By Richard Gienger
We should, here in 2010, take notice, reflect, and refresh at a wellspring of inspiration on occasion of the 25th anniversary of the landmark, precedent-setting EPIC v. Johnson appeal court decision in 1985. From a statewide, and even national perspective, EPIC v. Johnson marked a significant milestone in environmental protection, much of which was initiated by environmental laws passed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In California this included the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Forest Practices Act (FPA), and California Endangered Species Act (CESA). There were federal legislative counterparts with some direct cross-over, notably the California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (1969) affecting the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972.
During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, the turmoil of politics and natural resources was intense in the Redwood Region of California (and lingers today), especially from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border. Damage from the huge floods in 1955 and 1964 were greatly increased from the horrific impacts of the post WWII logging boom (which was basically unconstrained & pushed by the ad valorem tax on standing timber). The old “Forest Practice Act” was thrown out for being unconstitutional (no rules unless the large landowners agreed). A number of counties struggled to have their own rules. The effort to protect an adequate National Redwood Park was a huge local, regional, and national issue. The general move to constrain unbridled ‘boom & bust’ resource economies to respond to environmental considerations like conservation for the future with protection for wildlife, remnant old-growth forests, and the beneficial uses of water — set the stage for dramatic, stressful, and from time to time, violent manifestations of significant social and cultural change. I don’t have the time and space to detail all the important legal cases, other events, and situations leading up to the July 25th, 1985 EPIC v. Johnson decision, or the cases, events, and situations in the last 25 years — but I will try and give a coherent summary of the decision and related matters from a local “Mateel” perspective, and through the experience of a participant, from time to time, in various activist and watershed restoration efforts.
The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) was founded in 1976 or 1977, depending on the person you talk to. It formally was accepted as a 501(3)(c) several years later. It’s formation was catalyzed by the region’s opposition to the aerial spraying of phenoxy herbicides (2,4,5T & 2,4D: components of the ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant used in Vietnam) on forestlands surrounding or adjacent to human communities. The specific instigating situation for Northern Mendocino and Southern Humboldt Counties was the attempt by the Barnum Timber Company (BTC) to aerially spray its timberland, mainly in the Sprowel Creek Watershed west of the town of Garberville. Due to vocal and written opposition encouraged by EPIC, and spontaneous direct action by various individuals, such as removal of truck keys from the truck hauling an herbicide application helicopter through Garberville, and contamination of barrels of herbicide near an herbicide application site — BTC was prompted to cancel its proposed aerial application of herbicides. (more…)