This month is the 20th anniversary of the death of David Nathan “Gypsy” Chain, a forest activist killed by a tree felled by a logger employed by the Pacific Lumber Company. This sad anniversary offers a moment for reflection—on the gains extracted by activists like Gypsy, and on the battles not yet won.
The legacy left by Gypsy and other forest defenders is written not only in the forests that they protected but in the rules by which timber must operate. This may not sound true—especially when looking out at a fresh clearcut—but California has the strictest forest practice rules in the country. We are the envy of the Pacific Northwest, and at EPIC, we often field questions from friends across the country about how our rules operate. These rules were borne from struggle—from forest activists blocking timber sales to legal advocates winning lawsuits.
The rules tell the story of the Timber War in the North Coast. For example, consideration of cumulative impacts (such as it is) was a product of the Sally Bell Grove campaign. When timber companies threatened to log the last remaining old-growth in Little Jackass Creek, a note went up on the marquee on the Garberville Theatre: “G-P Cutting Sinkyone. Help Now. EPIC.” The next day, loggers were surprised by 40 forest defenders and a Eureka television news crew. The forest defenders stalled loggers long enough that EPIC was able to obtain an injunction from a judge against logging. In the end, EPIC would win the day against Georgia-Pacific in the famous EPIC v. Johnson, in which the California Supreme Court affirmed the obligation that timber companies consider the cumulative impacts of their logging.
This anniversary also provides an occasion to reflect on how far we still have to go. Humboldt Redwood Company is threatening to log an unentered stand in the Mattole watershed and have only been thwarted by courageous forest defenders. In response, the company took a page out of the old timber playbook, hiring a private paramilitary contractor to make citizen arrests of activists. Green Diamond continues to clearcut with abandon, currying sweet deals from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bypass endangered species protections.
The life of David Chain is a reminder of the value of the struggle. In this struggle, we become our best selves. We test our mettle and discover we are stronger than we thought. We commit ourselves to higher principles and find purpose and fulfillment. The struggle gives shape and meaning to an otherwise transitory and fleeting existence. In it we become fully human.
On this 20th anniversary, let’s redouble our efforts and spirit to take on the timber beast again. And let’s do it in Gypsy’s style: with gusto, with humor, and with love and compassion for all beings.
To donate to the David Nathan “Gypsy” Chain scholarship, please visit http://www.hafoundation.org/GypsyChain