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actions & protests | forest defense | save the biscuit

Make Love, Not Stumps: In Defense of The Biscuit

"The Creator gave us... this voice to be able to speak for the voiceless. And that is all the green upon our Mother Earth, the one-leggeds, the "tree people," I call them... People said when you take the trees off of the mountain, they're the ones that call the wind and the rain. And when you do that, it causes a domino effect of destruction all the way down that mountain to the rivers and streams..." - Agnes Pilgrim, the oldest living descendent of the Takelma Indians
Make Love, Not Stumps: In Defense of The Biscuit
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

(This is a review of the DVD "In Defense of The Biscuit," ( http://www.biscuitfire.org), a film by Pat Paterson, Production/Design by Justin Rohde.)

"The Creator gave us... this voice to be able to speak for the voiceless. And that is all the green upon our Mother Earth, the one-leggeds, the "tree people," I call them... People said when you take the trees off of the mountain, they're the ones that call the wind and the rain. And when you do that, it causes a domino effect of destruction all the way down that mountain to the rivers and streams. And this is what is happening over here." - Agnes Pilgrim, the oldest living descendent of the Takelma Indians (from the DVD, "In Defense of The Biscuit")

The Battle for The Biscuit revolves around a pristine forest area in the Siskiyou Mountains in Southwest Oregon. The area was almost named a national natural monument in 2000, but by 2002, it was being eyed by corporate loggers for the largest proposed timber sale on public land in U.S. history, even though the proposed logging zone included approximately 9,000 acres of "protected" old growth. The issue of the Biscuit fire and subsequent logging, is a textbook example that all should study about "burn logging." Burn logging is a backdoor to logging protected areas, basically. Timber companies promote the misconception that a burned forest is a dead forest, then they push to "salvage" all that remains inside these "dead" protected forest zones, thereby disrupting, and destroying, the natural bioregion that has been there for thousands of years. The logging industry tries to promote the idea that a burn trumps all previous forest protection in the area, and acts as if they are "fixing" the forest after a fire by cleaning the area up and replanting, but science and history show that is flawed "logic" on many counts.

The first misconception that the forest defenders of Biscuit have educated many of us about is the reality that forests need fire! Agnes Pilgrim, the elder quoted in the beginning of this article said that the Takelma elders used to light fires in the forests as fire was a component of a healthy forest, and it added nutrients to the soil. Indeed, old growth trees that made it through 300-400 years, including many a forest fire, still stand in the Biscuit fire area. When lightning started the Biscuit fire in 2002, which burned to a perimeter of about 500,000 acres, the fire burned spotty and thus approximately 60% of the area inside the fire zone did not burn. The landscape is still productive, and this landscape, and its unique biodiversity, have survived repeat fires in this area for hundreds and thousands of years. To strip it now due to one lightning fire is insane. We have got to get it through our heads: Burned forests are alive. Burned forests are full of life.

Big trees are really important, and you cannot just manufacture new 300 year old trees in tree farms within our generation. The "In Defense of The Biscuit" DVD educates not only about burn logging, but also about "legacy trees," or what the timber industry calls "snag." Legacy trees, as explained by Dominick DellaSala, of the World Wildlife Fund, are big, old, dead, trees. To take these downed or still standing burned, or "dead," old trees out of the area, is destructive on many levels. These legacy trees provide homes for hundreds of species of insects in their bark, which birds then eat. The trees fall in creeks and provide spawning habitat for salmon, and the trees also provide nutrients to the soil as they decompose. These legacy trees provide moisture and return essential biomass to the forest floor. They provide shade to help seedlings and also add integrity to the soil stability. Standing old growth trees, dead or alive, can cool the ground below them by 5 degrees.

The Biscuit logging plan called for 1.5 legacy trees to be left per acre, which is not discernable from a clear cut in all reality. We need those legacy trees, or snag, to be left where they lay, so our children can see these forests later. The proposed Biscuit logging project (ironically named the "Biscuit Fire Recovery Project" by the Bush administration) wanted access to 372 MILLION board feet of timber. Also, this logging would put roads where roads were not before, and those roadless areas were previously protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. If logging roads were installed for this logging project, approximately 48,000 acres of forest that previously had roadless protection, were now threatened. So this is the setting for the actions in the battle to save The Biscuit.

This "In Defense... " DVD documents grassroots action taken by earth defenders to stop questionable, and perhaps illegal, logging of public lands under the guise of burn logging. It appears that the logging companies were told they could not begin logging until the sensitive environmental matters were addressed by a court, but John West, owner of Silver Creek Timber Company, took some extraordinary steps to jump the gun on the logging, and it could very well be said that the Biscuit activists in this DVD saved acres of old growth forest from the ravages of clear cut in 2005. The DVD documents several protest tactics, and also, several law enforcement tactics, as well. The use of indy media, in collaboration with the protesters and law enforcement watch-dogging is effectively sampled in this DVD as well.

Defenders of The Biscuit set up camps to block the roads the logging trucks would need to use to enter the forest areas in question. In March 2005, several confrontations with authorities are well documented on this DVD. As logging industry vehicles approached the blocked roads, and stopped to talk to the protesters in the road, other protesters padlocked themselves to the stopped logging vehicles, creating chaos. Others on the road were not simply standing in the way, but were locked down to drums full of cement. The logging trucks were not going to just be able to talk for a minute and roll on through, that was clear.

As the logging vehicles' drivers get antsy, and want to roll on through, even with protesters locked under their axles, indy media reporters with cameras rolling chanted, "you're on camera, people's lives are at risk, you are on camera, please turn off your engine, people are sitting in front of your rig and are under your rig, locked down... " Other footage in this DVD shows a police officer on scene literally covering his badge with his hand from the indy media reporter, even as the reporter is saying, "Why are you covering your badge?" Police are also shown keeping indy media reporters off the bridge as they interact with protesters on the bridge. It is amazing to me how often police want to do their job without public scrutiny while on our public dime. Or they do not want to reveal their identity as required BY LAW while employed by us, the public. I see this shady behavior very often when police deal with protesters. Lots of covered up badges and missing name tags, badges and tags required by law and required to be visible while on duty. Why are police so afraid of being identified as they interact with activists?

As protesters laid their bodies on the line to stop this logging before it at least was heard in the courts, as the courts themselves had demanded, arrests began. Protesters called out "No, no, that's clearly not John West," as protesters were arrested, inferring John West, who was reportedly jumping the gun to log here, was the one who should be arrested. Direct action was the tactic taken to defend Biscuit, because the letters had been written, the calls to legislators had been made, and this logging just kept rolling forward. So people got together to stop this, with physical direct action, and that is one of the important messages of this DVD. It documents how a bunch of people said they were not going to stand by and let their forests be pillaged due to apathy, fear of the state or pacifism. This group of activists took a stand for what they believed in, and in doing so, saved an ecosystem.

Part of the DVD documents a Women's Day of Action, where women take over the Biscuit road blockades. A woman who is 9 months pregnant makes a bold statement, along with women ranging in age from their 70's to 20's. Grandmothers, mothers to be, and younger women joined together to show solidarity in this action and 20 women were arrested in that day's actions. "Hi, my name is Ara, and I'm a mother of 2 children, and I'm here for their future," was the simple but powerful statement made by one of the women defending The Biscuit that day.

An interesting mixture of young and old came together in this DVD as well. An older woman activist named Joan Norman (who has sadly died in a car crash since) is shown giving her favorite forest action t-shirt to her younger Biscuit defender comrade, Laurel Sutherlin, of the Oxygen Collective, in a moving interaction. The t-shirt says, "When the earth has been ravaged, and the animals are dying, a tribe of people of all races, creeds and colours will put their faith in deeds, not in words, to make the land green again. They shall be known as the warriors of the rainbow protectors of the environment." The base camp for the Biscuit defense produced a week long skill share with rope climbing skills, media and legal education, natural education and more. These protests to save The Biscuit created community, as well as action.

The no nonsense approach that these forest defenders took is to be commended and should be studied by activists facing similar dilemmas in their areas. A woman named Marilyn had had enough of this logging nonsense and she just locked herself to her steering wheel, in her "broken down" truck on the logging roads, with others locked down to her axle. When she expressed her disgust for the cameras, I really could relate to her frustration and her need to DO something when writing letters was not working. When the authorities and loggers tried to penetrate the Biscuit area, this DVD shows how they would get through a main blockade only to fall victim to yet smaller blockades, such as broken down trucks like Marilyn's, in the way up ahead. This nonstop agitation and sustained civil disobedience caused endless delays in the logging of the Biscuit burn area. And also bought time to educate the public, by getting the message out to the media via a news story they would cover beyond John West's negotiations with the state.

The DVD ends with the actions in 2005, so I wanted to do a little follow up. I talked to Josh Laughlin, of the Cascadia Wildlands Project (www.cascwild.org) about where the Biscuit protests stand now. He said that the protests were productive in that of the 372 million board feet of timber first proposed for the logging project, only 70 million board feet were logged by 2006. He said that due to the public awareness and resultant opposition raised, and public pressure from places like the Oregon governor's office, as well as several lawsuits still in the courts now between environmental groups such as Cascadia Wildlands Project, and the logging interests, that the Biscuit logging issue seems to be getting somewhat under control. He said that the trees rot over time and thus become less attractive and less economically feasible to loggers, so the longer this issue sits in litigation, etc., the less the timber industry will want to log the area, as the trees are less useful by the day. In the end, the loggers got away with logging 1/6 of what they proposed, and that has got to be seen as a victory by any account. And although victories were had in defense of The Biscuit, all agree that there is a need for constant vigilance to keep our forests alive and healthy, regardless of past successes in this arena.

I believe this DVD should be shown in every high school and college across the land. There are many issues addressed in this video that the average person probably does not know about. There is a world happening out here that many do not even know exist. A world where people put their fears away and go to the woods to lay their lives on the line for the land. Yes, it is still happening today. Eco-activism did not die with the national pronunciation of Earth Day, folks. Direct action such as those taken in defense of The Biscuit can be employed all over, and can be applied to many causes. This DVD shows you not only that you can make a change, but HOW to make a change NOW. It shows you can trump fear with courage, that you can trump authority with action, and that is a powerful lesson in this day and age.

For more information, visit:
The Biscuit Alliance ( http://user.cavenet.com/guenter/biscuit/main.html)
Portland IMC Biscuit Action Page ( http://portland.indymedia.org/en/action/biscuit/)
Oxygen collective ( http://www.o2collective.org)
Cascadia Wildlands Project ( http://www.cascwild.org)
What's What/Biscuit Article ( http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/03/314385.shtml)
Who's Who/Biscuit ( http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/03/314277.shtml)
Sisikyou project ( http://www.siskiyou.org)
Earth First! ( http://www.earthfirst.org)
Kalmath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (www.kswild.org)
Cascadia Rising ( http://www.cascadiarising.org)

homepage: homepage: http://www.kirstenanderberg.com