Tree-spiking has become a dangerous weapon in the battle against logging interests by certain individuals and fringe ecology groups, and an Idaho senator wants to make such activity a federal offense. In May, a young sawmill worker at the Louisiana-Pacific company in Cloverdale, Calif. was seriously injured when he hit two timber spikes in a redwood log he was sawing, causing the bandsaw blade to explode.
Outraged by the incident, and by what he calls a disturbing new presence in the environmental movement, Sen. James McClure (R) of Idaho introduced legislation late last month that would allow federal prosecutors to bring felony charges where injury or death is the result of spiking. It would allow misdemeanor charges in cases where no injuries occurred.
Though some pieces of metal such as bullets, discarded horseshoes, and barbed-wire strands make their way into saw logs by accident, officials say the Cloverdale spikes were put there on purpose, apparently by someone who wanted to stop further logging in Elk, Calif., where the tree and others like it were harvested.
The company restarted the mill May 11, cutting the same saw logs, and wrecked 10 edger saws on another spike, said Louisiana-Pacific spokeswoman Glenys Simmons. When they sorted the Elk logs out, a third spike was found, she said.
Ms. Simmons said Louisiana-Pacific officials think the person who ``spiked'' the trees was either a radical environmentalist bent on preventing further logging or someone familiar with the spiking method described in a 14-page chapter on spiking in Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood's 1985 book ``Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching.'' Monkey-wrenching is a term for environmentalist sabotage, or ``ecotage'' made popular by author Edward Abbey.
Tree-spiking is accomplished by driving large bridge timber spikes deep into a tree. A second spike is used to drive the first out of sight into the tree. The second spike is then removed. While some mills are starting to use metal detectors to save their equipment and employees, radical environmentalists get around this by using ceramic spikes.
Senator McClure said he doesn't care that Mr. Foreman and others who advocate spiking claim they do so to preserve ancient old-growth timber. ``He won't get away with wrapping himself in noble motives,'' McClure said.
Mr. Foreman, contacted in Tucson, Ariz., where he publishes books and operates Earth First!, a radical environmental defense group, said he doubts the law will make much difference. And he said he has never heard of a tree-spiker getting caught. The practice is at least as old as an 1874 California law prohibiting it and was first used in contract wars between sawmill owners and their employees, Foreman said.
He also doubts the person who spiked the redwood that burst the saw in Cloverdale was an Earth Firster because Earth First! saboteurs are concerned about old growth trees, not 24-inch ``pecker-poles,'' as smaller saw logs are known in the timber industry. Further, he said, his book coaches ecoteurs to be careful to prevent accidents by warning loggers and sawmill operators of the spiking in hopes that logging will be canceled in old-growth forests.
``We've failed if a spiked tree gets to a sawmill,'' he said. Foreman conceded that the threat of destroying sawmill machinery also brings with it the threat of injury to sawmill workers, but said he cares more about old-growth timber than about sawmill workers. He admitted that he has never been inside a sawmill. Asked if his group has tried to work with millworkers instead of endangering them, he said attempts at solidarity between millworkers and environmentalists always fail.
He said loggers and sawmill workers are the ``front line'' in the destruction of old-growth forests and the animal life they support. Foreman said it was ``the height of arrogance'' for anyone to think his job is more important than a 1,000-year-old tree.
The senator contends that it is unacceptable for Foreman and people who resort to tree-spiking to ``use violence against innocent people in order to try to change a government policy with which they disagree....''
As for other incidents of ecotage, Forest Service enforcement officials report that logging equipment has been burned and sugar poured in gas tanks of logging equipment in southern Oregon. In the Siskiyou National Forest and other forests, radical environmentalists are ``sitting'' in trees. Hundreds of feet in the air they bivouac in the trees with their food and supplies, forcing loggers to choose between killing the people or leaving the trees uncut.
A number of tree-spiking incidents have also been reported in Oregon and Washington. In the central Rockies, most of the ecotage has been reported in Colorado, where logging access roads have been spiked to pop truck tires, and a disgruntled environmentalist made anonymous telephone calls, threatening to poison the water supply near an aspen-tree auction.
In Idaho, where timber production is up, but employment is down because of modernization, there have been no verified incidents of tree-spiking, although Foreman said he knows of spiking in every Western state and a number of Eastern states.