The Eco-Militia

Enviros create a "free state" in Oregon wilderness

Published August 6, 1996 5:36PM (EDT)


A10-foot-high wall of downed trees, boulders, steel and cement stands where Forest Service Road 2408 ends and the Autonomous Zone begins. To the right is the rock face of the mountain -- to the left is a steep descent several hundred feet down. A grubby,
dreadlocked young man hangs in a climbing harness from a three-legged tower that straddles the wall. A banner emblazoned with a clenched fist and an anarchist black flag hangs from the tripod.

We're at the outer gates of Cascadia Free State, where environmentalists and eco-anarchists are in the eleventh month of their occupation of the Warner Creek area of the Willamette National Forest. While elsewhere in America anti-government militants organize themselves into armed underground militia, set up fortified camps or plot acts of violent sabotage, the self-styled Forest Defenders are waging what they say is a non-violent war to save the final five percent of old growth forest remaining in the U.S.

The occupation was sparked by a federal appeals court ruling
last Sept. 6 voiding the environmental protections that safeguarded the woodlands. Judge Michael Hogan ruled that the "Timber Salvage rider" signed into law by President Clinton in July 1995 overrode Warner Creek's status as habitat for the endangered northern spotted owl.

The ruling was a green light for timber companies to come into the area, chainsaws at the ready. But forest activists -- mobilized by Cascadia Forest Defenders and
Earth First!
-- had different ideas: They blockaded the access road to Warner Creek and claimed the region as their home. They call these besieged woodlands "Cascadia Free State" and some of them regard America as a hostile foreign nation.

Here at the lower camp, tents and tarps provide shelter for some 10 to 20 people -- a melange of hippies, punks and outdoorsy types. Hundreds of people have devoted time and energy to the cause of Cascadia, but it's these grassroots radicals whose constant presence has made the project possible. Weekend eco-warriors often swell the population to 50 or 60. Natural food stores in nearby Eugene donate a constant supply of food. A mountain stream provides water.

With his grimy Anarchy Ale T-shirt, patched shorts and dreads,
Jake, 24, has been at the siege since day one, enduring one of the
harshest winters in Oregon's recent history. "When I first came to Oregon I totally fell in love with the trees, all the animals and wildlife, the feeling you get from leaving civilization," says the one-time urban squatter. "I feel it's important that places be left alone for future generations, for the children."

A 26-year-old college dropout from southern California who goes by the initial "C" says he's dedicated the last six months to Warner Creek
because "it's the most successful forest blockade in U.S. history, and
because it's an anarchist community. It's not about trees -- it's a total
revolution against the government."

Three-quarters of a mile further up the mountain, a watchtower looks out over the timbers of the inner fortress wall and
drawbridge. Behind the barrier, several half-ton concrete "lockdown"
points are set in the road. In an emergency, the forest defenders will
insert their arms into the lockdowns and chain their wrists to a metal
post inside. "We have a couple of lockdowns that are essentially concrete coffins with air holes. If people have food and water down there, I don't know how the Rangers would get them out," claims C.

The Cascadians have also decimated the six-mile access road to the
disputed woodlands with logs, stone walls, and vast holes. One trench is six feet deep and 15 feet across, and features a stream-fed bathtub and shower.

The Forest Service plans to prosecute the Cascadians for felony damage to federal property. But after an 11-month siege, Free Staters are claiming a major triumph following a directive by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman forbidding further "salvage" logging in roadless forest areas such as Warner Creek. The order nullifies a second, larger sale of Warner Creek timber that was to be bid on this month. Cascadia Free Staters say the Feds wouldn't have acted without pressure brought about by the occupation.

Meanwhile, the Siskiyou Forest Defenders in southern Oregon have turned an attempted old-growth logging operation in the
Siskiyou National Forest
into a Free State. Enviros are blockading an 8,000 acre logging operation in federally-owned Cove/Mallard wilderness Area in Idaho. And activists are discussing the possibility of a Headwaters Free State in Northern California if negotiations for the long disputed Redwood groves there falter.

The Cascadian Free Staters are hesitant to claim total victory. "All we
know is that we've kept chain saws off the mountain for almost a year," says Tim Ream, a former Environmental Protection Administration employee who staged a 75-day hunger strike earlier this year. The Cascadians say they won't relinquish their fledgling homeland until an acceptable, binding settlement is reached.

"And if we leave," says activist Cindy Noblitt, "we'll never take our eyes off them."

Copyright © Pacific News Service

Quote of the day

All God's children

"My Webchildren have God-sightings all the time. They stub their toes and have memories, or get visions of space porpoises during sex. I too sometimes feel I have been hit by lightning -- but I'm making a slow somersault into acceptance. I now believe in the God that people
who don't believe in God believe in. As I tell my congregation, 'God has got to be here somewhere.' "

The "Reverend Billy," aka Bill Talen, who broadcasts "services" daily via RealAudio at (From "Surfing The Net For God: 'Reverend Billy' offers guidance to 'Webchildren'," in Tuesday's San Francisco Chronicle.

By A. Clay Thompson

A. Clay Thompson, a former activist in the squatter movement, has just returned from a two-month reporting trip to Germany and other countries in northern Europe.

MORE FROM A. Clay Thompson

Related Topics ------------------------------------------