A New Generation of Activists Put Their Bodies on the Line to Defend California’s Forests

In Humboldt County, California, activists prevent logging companies from felling trees by using their own bodies as blockades.

The deforestation of the Amazon is recognized around the world as a catastrophe for global climate change. Far less recognized is the threat of deforestation of temperate rainforests, such as the enormous coastal forest that stretches from Northern California to Alaska. By some estimates, temperate rainforests sequester from 2 to 7 times as much carbon per acre as tropical rainforests like the Amazon. Keeping these ecosystems healthy and intact is an imperative part of avoiding a future of cataclysmic global warming.

In Humboldt County, California, activists have been fighting for decades to preserve the forests and have embraced direct action tactics aimed at physically preventing logging companies from felling redwoods, Douglas firs, madrones, and other trees by using their own bodies as blockades. They have built platforms 100 feet in the air in the canopies of trees and lived on them for weeks, months, or even years at a time. They have erected tripods to block logging roads and sat atop them, so that if the tripods were dismantled, they would face injury or death. They have chained themselves to bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment.

The tradition in the region stretches back to the legendary activism of Judi Bari, Julia “Butterfly” Hill, and many less well-known but no less committed radical environmental activists. Today, a new generation of activists has taken up the cause, using direct action tactics to confront logging companies such as Sierra Pacific Industries, Green Diamond Resource Company, and the Humboldt Redwood Company (the latter is the company that used to be Pacific Lumber, which was the target of Earth First!’s activism in the “Timber Wars” of the 1980s and ’90s). Our short documentary, produced by Adamant Media, tells their story.

Note: We were not able to secure interviews with spokespersons from Green Diamond Resource Company and Humboldt Redwood Company in time for publication, but a representative of the Humboldt Redwood Company claimed that its “hack and squirt” technique for clearing the forest of hardwood trees is environmentally sustainable and that the company seeks to eventually phase out the use of chemical herbicides. The representative further stated that the company cut the resupply lines of a tree-sitting activist only in order to prevent supporters on the ground from sending materials that presented fire dangers up into the tree.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets that aims to strengthen coverage of the climate crisis.

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