Greg King is the 2016 Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. In addition to discovering Headwaters Forest and leading the fight to save the largest remaining patch of old-growth redwoods in private hands, Greg has worked as a journalist, activist, and environmental professional, including founding and running the Siskiyou Land Conservancy. His lifetime of work is an inspiration to us all. The following excerpt is taken from an interview with Greg from the EcoNews Report on KHSU. Greg will be receiving the Sempervirens Award at EPIC’s Fall Celebration, at the Mateel Community Center on Friday, November 4th 2016, with musical performances by Joanne Rand, Woven Roots and Object Heavy. Click here to purchase your tickets to the event.
Natalynne: You’ve devoted over 30 years to the environmental movement, what caused you to become an environmentalist?
Greg: When I got out of college in 1985, I started to work for a newspaper called, “The Paper.” I discovered that this beautiful second-growth redwood grove on the Russian River had been flagged for logging. So that was when I got into investigating timber politics and that led me to understand logging laws and timber harvest laws. I discovered that Louisiana Pacific was regularly violating state logging laws. I learned by talking to Sharon Duggan, EPIC’s attorney, that this was how things were going in timber politics.
Then, in late-1985 Maxxam took over Pacific Lumber, and everyone knew that Pacific Lumber had the world’s largest ancient redwood groves left on earth that weren’t in parks. So again, I was talking to Sharon and I said “I think I want to look into that” and she said “Yeah you probably should, somebody needs to look into that”—the takeover had just happened.
Early on in ‘86 it was clear that that was what was happening, this dismantling of the last ancient redwood grove on earth, with the complete rubber stamp of the state, and county officials just bending over for Maxxam. It was really actually disgusting how little internal dissention there was for what was clearly illegal logging and an illegal take over [of Pacific Lumber]. So I started writing to the Department of Forestry and going to Humboldt County in early ‘86 to explore the woods. I went for my first hike into the ancient redwoods held by Maxxam’s Pacific Lumber, in what we now call “Owl Creek Grove,” which was 1,000 acres of untouched ancient redwoods. I was so taken aback by the power of this place—I had been to redwood groves all of my life, and all of them had the mark of humanity, the trails, the signs etc.—but this was wild redwood forest, and I felt the difference. Then I realized that Maxxam was going log this place, so I came out of the woods prepared to stop them. That’s where I met Darryl Cherney, and he and I then co-founded Humboldt County EarthFirst! and we began to organize demonstrations.
N: In addition to the publication, what strategies were you and Darryl using to get this information out to the public?
G: By the mid- late ‘86 we myself, some Humboldt State students, and others, like Molokai, Larry Evans, Nina Williams, and Danielle Felipa, and several other people began mapping the redwood groves. In early 1987 we put out a publication called, “Old Growth in Crisis,” and the centerfold was a map showing the size and location of these groves for the first time in public. That was a significant event to get this information out. There were the demonstrations; the first ones were in Arcata, San Francisco and Scotia in ‘86. We were taught how to climb trees by rock-climbing guru, Kurt Newman, so that’s what we did, tree sitting in large part. In May of 1987 we had a national day of direct action were we had activists storm Pacific Lumber and Maxxam sites in Houston, Wall Street, San Francisco, and Humboldt County. We did a lot of direct action—no equipment sabotage ever, no tree spiking ever—we only put ourselves on the line, tree sitting, sitting in front of bulldozers, rallying, [and] protesting. We did a lot of public outreach, a lot of good professional work to let people know what was at stake.
N: You were saying there was lets just say bullying by the Department of Forestry, and this political will to take out the forests. What do you think that was based on, why was the state rubber-stamping this? Did they have something to gain from allowing this to happen?
G: I think the incentive came from the network. I hate to use the term “good ol’ boy network,” it’s cliché, but they all went to the same forestry school mostly here at HSU. Basically the idea was to not disallow logging, and not to disallow maximum profits, so we continued to see that, and we understood that this was the way it had always been. Really it is extraordinary to me that this [was a] kind of criminal enterprise—and that’s really what people have to understand, that this was a criminal enterprise from the beginning from the takeover of PL, all the way through to the logging, through the liquidation of the assets, the bulking of the share holders.
Maxxam had excellent attorneys, they easily determined that we are going to be able to do what we want in the forest without any oversight or impediment of the state. I don’t think they expected EPIC though. I mean EPIC really was heroic, the efforts of EPIC at that time. Cecilia Lanman—I mean you can’t pull out just one person, so many people, including this great volunteer run board of directors that still continues today—but Cecilia just sticking with it, through difficult times, unpaid, and just not letting it go, and that made a huge difference.
N: So bringing that up, there was a very symbiotic relationship between EPIC and Humboldt Earth first, could you describe what that relationship was like?
G: The relationship was always necessarily kept in a philosophical realm and, physical in terms of it being the same issues. But of course EPIC could not do anything with illegal activity, and we were getting arrested all the time, for good reason. The relationship between EPIC and EF! was mostly philosophical, but also physical in which we were fighting for the same thing; the last of the redwoods, and not just the last of the redwoods, the last of the salmon, the last of the steelheads, the last of the marbled murrelet’s, the last of this type of habitat. Now what we need to do is lock up these “lesser cathedrals,” a horrible name for these ancient redwoods left just outside of Headwaters Forests Preserve. These are about 1,500-2,000 acres maybe of untouched redwoods, and a large swath of connected habitat land that needs to be protected very soon.
N: There’s definitely room for organizations like EPIC, Siskiyou Land Conservancy, and North Coast Regional Land trust to work with Humboldt Redwood Company to really lock up these lands. You’re now currently executive director of the Siskiyou Land Conservancy, can you describe the Siskiyou Land Conservancy?
G: We aim to create a land trust that would take title to, and hold conservation easements on, private properties not served by other land trusts — usually meaning small parcels that hold, and connect, important riparian and terrestrial habitats. In this work we have been successful. Siskiyou Land Conservancy also is the only organization dedicated to eliminating excessive pesticide use on bottomlands that surround the vital Smith River estuary, in Del Norte County. Nobody else has uncovered this terrible crime against the people in the environment there like we have, and we’ve been doing since ’04. And now we’re starting to get somewhere with the state, and the federal government is doing an investigation as well, so things are progressing.
N: So you have been on the front lines of the environmental movement for 30 years, and we know there is a lot of burn out in this line of work. How did you manage to sustain your drive for so long, and do you have any recommendations to young activists for sustaining their fight.
G: I have ebbed and flowed a lot. But what sustains me is to just get out in it, as Ed Abbey and David Foreman both kind of recommended. You have to enjoy the wild, in order to protect the wild.
We need you to show your support for Greg King, EPIC and for the beloved forests of the North Coast. Help us fill the Mateel Community Center to meet our fundraising goals for the year, by purchasing your tickets now to join us on Friday, November 4th for EPIC’s 39th Annual Fall Celebration. Act now by clicking here or on the image below. Thanks!