Most people have heard of tree-sitting—a tactic environmentalists use to prevent old-growth trees from being cut down and whole forests decimated. In its heyday, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, members of groups like Earth First! climbed 100-foot-tall Redwoods and stayed there to save them. Beginning in 1997, one woman in Humboldt, California, named her tree Luna and stayed in it for two years, until enough money could be raised to prevent it from being axed. In 1998, in a Northern California old-growth forest, another treesitter named David Gypsy Chain was “accidentally” killed when loggers felled a tree that came crashing into the protester. He died instantly of massive head trauma.
This style of protest was also hugely successful—that is, until a series of arrests in 2005 against radical environmentalists who were labeled “terrorists.” It scared the shit out of the environmental-activist community, and folks started drifting away.
Now, there’s a vibrant national protest movement reviving those “direct action” tactics of civil disobedience again, and adding a new political savvy to the mix. They, too, have been incredibly effective. In Oregon, in the summer of 2011, one blockade took 50 cops, a backhoe, and a 125-foot-crane to remove treesitters. A few days later, activists locked themselves together in an Oregon Department of Forestry office. The group responsible, the Cascadia Forest Defenders, say they won’t stop until the Elliott State Forest is protected from clearcutting.
As a result—surprise, surprise—politicians are trying to create new laws that make tree-sits and other direct-action techniques illegal. The bills even single out the Elliott State Forest campaign by name and allow corporations to sue protesters for costing them money.
On April 29, two bills passed the Oregon House that would hit tree sitters and non-violent protesters with felonies and mandatory minimum sentences.
“There’s been a 30-year reign of terror by these people having no respect for the rights of others,” says Rep. Wayne Krieger, a Republican. Krieger says “environmental terrorists” have been “chaining themselves to trees, locking themselves to equipment, and laying down in the road.”
Krieger, a tree farmer and former member of the Oregon Board of Forestry, has introduced HB 2595. It would create a new crime of “interference with state forestland management.” The first offense, a felony, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 13 months; another offense kicks that up to a $25,000 fine and five years in prison. That’s five years for non-violent civil disobedience.
A companion bill, HB 2596, allows loggers to sue protesters for up to $10,000 in lost income up to six years after a protest ended.