Medford, OR, USA — A 40-foot log used by protesters to block access to the Mike’s Gulch timber salvage sale in a roadless area of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Tuesday morning was cut from a nearby botanical area, according to forest officials.
One irate activist called it a “petty” point, and said the U.S. Forest Service and John West, president of the firm that purchased the roadless sale, had cut countless trees illegally.
In a related development, the road, located a half-dozen miles north of Kerby off Highway 199, was closed to the public Tuesday afternoon.
The butt of the green Douglas fir tree, about 12 inches in diameter, matched the stump of a recently cut tree at the Days Gulch botanical area, officials said.
“You don’t need to be a detective to see where it came from,” said Tom Lavagnino, forest information officer at the site. “You can see the fresh sawdust, and where they dragged it 500 to 800 feet to the bridge.
“But the issue is finding the person who cut it,” he added. “There is no doubt they used it for blockage.”
The tree was used to block the Eight Dollar Road bridge spanning the Illinois River just upstream from the botanical area.
Activist Laurel Sutherlin, 29, a member of the Oxygen Collective environmental group, was strapped to a platform hanging from one end of the log over the shallow river some 50 feet below.
“Logging is effectively stopped on the first national forest roadless area in the United States in 10 years,” he told the Mail Tribune via cell phone while on the platform where he had been since before sunrise Tuesday.
He was referring to the Clinton administration rule that had put 58.5 million acres of national forests off-limits to most logging, only to be eased by the Bush administration last year. The Mike’s Gulch unit in the Illinois Valley Ranger District is the first roadless area unit to be logged under the loosened restrictions.
The Silver Creek Timber Co. of Merlin began logging the nearly 9 million-board-foot sale Monday. The logs will be removed by helicopter.
“This is the first to fall I’m here to ensure this will be the last,” Sutherlin said, adding he was participating in “a time-honored American tradition of civil disobedience” to stop what he feels is an illegal and immoral act.
“I have food and water to stay for days,” he added.
However, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, working with U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers, cut the platform from the log and lowered him to the river shortly after 10 a.m. He was taken to the Josephine County Jail, where he was charged with interfering with an agricultural operation.
The log was cut up and removed from the bridge. About 20 protesters were at the bridge with Sutherlin but no other arrests were made. Because of recent rains, forest officials waived fire restrictions and allowed the timber fallers to work the rest of the day.
“There is an active investigation to determine who cut the tree,” said forest spokeswoman Patty Burel. “Laurel Sutherlin may have been in possession of it since he was hanging from the log.”
Sutherlin could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. Illinois Valley resident Annette Rasch, a longtime environmental activist who was at the protest, discounted the issue. She said she did not know where the log came from.
“But this is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black to say we may have damaged some 9-inch-wide tree,” she said Tuesday evening.
She noted that West’s firm had illegally cut trees on more than a dozen acres near Babyfoot Lake on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area as well as hazard trees as part of earlier Biscuit fire salvage logging in 2004.
“If that’s all they can come up with against the validity of our case, boy, what a lot of nerve,” she said. “For them to make a big deal for the use of one small green tree … that really makes me mad.
“When we look at the scale of damage from the Bush Forest Service down to John West, to even talk about the use of one tree is petty and unbelievably irrelevant.”
The protest was the latest effort after a series of lawsuits, rallies and public comments, all of which were against logging the roadless area, she noted.
Police arrested 11 people protesting the beginning of logging in the roadless area on Monday after they blocked traffic in front of the forest headquarters in Medford.
Silver Creek paid $300,052 for the fire-killed timber that is anticipated to take two months to log. Harvest of the unit will bring to 57 million board feet the amount of burned timber harvested from the nearly half-million-acre 2002 Biscuit fire.