Photos by Brandi Easter
Essay by Jim Hight
At the press conference Sept. 15, singers Don Henley and Bonnie
Adam Wehrbach of the Sierra Club and Cecilia Lanman of Environmental Protection Information Center
A section of the crowded rally site on Highway 36
"I'm a logger and I'm here to stand up for the rights of my job," said Bryan Chipps of Eureka, one of this group of counter-protesters.
Giant puppets brought by demonstrators keep watch over the portable toilets.
County sheriff's deputies, Highway Patrol officers and Fortuna police were ready, but the only arrests occurred at the pre-determined trespassing site.
FOR A JOURNALIST, THE "largest protest against logging in U.S. history" provided a wealth of images and telling moments.
A mass of colorful humans bumped and squeezed together onto the shoulders of Highway 36 for five hours. Flags and banners danced above their heads and turkey buzzards soared across the blue sky.
Darryl Cherney sang "You can't clearcut your way to heaven," with Judi Bari on fiddle and Francine and Nymiah singing harmony.
The loudest applause of the day went not to visiting celebrities Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley but to Cecilia Lanman, the local activist who seems to have risen to the rank of general in the Headwaters Army.
On Fisher Road, three generations of a family stood in quiet defiance at the front of their driveway, a logging crane parked behind them, as protesters walked and danced toward the PALCO property line.
When someone crossed that line, an officer said, "Ma'am, you're trespassing. Please step back across the line." She said "No," and the officer said, "You're under arrest" before slipping a plastic tie around her wrists and leading her off.
In contrast to some characterizations on North Coast TV news, I witnessed much to admire about the way protesters -- and the organizers -- conducted themselves.
Before and during the rally on Highway 36, the riot-ready police stood back while scores of volunteer security people kept order. "Please stay to the side of the white line" was heard more often than "Save Headwaters."
When pickups full of timber fallers drove back and forth -- one throttling a chain saw -- I saw friendly waves, not middle fingers, extended by people in the crowd.
People of all ages were there, including Rex Rathbun, 76, of Petrolia. On his way to get arrested he told me his first act of civil disobedience had occurred in the same place last year. "That was 50 years to the day after I walked the streets of Tokyo after World War II. And I didn't fight that war so Charles Hurwitz could log the last of the old forests."
But for the cynic in me, there was some meaty material to chew on.
In the staging area where protesters prepared to cross PALCO's "green line," I asked a 10-year-old boy from Mill Valley why he was going to get arrested.
"For the cause," he said, then nodded toward the green hills surrounding us: "Imagine if all of that was logged." He was looking at healthy second- and third-growth conifers.
In the "press tent" and from the stage speakers mentioned their concern for timber workers and predicted new jobs in "restoration and ecosystem management" after Headwaters is protected. They said Hurwitz revved up PALCO's timber harvest, hastening the day when the company will shut down the old-growth mill in Scotia. "Can we count on Mr. Hurwitz to take care of us after the timber is gone?" asked one speaker.
"Can we count on you to be honest about the economic impacts of your demands?" a fast-talking heckler could have yelled back.
Protection of PALCO's six remaining old-growth groves will surely shut down PALCO's Mill A years before even Hurwitz had planned.
Watershed restoration jobs pay well and are important to the recovery of fisheries, but the money for them trickles into Humboldt County by the hundreds of thousands. And how generous will the federal government be with the North Coast after sacrificing some $300 million to purchase just the main Headwaters Grove?
People who know a lot more than I about the subject say PALCO's old-growth groves and the tens of thousands of acres connecting them must be preserved. With only a tiny percentage of untouched forests left in the lower 48 states, there seems to be common sense in the environmentalists' claims.
Whether you call it "God's Creation" or the "Web of Life," there is a natural order. In the last 150 years, we humans have acquired the ability to quickly and massively intervene in this order.
Headwaters' defenders believe we must restrain timber harvesting and preserve 60,000 acres of the coastal redwood ecosystem. With the momentum of the times and a national constituency behind them, it looks like they'll slowly but inevitably win most of the battles.
But as a newcomer to a county built on timber jobs, I can't help but think about what will be lost and who will lose it, and how much we all lose in the ongoing conflicts.