Yearlong protest of timber sale broken up by authorities

Posted: Friday, July 07, 2000

ESTACADA, Ore. (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service drove anti-logging protesters from roadblocks on the Mount Hood National Forest on Friday, breaking up a yearlong demonstration that had blocked harvest of a timber sale.

``We have opened the roads for the timber sale,'' said Gary Larsen, forest supervisor.

No arrests or injuries were reported, but protesters complained authorities were heavy-handed. Though roadblocks were cleared, some protesters continued to occupy nearby trees. Protesters said those remaining rigged nooses around their necks to make it harder to get them down.

The activists argue that logging in the Eagle Creek watershed threatens a drainage that provides water to almost 200,000 people in the Portland area, could harm rare plants and animals, and will destroy centuries-old trees.

The Forest Service counters that the harvest meets all requirements of the Northwest Forest Plan and will not affect water quality. The stand is made up mostly of Douglas firs that grew after a fire about 130 years ago and would benefit from thinning.

Environmentalists had suspended aerial ``pods'' made of cargo nets above the gates to two Forest Service roads that branch out in a ``Y'' leading to the timber sale. They also had constructed tree platforms as support structures near the two pods - one at each entrance.

Larsen said Forest Service law enforcement agents, police and other federal officials arrived about 4:30 a.m. to order protesters out of the area.

About a dozen left voluntarily, he said, but four initially remained - one each in the pods and the tree platforms.

Authorities later removed one woman from a pod by 10:30 a.m., using a utility ``cherry picker,'' while another woman in the nearby tree platform came down voluntarily, Larsen said.

The media was being held back from the other site while the utility equipment was sent to remove the final pair of protesters.

Environmentalists said the surprise raid was conducted with weapons drawn by federal agents and police wearing camouflage gear, including some on horseback.

``They came rushing at 4:30 in full military gear,'' said one protester who identified herself only as ``Leaf.''

``They came in out of the woods,'' she said. ``There were folks on horseback. We were pinned to the ground. They followed us around all through the woods like we were criminals.''

Larsen denied that police drew weapons or wore special equipment or clothing.

``I'm confident every last one of our law enforcement officials performed in a highly respectable manner,'' Larsen said.

But another protester, Brian Schulz, said authorities were careless about the way they freed ropes tied from the pods to the gates to the Forest Service roads.

Schulz said police and federal agents ``completely and blatantly disregarded the life of the girl up there'' in one of the pods suspended over the access road.

Leaf said remaining protesters had fashioned nooses attached to supporting ropes on the pods suspended over the roads, so that if the supporting ropes are cut, the protesters would be hanged.

``We're really hoping they're not going to hurt anyone. The way the structures are built, if they try to take them down, they will collapse and definitely hurt the person in it,'' said Donald Fontenot of the Cascadia Forest Alliance.

Forest Service spokeswoman Jeree Mills said the activists were removed under a federal closure order issued by Larsen, the Mount Hood National Forest supervisor.

She said the closure order only affected the area near the two forest service gates. She said it does not affect activists living in trees farther back in the forest.

Mills said the order was issued because authorities are worried about sanitation issues created by the activists camping in the area, along with the hazards created if the pods or tree platforms should fall.

She said the Forest Service is also contractually obligated to allow the timber contract buyer - Vanport Manufacturing of Boring - access to the site.

The activists started their protest last summer, blocking roads, living in trees and camping in the area.



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