The Lumberjack

Forest defense flies high in the Mattole Valley

President of HSU Climate Crisis Ava Biscoe (left) poses with Earth First! and HSU Climate Crisis member Jack Noonan. Photo by Tyrone McDonald.

Chunder Dome activists blockade the Long Ridge Road.

Old-growth forests no longer exist in many places where they once thrived.

According to National Geographic, the Redwood National Park contains less than five percent of the original two million acres of old-growth forests that once existed in the park.

“The forest defenders are here, because the trees are here,” Jack Noonan, Earth First! Humboldt and Humboldt State Climate Crisis member, said. “The forest defenders have a stake in preserving old-growth forests. Trees are the best defense against climate change we have.”

The Mattole Valley is in southern Humboldt County, stretching from Whitethorn to Petrolia along the Mattole River. Since 2014, the Earth First! environmental movement has been holding off the Humboldt Redwood Company from logging old- growth Douglas-fir forests in the North Fork Basin of the Mattole Valley.

Jene McCovey, HSU anthropology alumnus and present HSU Climate Crisis member, describes forest defense as three influential steps: direct action, lawsuits and media.

“Earth First! will slap a lawsuit on Humboldt Redwood Company and they will slap back, filling a lawsuit on Earth First!” McCovey said.

While lawsuits are being issued, direct action is taking place in the forest. Stanton Wood has been involved in protecting the Mattole Valley since 2014 when this defense of the North Fork Basin got underway.

“We are out here fighting for forestry best management practices,” Wood said.

Earth First! opposes clear-cutting methods as well as the hack and squirt practice of killing small trees.

“The hack and squirt method includes a person with a machete hacking several slices into a one foot diameter tree or smaller, [the tree at a persons chest height] and squirting Monsanto herbicide into the cut to kill the tree,” Wood said.

The success of the forest defense blockade on Long Ridge Road has to do with the ingenious use of giant tripods built in the middle of logging access roads, known to Earth First! as Skypods or Chunder Domes.

These Chunder Dome tripods are built from three trees that are tied together at the top. Woody debris, or chunder, is placed inside the tripod. At the top of the tripod legs, a rope is attached. This rope stretches out across the valley and connects to a platform suspended in space, which is connected to a second rope that is attached to another Chunder Dome on the other side of the valley.

“If someone were to disturb the Chunder Dome or cut the rope, the people on the platform would fall to their death,” Wood said.

The Humboldt Redwood Company can’t move a Chunder Dome, so they are denied access to the road used to get to the trees.

Long Ridge, located within the Mattole Valley, had been fought for and won by Earth First! and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) in the early 2000s.

“Long Ridge was set aside when the EPIC environmental organization took Humboldt Redwood Company to court and won around 2002,” Wood said.

“In the past, the Humboldt Redwood Company would negotiate and honor agreements. Today, they seem to only be looking at their corporate bottom line, going after the best of what is left of their holdings,” Rob DiPerna said on EPIC’s blog on Feb. 20.

The Earth First! victory of blocking Lone Ridge Road has led to the Humboldt Redwood Company amending their Timber Harvest Plan to allow for new road construction to bypass the Chunder Domes.

“The outcome of the new road is expected in the first two weeks of March. It will either be accepted or rejected,” Wood said.

The Timber Harvest Plan amendment must go through CAL FIRE and other agencies, following a period of public comments and opinions.

Karen Coulter is the director of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, monitoring federal agency’s policies regarding logging and spraying toxic herbicides on public lands.

The HSU Climate Crisis Club is making arrangements to have Earth First! author and environmental and social justice activist Coulter come to HSU in April. Climate Crisis plans to have Coulter host Earth First! workshops on strategic campaign planning: media strategies for activists and public land monitoring.

If you would like to get in contact with Earth First! in the Mattole Valley, they have a Facebook page, Save the Mattole Ancient Forest, or their email address is: mattoleancientforest@riseup.net.