Tag Archives: Eco-defense

Road Kill

Thu, 10 Jan 2008

New highway blocked by protesting “Raccoons”
The barricade at the end of the road is decorated with freshly-planted poinsettias in a mound of earth. Yellow plastic sunflowers, two graffitied TV sets and an oversize truck tire line a meter-wide trench just past the pavement’s end. They mark the boundary between the city and a protest camp occupied by a new generation of Canadian environmental protestors: the Raccoons.

The Raccoons are a ragtag mob of irregulars holding back a major highway interchange project designed to service Bear Mountain, a sprawling golf resort in Langford, just west of Victoria, B.C. A few dozen dumpster-diving, trash-talking, anti-authoritarians with a passion for undisturbed natural places have built a camp in the path of the new highway. The proposed interchange cuts through a pocket of forest packed with natural and cultural rarities: a sacred First Nations cave, a seasonal pond, garry oak meadows, arbutus bluffs, red-legged frogs and chocolate lilies.

Right now the Bear Mountain Tree Sit looks like a gloomy, swampy hobo camp, dotted with tents, tree forts at dizzying heights overhead, and a giant teepee covered with tarps. “A tarpee,” notes one of the campers.

“This is the only example of eco-anarchist action in Canada right now,” says Ingmar Lee, a Victoria environmentalist and camp supporter. “This is the grassroots, and it’s a totally different kind of protest.” Hundreds of people in the community directly support the camp with donations of food, camping gear, and funds for legal defense.

Almost all the Raccoons are under 25, and some are veterans of the Cathedral Grove treesit protest, which lasted two years and ultimately defeated a B.C. Parks plan to cut down giant trees to build a parking lot. Here, the first platform went up in April. Five more followed, and they are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kicking the protest camp off public property is a sticky legal issue, and so far no one has moved to start a court case. But Stewart Young, the gung-ho pro-development mayor of Langford, is ramping up his criticism. The mayor’s rumblings peaked with Young accusing the campers of poaching deer and rabbits at the site.

Young said bylaw officers found a deer carcass near the camp in the woods. “We’ve respected their right to protest, but killing deer and rabbits is absolutely disgusting,” Young told the Goldstream News Gazette in December. The city directed the RCMP and conservation officers to investigate and lay charges if they find out who is responsible. No one has been charged.

Two neighbors who live adjacent to the forest said it’s not the campers who are killing animals. “There’s been poaching in this area for decades,” said an elderly neighbor on Goldstream Avenue who declined to give his name.

“We’ve called the conservation officers about deer carcasses a couple times a year ever since I’ve lived here,” said Ron Rayner, a long-time resident who lives just north of the camp and the TransCanada Highway. “It’s an ongoing problem.”

Langford resident Bob Partridge is “skeptical” about the mayor’s claims. He writes, “[J]ust now, as construction is supposed to begin on the Spencer Road Interchange, the protesters/activists who have previously been requesting donations of whole grains, have apparently suddenly become carnivores, slaughtering innocent animals in the woods of Langford?”

“Are we certain they are also not sleeping on duvets stuffed with spotted owl feathers?” Partridge asked sarcastically.

Some of the campers admit they eat deer, rabbits and even raccoons – but they insist they are not hunting . The meat is road kill collected from the TransCanada Highway, one tree sitter told A Channel News. Another pointed out the hypocrisy of building a highway that will mangle more animals, while simultaneously trying to cast the environmentalists as bunny killers. A third wondered aloud if Stewart Young was vegan.

RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers tell us the Raccoons are “guests of the city of Langford,” and they even allow them to have a campfire without a permit. Back in April, Young huffed to reporters, “They are on provincial land right now and it’s going to be a year or so before we get to the point of having to go there, so they can sit there as long as they want.” The protestors took him at his word and set up a kitchen, where they cook raccoon stew, venison steaks, and bunny burgers.

No doubt the tree sit gives Young a royal pain in the ass, but the blustery mayor has bigger fish to fry. Langford City Council, in a “special” meeting convened two days after Christmas, made the unusual move of adopting two new bylaws, rather than just giving them first reading. One bylaw authorizes borrowing $25 million to build the interchange, while the second exempts the process from the usual counter-petition process, which normally would give citizens the right to challenge a decision.

The community’s response is a roar of outrage. Many residents of Langford, it seems, are more irate about the apparent abuse of process than about the imminent loss of green space, wetlands, and rare species. Dozens of volunteers are joining forces to canvass the city with a (non-binding) petition to reject the bylaws.

Steven Hurdle of Langford is organizing the petition drive. “While Langford may have found a legal loophole in declaring the interchange a ‘Local Service Area’ to let them avoid the referendum, we can still win the political war,” he writes. “Langford council might find this an albatross that’s unexpectedly hanging around their neck as this issue drags on.”

Back at the camp, tree sitters and visitors are critiquing the City of Langford’s annual levee tour. Every New Year’s, politicos across the region open up their offices to the public, with free booze and food for all.

Well, not quite all. “They only had bag lunches for like 25 people,” one complains. “I got there at the end and there was no more food. So I took all the tea bags that were left.”

Another camper pipes up, “That punch was weak.”

“Yeah, the punch was watered down, so we had to drink more of it to get a buzz.”

“Yeah, that’s why we brought our own cups. We did it up proper with the cups.”

“We asked if we could take their poinsettias with us, but they said no. ”

Laughter. “We kept asking and we wouldn’t leave. Then after a while, they gave us the poinsettias just so we would leave.”

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The Saddest Pagan in the World

Tue, 25 Dec 2007

Singing the blues in Langford. Photo by Pete Rockwell.

Along with all the other shit that went down this past month, I got hit with the stomach flu, and that triggered fresh spasms of health problems. I’m on drugs now, but they’re not fun drugs. At least I don’t have to worry about getting fat.

The local paper has publicly labeled the Bear Mountain tree sit crew as tree-spikers, vandals, welfare bums, poachers, and outside agitators. The RCMP and city enforcement officers stepped up their harassment this week after the forest defenders dug a trench and built a barricade across the access road at the site of the new highway bypass.

The campers are in high spirits. Six platforms are now occupied by brave souls who are risking their freedom to protect the Langford Lake Cave, Spencer’s Pond, the wetlands, the screech owls, great horned owls, red-legged frogs and arbutus trees. Supporters and volunteers bring food, blankets, and cash donations. The legal defense fund is swollen with contributions as we brace for the inevitable court battle.

Physical and emotional distress have been keeping me away from the camp for long periods. But Saturday night, I was hanging out in the forest, watching low clouds fly across the face of the nearly-full moon, when the shout came from the road. Three RCMP cruisers pulled up at high speed, the lead car braking too late to avoid plunging partway into the trench at the end of the road. The headlights came straight at us, and then dipped down sharply. I thought, “Oh shit, they’re gonna be pissed.”

They were. I ducked behind the welcome tent as the officers stormed into the camp. “You’re all under arrest,” the biggest one boomed out, shining a high-powered light at the four young men in front of him. I hit the dirt, face down in the wet leaves and low brush right behind the tent.

Shouts, running feet pounding down the trail, and the rest of the crew booked it into the woods. “Don’t move!” barked the officer at the four standing their ground. “Everyone’s under arrest.” To another officer: “Take that crap down.” The second officer grabbed the makeshift tent and began to tear its tarp roof from the log beams. A few feet away, I cowered down closer to the ground, barely breathing. The lights shone back and forth, up and down.

Then my cell phone rang. I scrambled to shut it off. All the beams turned in my direction. “What’s that?” barked the officer. “Go check it out.” I melded with the mud and wet leaves at the base of a scrawny dogwood. The lights came closer. Then a shout from the woods pulled them away again.

I was plotting my chances of escape, so I could call the lawyers and bail the tree people out of jail. But there was no need. The cops held the men for half an hour, took their names and gave a lecture. No camping on the roadway. Then everyone was released.

Now I’m back home in the old farmhouse that I share with three other people and assorted visitors camping out on the living room couches. But there is only one bathroom. I keep a bucket with a tight-fitting lid in the bedroom, since my gut rot won’t let me wait around for a vacancy. The room is lovely, with a high ceiling and bay windows, and right now it stinks of shit and incense.

Thanks to the gastritis, the stomach flu, the stress and everything else, my immune system is shot to hell. My sinuses are oozing bright yellow snot and I’m woozy from fever. I’m broke and in debt.

It was obvious that there would be no Christmas for me this year.

But late last night, I heard a commotion on the porch. My friend Rose Henry was knocking on the door. “Merry Christmas,” she said. The man behind her was lugging a hamper filled with mandarin oranges, cranberry sauce, canned veggies, pasta, stuffing mix, candy, and even toilet paper. I almost cried.

One of the roommates got a turkey, and he’s invited a couple friends over for an orphans’ Christmas tonight. I’m making the stuffing.

It makes me think — even the saddest pagan in the world might find happiness at Christmas.

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Tree Sit Braces for a Showdown

Sun, 16 Dec 2007

From Infoshop.org and our December 15 press release.


Rally against the interchange, December 8, 2007. (Photos by Pete)

Bear Mountain Tree Sitters Bracing for a Showdown

Since April 2007, people have been occupying a large piece of land in Langford, British Columbia, Canada in order to stop the construction of a four-lane cloverleaf interchange. The interchange is being built to service the recent Bear Mountain developments (golf course, luxury homes, etc.). The land that is to be used for the road construction includes many culturally and ecologically sensitive sites including a large garry oak ecosystem, a sacred cave, a pond, and culturally modified trees. People have been resisting the Bear Mountain developments for some time, but the city of Langford and the developers have been plowing forward with their plans.

A series of visits from RCMP and Langford bylaw enforcement officers in the past few days has put the campers on high alert. On Friday, December 14, police walked into the camp and took photographs of everyone they saw. Bylaw enforcement officers also photographed people and the camp. Work crews removed two banners on Highway 1 Friday afternoon, and police threatened to arrest the campers if they interfered. A new banner was raised Friday evening.

The city is expected to demand a court order to remove the campers so interchange construction can begin. As of Friday, volunteers had raised five platforms to the tops of the trees, up to 120 feet (40 meters) off the ground, in an effort to stop the project so that environmental and cultural values can be protected. Another platform is set to be raised on Saturday, December 15.

In April, a loosely-organized group established a camp in the woods to protect the wetlands, forest, cave, and wildlife from the development. The area around Spencer’s Pond and the Langford Lake Cave at the north end of Leigh Road is valued by local residents as a park and green space. The new interchange is likely to decimate the cave, the pond, the underground geology and the diverse wildlife in the area.

Volunteers have conducted their own survey of the flora and fauna in the path of the new highway project. Some of the results are online at the Treesit Blog, along with maps, photos, background and links for more information.

Rose Henry (centre) speaks to the crowd about indigenous rights.

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Tree Sit Diary, Part 2

Tue, 4 Sep 2007

It’s the first weekend in September and I’m back at the tree sit near Victoria, BC. With the cold wind and light rain, it still feels like April. Almost five months after I first climbed up to the platform, the camp at the end of the road now boasts a motley assortment of tarps, tents, bikes, tables, stoves, coolers, and gear bags stretching across the hill above the tree house.


Langford cave. Photo: Kevin Slagboom

The legendary Langford Cave is guarded by a thirty-foot tripod over the entrance. In June, an elder from the Songhees Nation informed the campers and the city that the cave – a 40-meter-long karst cavity – is a place of cultural significance for indigenous people. He said the cave has a name in the Songhees language, but the Songhees keep their spiritual practices secret and he is not permitted to reveal the name of the cave.

This was a few weeks after city contractors showed up with a bulldozer, rock drills and welding equipment, intending to bulldoze a path to the cave and close it off with a concrete and metal grate. A dozen campers met the crew at the end of the road and politely refused to move aside and let them go to work. The tripod went up soon after, and the crew has not returned. Members of the Songhees and Tsartlip nations thanked us for defending the cave


Tripod over the cave. Photo: Clare A.

A couple hundred people have visited over the summer, including cavers, neighbours, botanists and birders. The bluffs above the camp are home to a rare and flourishing Garry Oak meadow. The oaks survive in a few undisturbed pockets on southern Vancouver Island, co-existing with wild camas and other wildflowers on rocky park-like knolls.


Garry Oaks covered with moss and lichen on the bluff above Langford Cave.

The sun has gone down and it’s dark under the tree canopy. I’ve strapped on the harness and clipped it to the rope that’s anchored sixty feet above, and I’m ready to climb the cedar again. Physically I’m in worse shape than last time, thanks to a flare-up of the chronic pain and weakness all down my left side. But so what? Paraplegics are climbing mountains these days. I could always sit at home and feel sorry for myself, but what good would that do?

I shimmy up the rope with no problems (hooray!) and clamber onto the platform. The tent and tarps look just the same. A couple dozen people have stayed up here since then, and everything is stowed away neatly, but I can sense their presence. There is new graffiti on the plywood.

Just because you fell and died

Doesn’t mean you didn’t fly.

— Lurch

Under the tarp below, the lamp is lit and a couple visitors are telling the campers about the roadkill deer they’re eating. This is the third or fourth deer they’ve found on the highway in the last couple months. Dozens of young people in Victoria survive without jobs or welfare by dumpster-diving and scavenging, and a few come out to the camp whenever they need a place to sleep or hang out.

Cars and trucks whir past on the highway. I turn on the flashlight and write. The small circle illuminates the white tarps and the red cedar tree that forms the centrepiece of the platform. The blackness beyond presses in. Eventually I switch off the light, crawl into the sleeping bag and sleep, deeply and completely.

Labour Day is cool and rainy – no surprise. Two new volunteers have arrived, full of enthusiasm for the camp and the tree sit. I rappel down to the ground and join them for breakfast – corn flour pancakes and tea made from vanilla leaf and nettles growing on the hill.


The proposed interchange route (in black) would blast right through the cave, the wetlands, and part of the Garry Oak bluff. Composite image courtesy of Rob Bowen.

Langford city staff told us last week that the interchange is going ahead as planned in spite of the outcry over protecting the cave, the bluffs, the wetlands, and endangered species in the area. The staff said they see no reason to consult with the public about the interchange project. We don’t agree, so we’re launching an unofficial Community Environmental Consultation this month.

The police are leaving the camp alone, but it seems clear that civil disobedience by itself won’t stop this misguided interchange project. The city could order us out at any time. That’s why I’ve been working my ass off consulting with lawyers, experts, activists and community groups. That’s why we’re bringing all their concerns forward in public – to put the government on notice that it’s no longer acceptable to disregard rare species, First Nations’ rights, and the will of the community when fast-tracking massive highway development projects. I’ll keep you posted as the battle grinds on.

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Who’s Killing Canada’s Environmental Movement?

Sat, 21 Jul 2007

Update: The Canadian Environmental Network is off the chopping block, the group announced July 23. A belated decision by the Environment Ministry to release the needed funds has saved the organization for another year. “I am grateful to the environmental movement for rallying to our support last week, when our survival was in question,” said CEN chairman Steve Rison in a news release. Meanwhile, dozens of other eco-organizations await news of their fate. For some – like the Climate Change impacts research group – it’s too little, too late.

——————————————————————————————————————————

The rumour mill had the bad news first, of course. Early this year, I heard reports that Environment Canada staffers were sitting idle at their desks with nothing to do, because funding for their projects was canceled

Now we hear that a wide range of eco-groups funded by the government may be headed for extinction.

John Baird, Minister of the Environment, received hundreds of emails this week pleading for the restoration of funding to organizations and networks that depend on Ottawa’s handouts to survive.

The response from government indicates it has merely mishandled budget items it considers a low priority. Minister Baird has not yet weighed in personally, but early this week a spokesperson said the funding is under review.

On Thursday, spokesperson Mike Van Soelen seemed to be backpedaling. “This is an annual process and we’re moving forward as the department does every year to evaluate and make decisions.”

“We may be a few weeks behind where we were in a typical year,” Van Soelen added.

Some dispute the government incompetence excuse, noting similarities to how Conservatives have slashed programs in the past.

Liberal MP Geoff Regan said, “It reminds me of the way the Harper government treated literacy groups last year. It seems like the Conservatives aren’t interested in any groups that don’t fit their neocon ideology.”

Whether this is a typical screwup or not, groups that expected funding way back in April haven’t seen a dime. Some professional envirocrats have already abandoned their posts, while others are in a panic over empty bank accounts and unpaid staff salaries.

And it’s not just Environment Canada choking off the cash flow – last week Natural Resources Canada suspended funding for its climate change network.

The Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network closed its doors on June 30 after the federal agency quietly scuttled funding for its six regional offices and seven research sectors. Studies on adapting to rising sea levels, changing forest zones, and threats to drinking water have now run dry.

Robin Sydneysmith tells me the group didn’t get cut for lack of results or poor performance. “The network was, by and large, deemed effective by two or three audit/reviews, and was a leading example of a very ‘made in Canada’ approach to dealing with and responding to climate change,” Sydneysmith explains in an email.

All that changed when the funding was pulled for the network. “At least the national headquarters was able to keep going for one more year, but it is effectively a ‘bodiless head,’” Sydneysmith laments. “Much good will, momentum and social capital has been lost.”

A final message from CCIARN BC says, “We remain committed and involved in furthering climate change research, especially at the community level where adaptation ultimately takes place. “

Meanwhile, Canadian Press reports another national group is facing the same crisis.

The Canadian Environmental Network, a backbone of communications within Canada’s environmental movement, has warned its staff they may be laid off next week because of federal funding cuts.

The CEN is not well known because it is non-political and does not take a stand on issues, but it plays a vital role for hundreds of environmental groups, especially smaller ones that don’t have the budget for networking and communications.

Steve Rison, chair of the group’s board of directors, warned staff their jobs were at risk in an e-mail obtained by The Canadian Press.

In the memo, he says operational funding is normally obtained annually based on an April-to-March fiscal year, but no funding has been received since April 1, nor is there any assurance it will be provided.

Rison says in the memo that the group’s executive director, Susan Tanner, is working without pay because there is no money for her salary.

Losing the Canadian Environmental Network could affect 800 or so grassroots groups, plus dozens more that rely directly on Ottawa, including:

The EcoAction Community Funding Program which provides financial support to community groups for projects “that have measurable, positive impacts on the environment,” in the words of the Environment Canada web site.

Learning for a Sustainable Future, which “works with educators from across Canada to integrate the concepts and principles of sustainable development into the curricula at all grade levels,” also according to the official web site.

The Atlantic Coastal Action Program set up by Environment Canada 1991 “to mobilize local communities to address their own environmental and developmental challenges.” The programs supports 16 local groups throughout the four Atlantic provinces.

Regan condemned the government for starving Atlantic groups while the government sits on a multibillion dollar surplus.

“These are all groups that are working to preserve and enhance our coastal ecosystems. That’s incredibly important. We’re talking here about restoring and sustaining key watersheds and adjacent coastal areas,” Regan said.

Oh, but don’t lose hope just yet. Decisions are still pending, and the rumour mill is working overtime. The latest speculation says the Ministry may restore funding to previous lackluster levels, thanks to a furious outpouring of emails and phone calls.

Either way. this past week has helped to show who has the guts to carry on even after the funding is gone, who’s willing to push back, and who flees like a rat from a sinking ship.

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Tree Huggers Gone Wild!

Tue, 12 Jun 2007

A fast photo rewind of the Wild Earth Rendezvous and the latest Bear Mountain actions.

First up is Cristina, Wild Earth’s volunteer coordinator, with an awesome display of dexterity and teamwork in defense of Bear Mountain at the World Naked Bike Ride in Victoria on June 9.


Photos: Clare A. (Click for the full-size image.)

The banner crew hijacked the parade and led the crowd to the BC Legislature.

Another volunteer climbed a tree and hung a billboard-sized banner next to the Trans Canada Highway on June 8.

Back at the Wild Earth rendezvous and action training last week, the wildflowers were blooming.

Photos: Red Cedar.

Hala’qwit, the Ditidaht First Nation song keeper, welcomed the campers with his daughter.

GNN’s Frank The Stimulator Lopez shared some laughs with Qwatsinas, a Nuxalk hereditary chief, at the Guerrilla Lounge.

Niki admired the giant Sitka Spruces.

“My name is Matthew but they call me John.” Hala’qwit’s nephew.

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Direct Action is the Antidote to Despair

Mon, 21 May 2007

Training camp teaches more than just protest tactics

Alex Patterson unbuckles the harness he’s been wearing since breakfast. The young man’s khaki pants are smeared with dirt and his hair is festooned with moss and bits of bark. He shakes out the straps of the harness and untangles the dangling ropes and clips. A second tree-climber steps out of the woods, sweaty but smiling, and gives Patterson a pat on the back. “Thanks for the lesson, man. That was awesome,” the young woman says as she turns toward the kitchen tent. “Right on. Come back tomorrow if you want to learn stirruping,” Patterson calls after her.

In front of the kitchen, a large yellow signboard proclaims, “Welcome to Wild Earth.” A second board lists the day’s workshops and ferry schedule. Three people are chopping potatoes and onions for dinner. Another strums a guitar. Two youngsters chase each other around the picnic table. On the other side of the meadow, a crowd of people mills around before forming into two lines. On a signal from the non-violence trainer, one group moves forward, shouting, waving fists, and even pushing members of the second group, who say little but hold the line by keeping their arms linked together. After a couple of minutes, the trainer calls a halt and the two groups switch roles.

The Wild Earth gathering at Newcastle Island Provincial Park in June 2006 marked seven years of training and networking for eco-action in BC. Since 1999, organizers say eight hundred people have attended seventy-five workshops on topics ranging from civil disobedience to indigenous rights. The annual “boot camp” is hosted by an independent, ad hoc group of volunteers. A grant from Rainforest Action Network covered the cost of climbing gear and transportation in 2006. Most of the food and supplies are donated by the community.

After hearing about the gathering for the first time in 2006, Patterson decided to hitchhike from Ontario to British Columbia to teach others how to climb trees. Patterson is a veteran of the Red Hill tree sits that blocked a highway project near Hamilton, and he believes more forest activists should embrace non-violent action.

“Direct action is the first and last line of defense,” Patterson says. “It’s the only way people at the grassroots level can really affect things. It sidesteps all the layers of bureaucracy and legal barriers created by people in power in order to keep themselves in power and prevent us from creating meaningful change.”

When the situation requires blockades and tree sits, forest activists need to know which strategies work. That’s why training is so crucial, Patterson says. “Whatever the moral and ethical issues of direct action, there’s very important tactical issues. If people don’t know how to do this stuff, they come to confrontations unprepared. And if we’re not prepared, the police take us to jail.”

Chief Qwatsinas (Ed Moody), of the Nuxalk Nation’s House of Smayusta, is traveling from Bella Coola to Vancouver Island to deliver a Wild Earth keynote address on problems with the Great Bear Rainforest agreement. Qwatsinas has spent more than thirteen years fighting to protect the coast, starting in 1994 when the Nuxalk invited Greenpeace to their traditional territory to witness large-scale clearcut logging. The following year, Greenpeace teamed up with the Nuxalk and other environmental groups to launch the Great Bear Rainforest campaign.

“I still remember back quite a while ago when Greenpeace was first developing; they were really brave and believed in what they’re doing,” Qwatsinas recalls. “And then it slowly began to change. The centre has shifted.”

In 1997, Nuxalk members and their allies – Greenpeace, Forest Action Network, Bear Watch and People’s Action for Threatened Habitat – blocked logging operations on Roderick Island, King Island and Ista, which is sacred to the Nuxalk as the place where the first woman came to earth. Two dozen Nuxalk people were arrested that year, including Qwatsinas.

Now, he says, the protests are more timid. “A lot of people are scared of tactics from the other side, arresting tactics and reporting tactics. You develop a criminal record from being a part of the action.“

But Qwatsinas is not intimidated. “If that’s what it takes, to be labeled a terrorist, then let’s save the trees.”

Qwatsinas and the House of Smayusta did not sign on to the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, which was announced in February 2006. He feels the compromise gives away too much of the forest, and he says the rate of logging has on the coast has increased dramatically in the past year.

“It’s talk and log,” says Qwatsinas. “It’s not a victory. Everyone loses.”

In the past few years, BC’s long tradition of non-violent resistance to forest destruction has virtually disappeared. Qwatsinas blames Greenpeace for pulling the plug on the blockades during the Great Bear negotiations.

“They made the Central Coast an environmental-protest-free zone,” Qwatsinas says. “We can’t go out and blockade or protest. We’re neutralized, really. They’re handcuffed. How are you going to set forth your demands at the table when your will is broken?”

But compromise is not an option when defending sacred land, and Qwatsinas predicts the recent lull in peaceful resistance won’t last. “I think people will start to realize what’s going on and start to create those movements. I think direct action will start to blow back into the picture again. There’s only so much abuse and sacrifice the wildlife and the environment can take.”

Vancouver Island activist and Wild Earth presenter Ingmar Lee agrees that grassroots action is crucial when it comes to real change. “The successes have come from individual grassroots efforts that have basically bypassed the entrenched bureaucratic environmental institutions that have been sucking up the enviro-buck and just not getting the kind of accomplishments we need,” Lee says. “In the Gordon Campbell world, we have to confront – directly confront – and go out there and take it on ourselves to defend the forests.”

Lee understands the need for no-compromise action. As a key member of the campaign to save Cathedral Grove from a misguided parking lot, he spent over two years helping to coordinate a campaign of road-blocking and tree-sitting that ultimately forced the province to back off.

Wild Earth organizer Tim Dobbyn has committed a big part of his life to the training camp. “I think direct action works because it is immediate,” the 23-year old North Vancouver resident explains. “Indirect methods can work, but they take more time; time forests and people don’t have, in some cases. Direct actions also raise the consciousness about issues, bringing more attention and more hands to help.”

Dobbyn attended the first Wild Earth gathering in 1999, when he was 15. Now the campout is a family event, with his partner Fern and his two small children. He says, “Wild Earth 1999 was the first environmentalist event I ever went to, also the first time I ever skipped school for more than one class, the first time I went camping without my parents — a major formative event in my life.”

For Dobbyn, the training camp teaches more than just protest tactics. “We’re here to strengthen bonds with friends, make new friends, learn new skills and ideas, and build radical community.”

The Wild Earth Rendezvous takes place June 1 – 7 at a backcountry forest camp southwest of Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island. More than two dozen workshops are scheduled. Admission is by donation and includes meals, snacks, and childcare for the week. More information and directions are available online at the Wild Earth Blog.

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I’m No Action Hero

Mon, 16 Apr 2007


Photo: Ingmar Lee

I’m standing at the base of the tree leaning back on my harness and peering at the platform sixty feet above. Ingmar is encouraging me to get up there. The press conference is supposed to start in forty-five minutes and we need to get into position. Ingmar’s fully informed about my slightly spastic condition and I can tell he’s not sure if I can still do this. I give him a thumbs up and start up the rope.


Photo: Dan Eastabrook, Goldstream News Gazette

By the time the camera crews arrive, we’re both up on the platform with our feet dangling down. The cameras focus in as Ingmar rappels down the rope. I stay up in the tree. The CH TV guy comes over with a microphone and battery pack and attaches them to the end of the rope. I haul the rope up and clip the mike to my coat collar. The reporter calls her questions up to me and I shout back down at her, forgetting about the mike.


Photo: CH News.

The reporters and cameras finally leave and I’m alone up in the tree. The platform is a pair of four by eight foot plywood sheets reinforced with two by fours. It looks like a raft on the open ocean. Ropes and rigging are everywhere and the white tarps billow in the wind like sails. The plywood planks are not quite level and they creak and sway as I move around.

It’s a two-room platform: one plank is the bedroom, with a tiny tent nailed to it. The other serves as the living room (a folding chair) and kitchen (a camp stove and a pot). The bathroom is a bucket hanging below the tree-sit. Everything is lashed down or clipped in, but things fall overboard anyway: two pens, my lighter, the lid to my thermos.

I’m tied to the tree on a ten-foot leash tethered to my harness that stays on every moment, even when I’m sleeping. The thing wraps itself around my legs every time I turn around and threatens to knock small untethered objects off the platform.

The red webbing is Ingmar’s leash, and I’m yanking on it. Photo: Ingmar Lee

I’m afraid of falling. Everyone is; people are hardwired that way. Even though I have total confidence in the platform and the safety line, that giddy feeling comes and goes, especially when I’m moving around close to the edge or getting ready to descend down the rope.

There’s a constant wind up here and the roar of traffic is louder. Through the trees to the south I can just make out a bare knoll and the entrance to the Langford Cave, a 40-meter-long karst cavity that draws cavers from all over the region.

The Songhees First Nation named this place Spaet Mountain. The city of Langford calls it Skirt Mountain. The developer has re-named it Bear Mountain to go along with the marketing of their resort and property sales.

A pileated woodpecker flies into the grove of dead snags next to the platform and lands on a trunk at eye level. It hammers away at the wood for a few moments and then swoops over the trail and up a rotten stump. A hummingbird zips by, flashing green. The forest floor is carpeted with trillium and lilies.

As night falls, the traffic dies down and the frogs start up. The tree sways slightly in the wind and the thrushes sing their evening songs. I crawl into the tiny tent and curl up in my sleeping bag, tugging at the tether every time I turn over. Waking up in the middle of the night, I hear an owl hooting.


Photo: Chris Cook

Thursday morning I wake up with the sun shining through the trees and a winter wren scolding me nearby. I crawl out of my cocoon, bleary-eyed, and go through the routine of making a pot of tea, taking a shit in the bucket, rolling a cigarette and surveying the forest. I feel wonderful.

People come to visit: local supporters, more journalists, and curious neighbours. Food donations are piling up under a tarp Ingmar tied up for a base camp. The food has to be dealt with because there are raccoons (and possibly bears) in the area, so I haul it up to the platform and make a space in a gear bag for cans of soup, noodles, oatmeal, and cookies.

Cheryl Bryce, the lands manager for the Songhees First Nation, stops by to lend her support and videotape the tree-sit. She’s disturbed that some members of the band council are supporting the development rather than voting to protect the environmental values of their traditional territory. I come down the rope and we chat for a half an hour. </p

The clouds gather and an icy wind picks up. I go to bed early, snuggled down in the bottom of the sleeping bag with an extra fleece blanket.

Friday dawns with threatening clouds. Then a threatening little man with a mustache: the lands manager for the Provincial Capital Commission. He’s been sent to determine whether I’m on PCC land, and to grumble at me about the commission’s liability if someone gets hurt and sues them. I promise I won’t hurt anybody and I won’t sue anybody. He suggests if I’m trespassing, he may get the police involved. I invite him to the salmon barbecue scheduled for later tonight. He studies me for a minute without responding and then marches off into the forest with his maps in hand.

I don’t know if he’ll call the police, but even if they show up, they won’t be able to arrest me because I’m sixty feet up in a tree. The RCMP in Vancouver has a special climbing team for these kind of situations, but it takes a few days to assemble. I contemplate the legal implications of criminal trespass charges and court injunctions.

Later: I’m bored, so I use my borrowed cell phone to call the developers’ head office. Bear Mountain Resort and Bear Mountain Properties are the forces behind this project and I figure it’s only polite to introduce myself. But it seems no one is available on this Friday afternoon, not even a receptionist, so I leave a cheery message in the general mailbox describing the wildlife in the area and inviting them all to the salmon barbecue.


Bear Mountain development. Photo: Google Earth

The rain holds off, miraculously. At dinnertime, three dozen tree-huggers are gathered around a small campfire devouring barbecued salmon, roasted wieners, mashed potatoes, and bags of fruit and cookies. Mary Vickers, a Heiltsuk Nation woman from Bella Bella, provided the salmon, and she gets us all to join hands while she says a prayer to the spirits and the ancestors to bless our work here. Ingmar stands up on a stump and lays out the plan: seven people are needed to take charge of the tree-sit for one day a week. Each person would either sit in the tree for twenty-four hours or find another person to do it. He’ll provide the training.

By Saturday, I’m thoroughly weary of the tiny platform, the harness, and the shit bucket. My legs and arms are shaky from climbing up and down the rope. I’m longing for a hot shower and a soft bed. But still I sit for hours mesmerized, staring out into the forest, listening to the birds, and feeling my senses expand to the limit of hearing and vision.

On Sunday morning, the relief shift arrives. Keith lives nearby and he has no idea how to climb a tree, but he’s willing to learn and Ingmar’s willing to teach him. I rappel down for the last time. My man Dan is there to give me a ride home.


Back on the ground. Photo: Chris Cook

I don’t want folks to get the idea that I’m some kind of action hero. I’m retired from all that now. This was just a one-time special event – more of a vacation than an action; more of a cameo than a comeback. I joked with the folks watching me climb that I’m living proof: almost anyone can do this shit. And it’s true – the biggest obstacle is conquering the fear of falling, the fear of failing, the fear of powerlessness. The campaign is just now beginning, but folks are digging in for the long haul. Cheers to the Spaet Mountain defenders!

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Derrick Jensen: This Abusive Civilization

April 9, 2007 

Deep ecology author Derrick Jensen discusses bringing down western civilization and reactions to his latest book Endgame: the Problem of Civilization.

In his most recent book, deep ecology author Derrick Jensen compares western civilization to an abusive family, where violence is a constant threat and the victims feel helpless and dependent on the abuser. He urges his readers to bring down this culture by any means necessary. His ideas are controversial, and Jensen confesses he gets “hate mail from pacifists.” Zoe Blunt spoke with Jensen by phone from his home in Crescent City, California earlier this month.

Blunt: Your book Endgame has been getting a lot of attention. You write that “civilization and the civilized continue to create a world of wounds.”

Jensen: Yeah, where do you want to start? Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. The passenger pigeons are gone. The great auks are gone. The oceans are being murdered. There’s dioxin in every mother’s breast milk. Indigenous people have been dispossessed, had their land stolen and been forced to enter this economy, forced to enter this system. People all around the world have been enslaved. So, what wounds would you like to talk about?

Lets talk about – Mary Daly said there’s only one religion in the world, which is patriarchy. Robin Morgan wrote about something she calls “the democracy of fear,” which is that everywhere in the world, any woman could be walking alone at night and if she hears footsteps behind her she has reason to be afraid. So there’s a huge wound right there.

We could talk about the wage economy. We could talk about the fact that there are more slaves on the planet right now than came across on the middle passage, using a tight definition of slavery. That’s not even including wage slaves or anything else.

Blunt: You’ve been getting a lot of response to your book, and not all of it positive. Why is it so difficult for some people to contemplate the end of civilization?

Jensen: I think that one of the reasons is we identify more closely with being civilized beings than we do with being animals who need habitat. Another way to talk about that is if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them.

Like any good abusive system, this system has made us dependent upon it. And another important thing about the whole question of abuse is that one of the things that happens within any abusive dynamic, and that’s true whether we’re talking about an abusive family or an abusive culture, is that everything – and I mean everything – in this dynamic is set up to protect the abuser. And so every member of an abusive family comes to identify more closely with the abuser’s feelings than they do their own.

If you look at all the “solutions” proposed for global warming – anywhere, all of them – what do they take as a given? They take as a given industrial capitalism. That’s the baseline. The baseline is not the real world, the physical world, which must be the baseline for all of our decisions because without a world, we don’t have anything.

Most of the complaints about Endgame, and most of the hate mail I’ve gotten about Endgame, frankly, has not come from people who think that civilization will go on forever. Most of it’s come from pacifists and lifestyle activists, and one of the jokes I’ve started making is that I should write a version of Endgame called “Endgame for Pacifists,” which would be a thousand blank pages with one in the middle that says “sometimes it’s okay to fight back.” Because it’s the only thing they’re hearing in the entire book, or the only thing they’re reading in the entire book. All the other analysis goes by the wayside. They see that, it triggers them, and they can’t think about anything. And I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail from both pacifists and also from lifestyle activists who get very upset when I suggest they have to do more than just live simply.

Blunt: You’ve written about hope in regard to reforming civilization, and you said hope is harmful –

Jensen: I don’t want to reform civilization, by the way.

Blunt: No. So you’re saying hope is harmful, when it comes to our goals.

Jensen: Okay, let’s back up a second. What are our goals? What are your goals? What do you want?

Blunt: You’ve talked about – and I agree with this – a world where every year there are more salmon, where there is more old-growth forest, where there are more spotted owls, for example. We’re about to lose the last of our spotted owls in Canada. If we want to stop that, what do we do?

Jensen: Okay, that’s great. The first thing we have to do is figure out what we want. And the next thing we have to do, I think, is figure out what it takes for those creatures to survive. And it’s pretty fundamental. I mean, what they need is habitat. Okay, end of conversation, talk to you later!

What do salmon need? They need for dams to be removed. They need for industrial logging to stop. They need for industrial fishing to stop. (I’m not saying they need for fishing to stop; they need for industrial fishing to stop.) They need for industrial agriculture to stop, because of runoff. They need for global warming to stop, which means they need for the industrial economy to stop. They need for the oceans not to be murdered. And each of those is pretty straightforward.

The problem is that so often, when people say, “What will it take for salmon to survive?” what they mean is, “What will it take for salmon to survive, given that we’re not going to remove dams, we’re not going to stop industrial logging, we’re not going to stop industrial fishing?” It’s the same. What do spotted owls need to survive, given that we’re going to allow all of their habitat to be clearcut?

It’s like, once again, what is primary and what is secondary? And what’s always considered primary is this culture and this culture’s exploitation.

And now, at long last, to your question of hope. One of the things we need to do first is – there’s false hope. I think it needs to be eradicated. False hope is one of the things that binds us to unlivable situations. That’s one of the reasons why, like I mentioned earlier, that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational best interest to not resist [the Nazis]. There’s a false hope that if they just go along, they won’t get killed. And my mother – one of the reasons she stayed with my father is because of the false hope that he would change.

And what are the false hopes that bind us to this system? I mean, does anyone really think that Mac-Blo is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone think that Monsanto is going to stop Monsanto-ing because we ask nicely? Oh, if we could just get a Democrat in the White House, things would be okay!

I was bashing hope at a talk I did a couple years ago, and someone in the audience interrupted to shout out, “What is your definition of hope?” I didn’t have one, so I asked them to define it. And the definition they came up with was that hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.

But I’m not interested in hope. I’m interested in agency. I’m interested in us finding what we love, and figuring out what it will take to defend our beloved, and doing it.

Blunt: Derrick Jensen, you’re speaking in Vancouver on April 18th, and the title of your talk is “Taking Action in a Culture of Violence.” Tell us what we can expect from that.

Jensen: Well, what I’ll talk about primarily is a question: Do you believe this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living? I ask that question to people all over the country and no one ever says “yes.” And if you don’t believe that this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living, what does that mean for our strategies and for our tactics? The answer is, we don’t know, and the reason we don’t know is because we don’t talk about it, and the reason we don’t talk about it is because we’re all so busy pretending that we have hope.

Blunt: Do you have any new books in the works?

Jensen: Oh, my gosh. Okay, so Endgame came out about a year ago. I’ve got another book coming out in a month or so, which is an anti-zoo book. It’s written with Karen Tweedy Holmes, the photographer, and that’s coming out through [publisher] No Voice Unheard. Then I have a book coming out next January from Seven Stories [Press], called “As the World Burns: Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial.” That’s a graphic novel done with Stephanie McMillan, who does the wonderful cartoon “Minimum Security.”

And right now I’m writing a book about shit – whoops, I’m writing a book about feces, and how this culture has taken something that used to be a tremendous gift to the landbase and turned it into something poisonous. And how, in a sustainable culture, all of the products are helpful to the land. There’s no such thing as waste. And how, if I defecate, somebody else – slugs or flies or the soil itself – eats it. And this culture produces wastes that are not useful, but in fact harmful.

Blunt: That’s a lot of work that’s going to be coming in the future.

Jensen: Yeah. You know, I’m actually thinking that I’m really tired. And it’s not just because I’ve been touring so much. I think I might take a couple months off this summer. Because for one, I’ve been really sick the last couple of years. And also, I’ve written thirteen books, I think, in the last six years. I remember I was thinking, “When I finish Endgame, I’m going to take a break.” I finished it in November of whatever year that was, and then in December I wrote that anti-zoo book, and then the next year I wrote those two novels. And it just goes on.

I haven’t taken a break in years. And you know, I go back and forth because things are so, so desperate. And I just – I can’t stop. There’s a couple reasons I can’t stop. One is because things are so desperate and they’re getting worse every day. And another reason is because I’m so in love. I’m in love with [the land] and that’s what you do. If you love someone and they’re being hurt, they’re being killed, you do what you can. You don’t rest.

And then, also, I’m very aware of my own mortality. I don’t want to die with eight books still in me. You know? I don’t want to die and look back at the very last second and say, “I wish I could’ve done more. I wish I could’ve done this much more to help the salmon. I wish I could’ve done this much more to help the redwood trees.”

When I die, I want to be spent. I want to feel like – You know there’s some days when you work really, really hard, and then you go to sleep and you are so, so ready to go to sleep? That’s how I want to die. It’s like, you know what? I’m done. There’s nothing else I can do.

Derrick Jensen presents “Taking Action in a Culture of Violence” in Vancouver, BC on April 18 at 7 pm, Langara College, Room A130. He will be speaking at Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons, BC on April 19 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15, students $12. For more information, call 604-253-6281 or visit www.derrickjensen.org.

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Great-Grandmother Gets Ten Months for Protest

Mon, 5 Mar 2007
Betty Krawczyk
Betty Krawczyk

Vancouver – A BC Supreme Court justice today sentenced Betty Krawczyk, age 78, to ten months in jail for protesting the destruction of a wetlands near Vancouver, BC last year. News outlets report that a dozen of Betty’s supporters have taken over the lobby of the Supreme Court building in downtown Vancouver at this hour, chanting “Shame, shame” and beating drums. Sheriffs are standing by and more arrests may be imminent.

Krawczyk pitched a tent in the path of bulldozers building a highway bypass in West Vancouver last spring, defying a court order banning protestors from the area. She was arrested and carried away by police, but returned to the blockade site twice more and later refused to apologize to the court for her actions. After her third arrest last July, Krawczyk was held in jail for two months “to protect the public,” the judge said at the time. She will not be credited for time served.

Justice Brenda Brown handed down the sentence for criminal contempt of court in a high-security courtroom this morning. She described Krawczyk’s breach of the court order as “open, flagrant and continuing.” Krawczyk had told the judge she would not accept probation or house arrest, stating she would not participate in her own punishment. Krawczyk has already spent two years in jail for logging blockades on the BC coast.

In May 2006, Police arrested Krawczyk along with two dozen others, including Harriet Nahanee, a First Nations elder who died last week after her release from jail. In January, Justice Brown gave Nahanee, age 71, two weeks in Surrey Pre-Trial Centre. She was hospitalized a week after completing her sentence, and a few days later she died of pneumonia complicated by a previously undiagnosed lung cancer.

Krawczyk represented herself at her trial after her lawyer, Cameron Ward, withdrew from the case.

“The Crown is using this (sentence) as a way of keeping any sort of publicity away from issues about the way we do business in BC, and about the way the Attorney General instructs the police to arrest people,” Krawczyk told Justice Brown last July. “I really resent being arrested under the auspices of a corporation that’s destroying a precious bio-system – an American company – under the BC courts.”

Krawczyk’s supporters are angry about the long sentence and the heavy-handed security at the courtroom. The hearing was held in a special courtroom with bulletproof barriers, and everyone who wanted to attend was searched.

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