutting unit was contaminated (with nails)," Lucero said. Teams working with metal detectors and crowbars spent weeks pulling thousands of spikes out of the grove, he said.

Although the culprits in this and an earlier incident of tree spiking in the mountains east of Eugene were never apprehended, Willamette National Forest spokesman Jerry Mason said there's every indication that the spiking was the work of the radical environmentalist group Earth First! (members insist upon the exclamation mark).

Earth Firsters are, as far as Mason knows, the only ones who address forest service workers as Freddies (after the bumbling forester once played by Fred MacMurray in a movie). And Bonnie Abbzug, the namesake of the group that claimed responsibility for last winter's spiking, is a character from Edward Abbey's book "The Monkey Wrench Gang," which is something of a bible to Earth Firsters.

In Oregon, Earth First-type tactics have become enough of a nuisance that National Forest officials have declared certain timber operations off limits to the public, with intruders subject to arrest. In Jackson Hole, Wyo.--where supposed Earth First! sympathizers have damaged an oil company helicopter and a seismographic oil exploration rig, as well as vandalizing heavy equipment--companies that contract wilderness work are hiring 24-hour security guards to discourage further incidents, Teton County Sheriff Roger Millward said.

Dozens of Earth Firsters have been arrested in Western states for actions ranging from blocking the paths of bulldozers to sitting in trees slated for cutting. Earth First! co-founder Howie Wolke faces a preliminary hearing Sept. 26 on charges of felony destruction of property. He is alleged to have pulled out more than a mile of survey stakes leading to a proposed Chevron well site in the Wyoming wilderness.

Sabotaging Projects

Earth Firsters champion "monkeywrenching," a controversial form of environmental protection that involves the sabotage of development projects.

Former Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, an outspoken critic of the Earth First! movement, said in a telephone interview that monkeywrenching is a type of "extremism that is irresponsible, illegal and totally unacceptable to responsible conservationists in America."

Now a businessman in Boise, Ida., Andrus said he was concerned that Earth First! would taint the image of conservationists who do not share the group's views.

Doug Scott, deputy conservation director for the Sierra Club, commented, "I don't think you can be a monkeywrencher and still expect to be taken as a serious player in the political process."

Yet Friends of the Earth chairman David Brower argued that Earth First! should be commended for shaking up Establishment environmentalists who, he said, tend to get stodgy.

'Deep Ecology'

Borrowing the notion of "Deep Ecology" from Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who originated the term in 1972, the Earth First! stance is that humans are not the dominant figures on the planet and as such they have no right to claim possession of the land. Earth Firsters say that plants and animals, rocks and rivers deserve to exist unmolested without regard to their usefulness to men and women.

Not content with preserving what he scornfully refers to as "dinky little backpacking areas," Earth First! founder Dave Foreman hopes to see large chunks of America returned to wilderness status.

He wants grizzlies reintroduced to the Marble Mountains of California; bison to the Great Plains. Foreman suggests that more than a million acres northwest of Los Angeles should be closed to all human use in order to save the condor. And rather than simply prohibiting dam-building on existing wild rivers, Earth Firsters advocate tearing down some dams already built.

Gaining Momentum

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