ASHLAND, ORE. — FOR environmental activists and their adversaries, it's turning into a long, hot summer of confrontation and protest.
Dozens of people have been arrested for illegally entering forests where logging is planned or under way. Some have locked themselves to logging equipment or gates. Others have buried themselves up to the neck in logging roads.
There are peaceful elements to the protest, such as fasts and quiet marches. Monks at a monastery in northern California maintained a day of silence. "We see ourselves as guardians of the old-growth forests," explained one member of the Cistercian Order at the Redwoods Monastery.
But there was also an anonymous threat of "tree spiking" in Idaho last week - vigorously disavowed by environmental leaders. And some members of a small Montana-based group known as the "Environmental Rangers" carry legal firearms while they "defend" old-growth forests by videotaping logging they contend is illegal.
"I would say there's been a quantum-leap escalation on all fronts," says Darryl Cherney, an organizer with Earth First!, referring to everything from environmental law suits, to a crackdown by police officials, and logging on national and private forests - as well as the rise in protest activity.
Behind the increased activity this summer is frustration at congressional efforts to rewrite environmental laws while allowing salvage logging in the West and limiting the public's right to challenge timber sales. In addition, environmentalists fighting timber sales on national forests have lost recent court decisions. They're also down on the Clinton administration for not taking a harder line with congressional conservatives.
"We're kind of disgusted with the way the laws are being manipulated and misused," says Ric Valois, a Vietnam veteran who founded the "Environmental Rangers" about four years ago. Mr. Valois says his group of ex-military men and native Americans carries weapons strictly for defense, since environmentalists have been assaulted.
Earlier this month, a group of protesters occupied an office of the California Department of Forestry in the northern part of the state. About two-dozen people were arrested and five were treated at a local hospital when law-enforcement officers used pepper spray to rout the demonstrators.
On the same day, a half dozen more were arrested for locking themselves together in a "human chain" across the entrance to a redwood forest owned by the Pacific Lumber Company in northern California and for scrambling up a pile of lumber to hang a "Boycott Redwood" banner.
Meanwhile, about 60 activists last week hiked 46 miles on a "spirit walk" to a Boise Cascade Corporation office in southern Oregon to protest a controversial timber sale in the Siskiyou National Forest. And in central Idaho, activists have been arrested for trespassing on national forest land in protest of three timber sales in what is the largest roadless and unlogged area outside of Alaska, known as Cove/Mallard.
"More and more people are coming to central Idaho every day," says Robert Amon, leader of the Cove/Mallard Coalition. "People are locking themselves to equipment. People are burying themselves in roads. Sometimes the Forest Service arrests them, sometimes they look the other way."
By building 145 miles of logging roads and opening up some 76,000 acres to timber harvesting in the Cove/Mallard area, environmentalists contend, the Forest Service is in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act.
The tension over forest protests increased last week when notes mailed from Portland, Ore., to officials of the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho warned that ceramic spikes had been driven into trees slated for logging in the Cove/Mallard timber-sale area. The notes were signed "elves for habitat."
"It's obviously a group that's been made up," said Jake Kreilick, a spokesman for the Native Forest Network in Missoula, Mont. "We feel it's a hoax." Activists believe the threat is the work of opponents, designed to divert attention from timber sales harmful to the environment.
But spikes driven into trees (especially ceramic spikes that avoid metal detectors) can be hazardous - even deadly - to loggers and millworkers, and the United States Forest Service is taking the incident seriously. Trees are being visually inspected and X-ray machines may be used at saw mills.
Says Nez Perce National Forest spokeswoman Elayne Murphy: "Our big concern right now is the safety of everybody - loggers, law-enforcement people, and activists."