Biscuit Protesters Speak from Inside the Josephine County Jail
The following letter was written while we were in jail, as a letter to the editor of the local paper, the Grants Pass Daily Courier. We wanted to explain to the people outside, who only knew about the issues posed by the Biscuit timber sales from the coverage that had only recently begun flooding the local papers and television news, what we are doing out there.
We're writing from the Josephine County jail, where we've been held since we disrupted logging on Fiddler Mountain March 9th, after one of our jailers was kind of enough to leave copies of your paper in our cell block. We can tell there has been some confusion about why we are protesting recent logging at the Biscuit timber sales. Most of us remaining in jail are not even permanent residents of Southern Oregon, but were drawn to the area on the merits of the forest ecosystem you are lucky enough to have on the public land in your backyard, and the fact that the largest timber sale in the National Forest history threatens to destroy it. On the steep slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains grow many trees and plants that exist nowhere else in the world. All of these species have adapted to the Serpentine soils, which tend to be nutrient-poor and iron-rich, as well as the fires that frequent the region, and have further evolved to become fire-dependent, reproducing only after the advent of fire.
Fire has been suppressed in these forests, leading to the much-feaured accumulation of fine fuels on the forest floor. However, since the summer of 2002, the extent and severity of the Biscuit Fire has been over-exaggerate by the Forest Service and the public-lands logging industry, with the help of the mass media. For example, the Oregonian made a point of printing the picture of a house with ominous smoke clouds rising in the background on the front page of their paper, when they knew full well that the house was separated from the fire by a fire line, a direfighter's camp and a large river. With less than 20% of the 500,000 acres within the fire perimeter burning at a high intensity, and an unknown portion of high-intensity fire caused by firefighters setting backburns, we witnessed a model example of a wildfire burning in a mosaic pattern across the landscape, and a success for one of the few National Fire Plans that allows natural fire to burn on public lands. Given that the coming summer promises to be similarly hot and dry, we will be seeing more large wildfires, but the 500,000 acres of the Siskiyous cleaned out by the Biscuit fire 3 years ago is not likely to be among them.
Building on the hype and fire hysteria, the fire was proclaimed catastrophic by the public-lands logging industry, and loggers have been sent in despite reports from prominent forest fire ecologists that salvage logging is more destructive than other timber harvest practices. Independent scientists cite the importance of standing dead trees for wildlife habitat, retaining moisture, providing shade for new growth, soil stability and nutriernt cycling in these recovering ecosystems. Logging on these slopes could leave them barren for decades, despite the most aggressive replanting efforts.
The Fiddler sale protest has become particularly vigorous because the cutting units are in reserves intended to promote or retain old growth habitat for the future. Logging is not allowed in the reserves, regardless of whether natural processes, such as fire, have occurred. The Klamath-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor recently made comments supporting the logging in old growth reserves, saying that dead trees couldn't be considered old growth growth. This skirts the fundamental fact that many old growth reserves contain young tree plantations - legally speaking, it isn't what they contain that counts, but what they are being preserved for. Meanwhile, we are waiting for the validity of the legal protections and exemptions to be determined in Judge Paul Hogan's courtroom, starting March 22nd. Perhaps signally his bias towards resource extraction, Hogan has twice refused to halt logging until the legality of the sales can be established, and in a classic move, the timber companies are now moving in for the kill.
Our response has been to mount public protests, also of dubious legality, as we seek to block access to the sales as much as possible until Hogan makes a favorable ruling or the court of appeals takes the case. While we are sympathetic to the drain on the county's budget, 35 protesters have had to submit to police custody in the last week to demonstrate their strong opposition to the logging and the controversial actions of the Forest Service. This isn't the only way taxpayers are supporting the logging at Fiddler; the Biscuit sales as a whole are subsidized by the Forest Service and are expected to cost 100 million sollars, which is only a fraction of the 1-2 billion lost by the commercial timber sale program every year.
Led by the likes of Roseburg Forest Products, Portland-based Columbia Helisopters, and their informal joint subsidiary Silver Creek Timber Co., the public-lands logging industry is always greedily pushing for access to virgin forests, especially after they have undergone natural fire events. We want to expose this scam for what it is, and divert the massive subsidies to forest workers who will rehabilitate forest habitats thrown off-balance by a century of Forest Service mismanagement and fire suppression. We want to see the creation of a Biscuit Fire Natural Recovery Area.
So we wait in jail under the orders of a hostile judge for a solid vision of the future to manifest. We have dreams of what the future could look like, and we hope at the least some of the beautiful and unique forest ecosystems of the Siskiyous survive this consumptive resource-depleting drives of our current civilization, and lasts into the unimaginable future. We are continuing a hunger strike to demand humane and equal treatment from our captors, and draw attention to the unconstitutional nature of the charges that many of us received. Please help us by telling Stephen Campbell, the new District Attorney at (541) 474-5200, to stop charging protesters with "Interfering with an Agricultural Operation". Thanks youl, and peace to you all.
Update: Last on Wednesday, March 16th, we were released on bail after 8 days in jail on hunger strike. Our supporters brought us wonderful food to break our fast with in the beautiful fresh air. One protester remains in jail, a wonderful life-devoted woman named Joan Norman, who was arrested for the second time in her lawn chair on Monday the 14th. She refuses to be bailed out of jail, and appreciates the opportunity to reach out to younger women afflicted with incarceration, sharing the experience of her 72 years. She would love letters, to be directed to the Josephine County Jail, 1901 NE F Street Grants Pass, Oregon 97526.
phone: (541) 659-2682
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