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Report-back from Gifford Pinchot forest defense action camp

i went out to the Cascadia Forest Alliance's action camp in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for a couple days last week. here's a report.

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i went out to the Cascadia Forest Alliance's action camp in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for a couple days last week. The drive out through the Columbia Gorge is awesome. Because it is a federally protected scenic area, dense and/or high development is forbidden, there is little between you and the natural beauty of the place. of course, the highway is itself ugly and obviously plays hell with the area around it, but the steep slopes and water are mostly untouched. (i understand a lawsuit is underway by private property owners to overturn or weaken the protected designation, and that's too bad; too often, the people who move out to such places to enjoy their beauty do things to destroy what they came to enjoy.)

The action camp's base was set up at the end of a narrow, rutted logging road in the southern part of the forest. Mt. Hood was visible through the trees on clear days, its snow and north-side glaciers gleaming bright. In the woods around us, woodpeckers tapped and birds sang and squirrels chattered. The sky was alternately overcast and sunny, as is typical of Cascadia at this time of year. Near the main tent, activists had set up climb lines for training purposes, and a giant Cascadia Summer banner was hung below a traverse.

The number of people at the camp varied over the week it was happening, with the most being out there over the weekend. Folks cooked communal meals, hiked, shared skills, practiced climbing and platform-setting and generally had a good time together enjoying good company in a beautiful place. The guitar came out around the fire and people talked, laughed, and shared their fears and hopes. i know that sounds cheesy, and that's too bad, 'cause it really ain't. Real, honest talk about such things is increasingly rare in this electronic-centered society, and emotions are often verboten, especially among men. The forest lends itself well to openess and intimacy, and city people can do themselves a big favor by coming out for a few days to such places to unwind and find out what's really going on in the heads and hearts of their comrades and themselves.

Good news and bad news from the G.P. Task Force

Two people from the Gifford Pinchot Task Force came out to the action camp while i was there and presented workshops; one on the forest policies of the Bush administration (the bad news) and one on the state of the struggle in the Giff itself (the good news).

First, the bad news: the timber industry, using the Bush administration as its tool, is pushing the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 [text ], an attempt to gut the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP), which came out of the Clinton administration. The NFP was greeted with celebration by some mainline environmental groups, but in reality it is a piss-poor compromise that allows up to 1,000,000,000 board feet a year to be "harvested" from public lands.

Nevertheless, the NFP contained some important features that could be used to stop timber sales, such as the Survey and Manage program, which requires that lands be taken out of sales when endangered species are found on them. Activists have made great use of Survey and Manage; the Clark Timber sale, in the Willamette National Forest, for example, was reduced from 96 to 29 acres after red tree vole nests were found in many old growth trees there. (The Fall Creek forest defense encampment has been in existence for over five years at the Clark sale, preventing logging from taking place there. More info.)

The Healthy Forest Act also attacks the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, which was intended to protect salmon and other wildlife in watersheds. Creeks and streams are often damaged when logging happens on the slopes around them. Silt washes down into the water which chokes the wildlife out. Such erosion can also affect the drinkability of the water further downstream. The Healthy Forest Act takes aim at the Aquatic Conservation Strategy because, like Survey and Manage, it has been helpful for stopping timber sales. (More info at the G.P. Task Force website.)

If the Healthy Forest Act is passed, legal challenges can still be mounted (which the G.P. Task Force, among others will be doing), but activists will have fewer tools to defend the forests. In that case, the role of direct action (tree-sits, road blockades, office occupations, etc.) will be even more important. One of the purposes of Cascadia Summer is to teach people those skills.

The Good News in the Giff is that last year at this time, at least a half dozen timber sales were threatening various fragile ecosystems within the forest, but nearly all of them are currently on hold! This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Task Force staff and volunteers, who put great emphasis on the organizing in the communities around the forest, many of which are small, rural logging towns. The support they built for stopping these sales, together with the lawsuits they filed, put enough pressure on the Forest Service to halt their efforts to log. One staff person from the Task Force suggested that, because of this positive situation, emphasis would be better placed on Mt. Hood timber sales this summer.

On a side note, i'd like to point out the the Gifford Pinchot Task Force's three paid staff are all women, as are its volunteer canvassing coordinators. i always like seeing an activist group that breaks the mold in that way.

The Big Lava Bed

The Big Lava Bed is a portion of unlogged, unroaded, and even untrailed wilderness in the southern part of the Giff. The land is rocky and rugged, and as a lava flow is fairly fresh -- in the last 2-3 thousand years. A dome with a crater in it rises from the middle of this section, and a hike there is only for the experienced and well-prepared; it's easy to lose your sense of direction in this landscape, and compasses are not reliable due to the magnetic nature of some of the rocks.

One frustration i often have with visiting forests in Cascadia is that so many of them have been logged and thinned and cleared that it's hard to find a place that feels wild and pristine. There's some beautiful second growth, it's true, but it sometimes just seems like being in an overgrown graveyard. The lava beds, though, don't feel like that at all. Definitely worth a visit. If you don't want to risk getting lost, you can spend a couple hours exploring around the rim, and you'll definitely see things that don't exist in many other places.

There aren't so many trees in the lava beds, but there is a multitude of moss and lichens everywhere. we didn't have a book with us so i can't tell you the names of what we saw, but they were beautiful in many different ways. Click on the images above for large versions. This stuff is pretty amazing.

Thought, Speech and Poetry

The forest is a very different place than the city and it's hard to explain exactly how in a way that will make sense. It has to do with being in a place where not only is everything alive, but it's all alive together, interdependently. There's life in the city too, but it's trapped inside concrete barriers, choked by pollution, and kept separate from itself. The trees and plants and wildlife in the forest are so intermeshed in their relationships that there is a limited usefulness in describing them individually. Their lives are are one life together. In the city, parts are kept from becoming a whole.

And our minds and hearts in the city suffer the same fate. We are isolated, divided and controlled. In the forest, we can breathe, feel the life, and start to breathe with it. The conversations i've had with people i've just met in the forest have often been of a quality that i've never reached with people i've known in the city for months or even years. i'm talking about intimacy here. It's pretty amazing. But don't take my word for it. Go to the forest and check it out yourself.

in the Giff the other morning --
with the sounds of birdsong, squirrel-taunting and woodpecker labor,
with the golden warmth of sunlight beaming down on the spot i found by this log,
with the comforts of clean air and the bitter taste of Oregon grape root in my mouth --
a butterfly alit on my hand,
thwip-thwipped its tongue on my flesh and
tickled from knuckle to knuckle,
seeming to savor whatever it was eating;
dead skin? sweat? i don't know.
the people who would capture, pin down, measure & classify it
"Nymphalis californica" might feel they have an answer,
but i don't care about that.
the butterfly's "kisses" alone, unanalyzed,
are enough for me.
no gift from god need be explained;
only appreciated

Wow! 20.May.2003 15:20

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Nice report!