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Indybay Feature
Mattole Forest Defenders Blockade Going Strong
by Forest Defender (ncef [at]
Monday Jan 29th, 2001 6:42 PM
Blockade continues to hold at record 9 weeks.
It's been since November 28th that Maxxam/Pacific Lumber sent in Columbia Helicopter loggers accompanied by Humboldt County Sheriffs to log old-growth Douglas-fir in the Mattole River Watershed located in California's Lost Coast area. Since then Mattole Forest Defenders have moved almost 2 miles up Long Ridge (12 miles inside PL property) to create the Mattole Free State, a blockade complete with several lockdowns, a junked car and hanging pods across the road. The idea is to stop Maxxam's crews before they can get their chainsaws into the forest. Clearly Maxxam has chosen not to challenge the blockade and the near constant presence of 30 non-violent Forest Defenders in the woods. Logging operations have effectively been shut down for 9 weeks, a growing Humboldt County blockading record. Mattole and Humboldt Residents who rose at three AM for weeks in a row are holding off on the outer gate blockades for now, but are ready to mobilize if Maxxam chooses to go back in. Forest Defenders have spent Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years at the blockades, sometimes enduring days of freezing temperatures and a foot of snow. Five THP's have been approved by the California Department of Forestry, despite the community's tremendous opposition and active plans for acquisition. Several THP's are awaiting the outcome of legal challenges and three currently sit on the desks of CDF's staff awaiting approval. A rally last Thursday at the CDF offices in Fortuna was attended by seventy members of the community who demanded a moratorium on logging in the Mattole. Maxxam/PL's Sustained Yield Plan (SYP) shows plans to liquidate almost all of the old growth in the North Fork of the Mattole River in the next 8 years.

Background (by an anonymous Mattole resident)

A remarkable drama is playing itself out in the remote Mattole Valley on northern California's Lost Coast. Residents of the remote watershed are rising up in growing numbers in opposition to logging in one of the last great stands of old growth Douglas fir still in private hands in the entire region. At stake is almost 3000 acres of previously un-entered ancient forest as well as the rights of a local community to protect their watershed and their future against the economic demands of a distantly run corporation.

The Mattole has been the scene of one of North America's most comprehensive entirely citizen-run effort to take on the restoration of an entire watershed. Since l975, the people of the Mattole have been struggling to rescue their once great salmon runs from an oblivion to which 40 years of intensive and often damaging logging seemed to have doomed them. (93% of the valleys forestland were logged since WWII. Salmon runs are at about 5% of their original stature.) Now, residents of all ages and walks of life are on call to rise up, literally, at three in the morning, to stand vigil at the gates that loggers must use to get to Rainbow Ridge, the site of the challenged timber harvest.

Rainbow Ridge is currently the property of Pacific Lumber Company, once a well-run family-owned operation, that was taken over by corporate raider, Charles Hurwitz and his Houston, Texas-based Maxxam corporation in l985. Hurwitz has since been rapidly and systematically reducing the standing timber volume, especially the old growth, on the company's 200,000 acres. Prior timber harvest plans on PL's lands in the Rainbow Ridge area, like the current ones, call for clearcutting in old growth forest stands, a practice largely discredited elsewhere in California. The earlier logging has resulted in delivery into the river system of so much sediment from steep eroding slopes that the whole lower mainstream of the Mattole has been destabilized.

Most recently, PL gained a measure of attention when they sold to the government some of their last stands, amounting to thousands of acres, of old growth redwood. This "Headwaters deal" was publicized to the public by the Clinton administration and others as an unqualified environmental success. In fact, the deal gave the company almost half a billion dollars plus the latitude to log heavily on its other holdings under a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). These HCP's have come to be the preferred tool in the Clinton era for abetting resource extraction that "endangered species considerations" might have otherwise prevented.

Residents in the Mattole and in other watersheds in the area began to think of their valleys as "Orphans of Headwaters" since their old growth and associated endangered species seemed to have been thrown up for grabs. When PL began to submit a series of eight timber harvest plans for Rainbow Ridge over the past two years, all of them calling for clear-cutting in old growth, people began to fight back. How they have fought is a combination of legal challenges, public relations campaigns and, when all other means to stop the logging failed, direct action in the woods and at the gates.

The leading edge of the citizen struggle are a group of dedicated young people who call themselves the Mattole Forest Defenders. Among them are core members of the team that supported Julia Butterfly in her two-year long tree sit and who defended the Headwaters Forest. Some are local. Some are from out of the area. All are willing to make considerable sacrifices. They have set up a camp on Rainbow Ridge itself in the deepening winter, a 12 mile hike in, most often at night without flashlights. They faced rain, snow, cold and hunger while waiting for the logging to begin. When it finally did begin, they were ready.

Their method is to stand between the loggers and the trees to slow down the rate at which the big stems can be fallen. It is very dangerous work. The fact that the loggers have been accompanied each day by 9 to 12 Humboldt County Deputy Sheriffs has not limited the activist's effectiveness. The sheriff's role in the woods was described by one of the Forest Defenders as that of "blocking backs for the tree fallers". A lawsuit has been filed in local court challenging the legality of several of the timber harvest plans. PL has been cited for violations of forestry regulations more often than any other company in California. Their timber-harvesting license was withdrawn several years ago

Meanwhile, groups of Mattole residents, with an average age of 50 years, kept up blockades at the gates into the property to slow down access and engage loggers in dialogue. Their ultimate hope, though, is for PL to sell the land to a Humboldt County group that recently formed a non-profit organization to manage timberlands for maximum ecological and economic benefit to the local community. PL has refused to become a willing seller up until now.

For more information:

Direct Action: Mattole Forest Defenders,(VM) 707-441-3828
POB 28, Arcata, CA 95518
North Coast Earth First!, (VM) 707-825-6598
ncef [at]
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