December 24, 2008

Apex: Gender and Cascadia Forest Defense, 1985-2006

This paper is nearing its final stage.  I deeply appreciate the comments i’ve received, both from those I know, and those I dont.  Thank you so much for your investment in the integrity of this representation of forest defense.  As i said to one person who recently commented, I wrote this not for academia or any other end, but for all the people involved in the movement and experienced the struggles I describe, whatever their position or opinions.  I want what i’ve written to resonate with those folks. Thanks! –Natty

APEX. Gender and Cascadia Forest Defense, 1985-2006


Sometimes the web of life has to be tied up with truck rope[1]

High in the canopy of an old growth forest, ropes form a web among a dozen trees. A platform wobbles precariously in the center. We hug the trunks of the trees not with our arms but with our legs, tugging truck rope through a series of anchors from which we are suspended, torsos twisting in all directions. Between me and a cluster of trees, several ropes more or less link together into a formation which one activist calls the “apex.” Each apex must be positioned relative to the others to hold the platform level in the center. My job is to pull that intersection into position. A banjo tune rings in the distance. I know the words: I got a gal up on the creek, goin’ up to see her ‘bout two times a week. Cripple creek’s wide and cripple creek’s deep, I’ll wade old cripple creek before I sleep. Hours later, as we coax the rope into the right position, the platform stabilizes.

I spent that day caretaking one corner of one intersection in a web of resistance that, while huge from my perspective—spanning about an acre of monstrous and sacred trees—was in itself a small part of the resistance in the Willamette Valley, and that a small part of environmental resistance in the Pacific Northwest, and that a small part of a global effort of hearts attuned to the needs of a deeply suffering world. That tiny intersection, or apex, opened my first days of forest defense and symbolized the consciousness of the activist network in which I would work for the next four years.

Apexes, these points of intersection, mark an important shift in tree-sit technology. The original structure of a tree-sit—a platform suspended from a single tree –became less and less effective as loggers realized they could cut the forest around the tree-sit. As forest defenders improved their tactics, they figured out how to link multiple trees together, protecting whole acres of forest rather than single trees. A Portland Independent Media Center article reads, “Risking their lives in order to save ancient trees, forest defenders announce the use of new and unique methodology known as “octopods” – occupied platforms suspended 150 feet in the air supported by a pulley system tied-in to 8 surrounding trees. If any tree or rope in the area is cut, the platform will fall, resulting in the death of the person occupying it.”[2] Ultimately, forest defenders wielded their very lives in effort to deter exploitative timber companies from tearing up the land.[3]

But the resistance is more than the material reality of bodies blocking roads, tractors, and chainsaws. The resistance is both material and discursive, and these dimensions are inextricably tied to each other. Ropes, knots and karabiners lock a platform in place while histories, cultural politics, and language secure their meaning. The apex in this essay describes how activists forged resistance at multiple, intersecting points that were both material and discursive. At the apex of forest defense in the Pacific Northwest is the intersection of theory and practice, feminism and anarchism, the social and the environmental, the domesticated and the wild, the threatened and the free.

Across a span of twenty years’ forest defense in the Willamette Valley, activists’ cultural politics shifted from markedly patriarchal to markedly feminist. As activists abandoned single-issue environmentalism— where the environment is prioritized at the expense of social issues—they embraced a multi-issue praxis where social and environmental justice were understood as intertwined and mutually constitutive.[4] Forest defense, over time, became a double task of resisting and attacking those institutions responsible for destroying the earth, while developing an alternative set of values, lifestyles, and ethics.[5]

In part one of this essay, I offer a general trajectory of events from the early days of forest defense through the Green Scare crisis. In part two, I interpret the events through feminist, ecofeminist, and anarchist discursive lenses. The theory I bring to my analysis of these events is neither solely produced within the movement itself, nor a lens applied from the outside. The history and theory of these Willamette Valley campaigns reveal the significance of a multi-issue praxis in activism, where environmental and social commitments entwine, and contestation of meanings surround direct actions.

On Methodology

Historical records of forest defense in the Willamette Valley include memory, rumor, alternative news archives, video documents, and piles of papers shoved to the back of file cabinets and bookshelves. The history that I know is a combination of all of these, but mostly of the short time I have been steeped in activism, hearing the stories and collecting fractured bits of narrative.

Historical accounts of environmental direct action are complicated by two counts of forgetting: one accidental and one intentional. Direct action tangles through an elusive crowd: “kids” attempting to divest of the many privileges that fuel social and environmental oppressions; people with a fire in their hearts for all things wild and free. They come and go, burn out, get jobs, start families, or move on to other forms of resistance. Anarchic in every sense of the word, and not easily categorized as either a movement or a tactic, forest defense has tended to evolve without a complete knowledge of its own history.

But forgetting, arguably, is fundamental to the integrity of forest defense. Security culture—the necessity to hide our identities from the government—has always required participants to defer all gossip and bragging to a deeper commitment to protect the natural world: to speak little of our actions, to change our names, to embrace amnesia and silence as cloaks of invisibility. Such precautions were heightened to a near paralysis with the Green Scare in 2006.

The Green Scare is at the foundation of my historical methodology. In the winter of 2006, the threat of “eco-terrorist” charges paralyzed Cascadia environmentalists in fear and uncertainty. The FBI named eco-terrorism the number one domestic terrorist threat.[6] Any actions, groups or individuals remotely related to the Earth Liberation Front became suspect by the government. Distinctions between dissent and terrorism disintegrated. We knew we were being watched, recorded, and reported.

Like 1000-year-old forests pulped to paper, shipped off to Japan, chiseled into toothpicks, or carved for furniture, language is under assault. Words go on without their roots. They are pulped, processed, and returned to the public stripped of their original meaning. Before the green scare, when environmental direct action was discursively and legally pushed under the same umbrella as 9-11 type terrorist attacks, forest defenders at worst faced charges for “interfering with an agricultural operation”— a misdemeanor that usually cost around seven hundred dollars or up to a year in prison. The potential costs for engaging in forest defense rose astronomically under the language of terrorism and the extremity of the Patriot Act. Under this new language, acts of vandalism and arson associated with “ecoterrorism” incurred penalties as harsh as life in prison.

Most of us involved in environmental direct action stopped speaking the moment our words would be implicated with terrorism. Meetings waned, tension heightened, suspicion choked every desire for expression. Our dialect, phrases, metaphors, and signs became illegible to even the most “liberal” leftists. Before the Green Scare, the mainstream left could often interpret direct action in a positive light, if it was framed in just the right way. Direct action could still be read as extreme responses by activists to extreme actions by government and corporations, as a legitimate resistance to the terrorization of the natural world. During the height of the Green Scare, mainstream groups publically distanced themselves from radical environmentalists. Oregon Natural Resources Council even participated in “Operation Backfire” by offering a $5000 reward for information about one particular arson act.[7] In the new political climate, radical environmentalists lost many allies.

We feared accusations, true or false alike. Just as likely the government would indict us for something we didn’t do, that it would indict us for something we proudly did do, something that in all our hearts was right and just. Best, then, we not speak at all, than speak in defense of ourselves. The US government, media, and FBI threw a discursive net over Eugene, Oregon, and only our silence was thin enough to fit through the small holes in the netting. Silence thus became survival. Erasure of our past and dissociation from our language could ensure our survival. Our silence acted as a kind of discursive execution.[8]

News of twelve indicted activists of Operation Backfire, the primary legal case of the Green Scare, swept across the nation’s newsprint in January, 2006. A federal grand jury met in Eugene, Oregon on January 20th, 2006. The indictments were for acts of environmental direct action between 1996 and 2001, including property destruction at a horse slaughtering facility, a power line, and a ski resort.[9] While awaiting charges a month prior to the court date, activist Bill Rodgers was either murdered or committed suicide in an Arizona jail cell.[10]

The town of Eugene, Oregon seemed to freeze in its tracks and shatter all at once, many weary to make any move, others fleeing, some plucked like cherries off a tree and packaged into jail cells for petty actions, fact or fiction, of their teen years. I wanted to stop writing. I threw out every email on my computer related to forest defense, I moved the tree-sit platforms out of my garage, I cleared my life of pamphlets, newsletters, instruction manuals, anything vaguely associated with my activism.

Because I cannot name—and indeed I do not know—such traditional data as legal names, statistics, or exact dates, I cannot offer a quantitative history of forest defense in the Willamette Valley. Furthermore, a quantitative history of Cascadia Forest defense would be a great disservice to the network of activists associated with it. The history of direct action is broken—decentralized, mythified, mystified, passed through trusted friends, and forgotten—for a reason. Amnesia is the double-edged sword that protects the past while leaving us amputated from the body of our work. The generations, the fear, the amnesia, the change, and the utter subjectivity of my political prerogatives indelibly mark the past off from the present and inform the shape of the narrative to come.

My place as a writer is not to centralize information. Not for this movement. Although such a project would unify and legitimize disparate and dissident actions, it would also break the trust and potentially the safety of the many activists involved. To preserve the security of the subjects of this paper, I rely on folk history, qualitative rather than quantitative, using few direct quotes, ultimately offering on a fragmented, non-authoritative narrative.

Part One: A General Trajectory

Since the early 1980s, forest defense has been a primary form of environmental direct action in the Pacific Northwest. From the Northern Californian Redwoods to British Columbia, activists have used tree-sits, road blocks, protests, tree spiking, sit-ins, and lock-downs to prevent abuse of their beloved lands. In Oregon, most old growth forest is National Forest, public land which the National Forest Service leases to logging companies, often without the consent of the public. Forest defenders often stall logging companies from entering illegal or dubiously legal logging sites while environmental lawyers fight for injunctions and protections in court.[11]

If you were to come to the forest an evening in 2003 or 2004, and you look nothing like the FBI or police, you would likely be welcomed into a circle around the fire, where someone would point you toward a pile of dumpstered bread, motion toward the boxes of rotting produce, and the pile of bags protected under tarps. You’d join a circle of dirty people, queer people, strong people, people who smell good like sap and soil. Some would be thumbing the strings of their instruments while others would be crowding around a topographical map of the area, plotting tree-sits, traverses, and road blocks. One sock will be drying on a rock at the edge of the fire and will catch aflame. Once the smell of burning wool rises, the owner will dive across the fire, cussing and hitting it on the ground. There is a conscious air of compassion, accountability, and social justice. This conscience is practiced, contested, and reworked daily as they take to heart the power and passion that lies at the intersection between social and environmental activism. The following section is about the decade-long historical trajectory that eventually produced this scene.

The development of Earth First! in the early eighties gave inspiration and voice to a growing contingent of radical environmentalists. The five men who originated the title—Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, Bart Koehler, Howie Wolke and Ron Kezar— were inspired by conservationists Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, and radical environmentalist Edward Abbey. Their politics were shaped by bioregionalism and deep ecology, and later by anarchism and green anarchism. Based first out of Arizona and then out of Eugene, Oregon, the Earth First! journal heralded the motto “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth.” The proximity of the Earth First! journal and the direct action in the Willamette Valley were no doubt mutually constitutive to the growth of environmental radicalism in this area.

The first Earth First! tree-sit in the US was in the Willamette National Forest in 1985.[12] With the help of twelve womyn and men from Cathedral Forest Action acting as ground support, rock climber Mikal Jackubal’s courageous and innovative act inspired many Earth First!ers to travel to Oregon to support him.[13] Jackubal, going by the name Doug Fir, ascended the tree via tree spiking in an area already partly cut, and as he waited in the canopy, loggers felled nearly every tree around him. Back on the ground by evening, he was immediately arrested (his ground support had already been arrested and charged).[14] Although the tree-sit failed, forest defenders had many ideas for improving the tactic. They set up multiple sits in a timber sale in the Sweethome district of the Willamette National Forest.[15]

Earth First! journal commemorates R. Dendron for being the first female tree-sitter, who participated a year later, in 1986. In 1987, there was a more prolonged action, a 42 day sit by Randy Prince in the Kalmiopsis wilderness area of Southern Oregon.[16] Soon thereafter, activists began to occupy the privately owned Redwoods of Northern California, and forest defense campaigns began all over the woods of the Willamette National Forest.[17]

Between 1985 and 2005, The Willamette National Forest hosted three major campaigns: the Warner Creek campaign of the mid 1990s; the Fall Creek campaign which began in 1998; and the 2003-2004 campaign, Straw Devil. These three campaigns reveal the larger trajectory of cultural changes within forest activism.

Warner Creek

Before a man-made fire thrust its destiny into uncertainty, Warner Creek was a government-protected roadless area, a forest legally protected from the chopping block. In 1991, the unidentified arsonist burned six thousand acres, and firefighters burned another three thousand trying to control it. As the second largest fire in the recorded history of the Willamette National Forest, the Clinton administration and the forest service both took advantage of the situation for its financial potential. The government passed a salvage rider immediately after the burn, which allowed the Forest Service to sell the previously protected area on the basis that the trees would rapidly decline in commercial value if left alone.[18] Logging would be an emergency operation on the land, promoted as a “fire recovery” project. Warner Creek was put on the chopping block.

Environmentalists realized that Cascadia’s ecosystems are fire dependant: fire is a natural regenerative process in this region. They also realized that if this space were cut, it would reinforce the idea that arson could lead to economic reward. The slogan “light it, fight it, log it” described the danger of this logic. And in response, they plastered the phrase “not one black stick” all over Eugene, and beyond.

The Warner Creek campaign was multifaceted, passionate, and monumental. Before direct action in Warner Creek began, radical environmentalists worked to create coalitions between mainstream environmental groups, community members, scientists and students in resistance to post-fire logging. Environmental lawyers took the sale to court on the basis that it was illegal, but the Clinton administration waved it through. Cascadia EarthFirst!ers worked in the legal system, and educated their community with slideshows, rallies, organized hikes, and community meetings.

With Cascadia Earth First!, activist and fire ecologist Tim Inglasbee put his expertise and his passion for radical environmentalism toward an official proposal to the National Forest Service to preserve the Warner Creek area as a Fire Ecology Research Natural Area.[19] The “EF alternative”—standing for “The Ecology of Fire,” but also for Earth First—was published in the forest service’s Environmental Impact Statement, along with the other logging proposals for the area.

When all else failed, Cascadia EF!ers resorted to direct action. In the spring of 1992, in need of a more underground identity, lovers Catia Juliana and Tim Ingalsbee formed Cascadia Forest Defenders.[20] Positing that “fire does not destroy forests; logging destroys forests,”[21] they declared a Cascadia Free State, dug out the road leading to the sale and built a monumental blockade. A Free State is a kind of eco-community that gathers around a resistance movement. Anarchist in tone, the free-state implied a declaration of separation from the nation and affinity with the bioregion.

At Warner Creek, many direct action tactics were tried for the first time. Folks camped out at Warner Creek for eleven months, building various elaborate road blocks and pods[22], locking down, and digging up the road. They experienced police-brutality and harassment by anti-tree-sitters, as well as intense snow and ice.

Supporters from all over the country came to visit, including busloads of tourists and schoolchildren. Warner Creek’s immense community support and national attention led to enough public pressure on the president during the re-election campaign that the government withdrew the sale. This action has inspired over a decade of direct action forest campaigns in neighboring areas.

In 1996, the five-year struggle at Warner Creek timber sale culminated in victory, initiating wide-spread support for tree-sitting. Warner Creek set up the Northwest for years of hope, many losses and a few victories to follow. There were several small campaigns throughout Cascadia afterward, but many of the areas were cut.[23] However, forest defense campaigns built a momentum of resistance throughout the Northwest. As one forest defender has suggested, “we will never know how many invisible victories we’ve had.”[24] The Forest Service rapidly decreased the rate and severity of logging practices in the Willamette as resistance grew more prevalent. We never know how many timber sales never make it to their final stages because of anticipated resistance.

Fall Creek

The next major local campaign in the Willamette National Forest was Fall Creek, just an hour east of Eugene. Beginning April 1998, the six year campaign at Clark timber sale in Fall Creek proved to be a turning point for Northwest forest activism.

In organizing against the Fall Creek timber sales, labor was most often gendered. Womyn worked in town and did grunt-work: hauling water, sorting food, cleaning shit-buckets, composting, and raising money. Men worked in the canopy and occupied tree-sits. Men hoarded skills and resources, and defended each other when one of them was called out for oppressive behavior.

There were at least two incidences of rape in Fall Creek, one by “Hank” and another by “Johnny Cat.” In the winter of 2001, the two men were asked to leave. When the men refused, the womyn proposed a “gender bender month,” where the womyn would take the men’s place and the men would take the womyn’s. This meant having an all womyn’s occupation of the unit.

For the most part, the men who did not like the gender bender idea left the campaign. One person, however, refused to leave the woods to do town work. He refused to come down from his platform. The group decided to cut off his ground support, including food and water, until he came down. The womyn involved in this considered it a kind of direct action against patriarchy.

The gendered tension in the Fall Creek campaign was also understood as a “town versus forest” debate.[25] The “forest crew” (primarily men) had named themselves Red Cloud Thunder, distancing themselves from their town support, Cascadia Forest Defenders. Originally in a private email, one of the perpetrators wrote: “Certain uptight people want to erase the legacy of the Fall Creek campaign and Red Cloud Thunder’s total refusal to play by anybody’s rules but our own. Our freedom is very threatening to certain people, and those people play dirty.”[26] The gender bender month and other tactics did lead to a better social environment, but only temporarily. A 2001 update from the forest attested to improved dynamics and the presence of feminist men who happily supported womyn in gaining skills and experiences in the woods. By the year 2003, however, patriarchal violence broke the surface of their too short-lived progress toward social equality.

During the tensions between CFD and Red Cloud Thunder at Fall Creek, Grasshopper (of Red Cloud Thunder) said that supporters of anti-oppression were “spiritual rapists” and years later reiterated that anti-oppression policies are in and of themselves oppressive.[27] Another individual wrote: “I won’t sign on to any preconceived ideological end, like ‘ending oppression.’ Such ends pretty much always turn out to be the most oppressive things going.”[28] That ending oppression is oppressive is like saying that it is one’s freedom and right to be oppressive toward others. While this sentiment is frighteningly common, usually disguised as anti-ideology rather than anti-feminist, it is in direct contradiction to the basic anti-authoritarian values of the activist network at large.

Based on their commitment to anti-oppression and safe campaigns, those involved with CFD had to part ways with Red Cloud Thunder. Red Cloud Thunder would not make a commitment to anti-oppression, and the people working with CFD did not feel comfortable sending potential activists to the area, given its disreputable past. Red Cloud Thunder and their supporters framed this issue as one in which certain people were being controlling, un-anarchist, and counter-productive to the project of forest defense. I analyze these issues further in the second part of the paper.

Straw Devil

In the Spring of 2003, the opportunity arose to prevent logging at a timber sale named Straw Devil just a few miles down the highway from Fall Creek. The Straw Devil timber sale was the first forest defense site to significantly embody feminist values. While Fall Creek continued in its sixth year of active resistance, Cascadia Forest Defenders set up a second campaign just above the popularly known McCreedy hot Springs.

By this time, womyn and queer forest defenders had already forged a significant resistance to sexism and heterosexism, but saw this as an opportunity to spatially organize a campaign to undermine male-dominance, male violence, and unwanted male leadership. Straw Devil began its campaign with an occupation in the first two units of the sale, and a “Womyn’s Action” occupying the sixth unit.[29]

Direct action ecodefense groups throughout the bioregion created an alliance called “Cascadia Summer,” and projects grew rapidly from British Columbia down to Northern California. Modeled in part after Northern California’s 1990 Redwood Summer, Cascadia Summer was made of multiple campaigns all over the bioregion. Cascadia Summer was made up of rallies, timber sales, citizen survey projects, and in-town campaigns throughout the whole bioregion.

An umbrella organization, Cascadia Rising, worked as a network between these groups. Cascadia Rising’s commitment to anti-oppression was strategically important, as their networking would only extend to groups and people who advocated and encouraged multi-issue activism. In solidarity with male allies, they created accountability processes for past perpetrators of sexual or gendered violence. Every individual or group that allied with Cascadia Rising understood that anti-oppression was central to this new culture of activism.

In 2003, Cascadia Rising adopted an anti-oppression policy as a means of discouraging violence and oppression within forest defense communities, and to offer tools and insights on how to deal with violence and oppression when it arises.

The anti-oppression policy was a serious point of contention for the anarchist community with which it was associated. Many folks from Red Cloud Thunder, and earlier activists, felt that any “policy” is oppressive to their own freedom. Cascadia Forest Defenders and Cascadia Rising initially created an anti-oppression policy out of sheer necessity, as a way to maintain safety and respect as strong values within forest campaigns. CFD from then on was an explicitly feminist organization. After the groups split up, Straw Devil timber sale was the main focus for CFD.

Ecodefense in Cascadia evolved to be a movement of multifaceted resistance. People who became a part of direct action against logging worked toward a feminist vision of environmental activism. Cascadia Rising stated that

“We do not believe in single issue politics – we work to promote social justice and environmental sustainability and act in solidarity with others working against oppression in its many forms. Our ideals are: locally based grassroots organizing, working from a holistic, bio-centric, anti-corporate and anti-oppressive orientation, supporting indigenous land rights and ecologically focused groups, condoning the use of non-violent direct action.”[30]

Along with several other timber sales, Straw Devil was tied up in an environmental lawsuit. Oregon Natural Resources Council and Cascadia Wildlands Project both held lawsuits against the Forest Service for violating the National Environmental Policy Act; however, Starfire Lumber Company could choose to log the area before a decision was made in court. The best case for the company, who had purchased the sale in 1998, would have been to log as much as possible before the court decided on the legality of the sale. If the sale was deemed illegal, the forest service would pay a fine and both parties would still make a profit. The main objective of the forest defenders, then, was to prevent logging until the courts decided the sale was illegal. If the courts happened to deem the sale legal—which they did not—the forest defenders would have continued to defend the area unflinching in their own convictions.

In unit six, deemed “the ecofeminist front,” womyn occupied, built, and supported every structure. They worked closely with the all-gender camp in unit seven, building a shared road blocks and holding regular potlucks and meetings, not to mention the midnight romance rustling in the underbrush. But unit six was a separate space. You would hike along a trail marked with small stones, turn at the giant spruce, balance along a downed log, then hop out onto the dusty gravel of the railroad tracks which led to unit seven. In a careful balance of separation and solidarity, the womyn’s action was strategically apart, and a part, of the Straw Devil campaign. A press release announcing an action camp co-hosted by Cascadia Forest Defenders and Cascadia Rising described the two units, “A mixed gender encampment works nearby in conjunction and solidarity with the womyn’s action.”[31] It was this conjunction and solidarity that situated the all gender camp specifically as allies to the womyn’s actions.

This was one of few times in the history of forest defense in Cascadia that an all womyn and transgendered group gathered to stop a timber sale.[32] In an effort to democratize skills and knowledge, Cascadia Forest Defenders held three annual womyn’s and transgender action training camps. Along with direct action methods and strategies, the camps held discussions and trainings on anti-oppression.

Amidst a deep and radical exploration of gender, buckets of food and water were hung in trees marked for “closure,” the point at which the National forest was temporarily closed to the public for logging. Tree-sitters would survive off that food and hopefully stay up in the trees, preventing logging of some or all of the area. On July 25th 2003, when units one and two were closed for logging, one person descended immediately, while another was coaxed down by law officials. Starfire Logging cut very closely around the third. It was devastation. Broken hearted, many people left the campaign. The remaining activists moved to unit seven. The reverberations of the tragedy in nearby towns drew more people into the campaign. Activists in unit seven continued to work in solidarity with the womyn’s and transgender camp.

At the Straw Devil womyn’s and transgender action, a road blockade thickened with yarn and decorated with used tampons symbolized a multi-faceted resistance. A tree named Dworkin stood in honor of Andrea Dworkin. In the all-gender camp up the road, a road block anchored to a tree-sit stood with the name Citadel, and probably one of the largest tree-sits in history, the Pirate Ship, floated in mid-air between a dozen trees.

After the first year, Oregon Natural Resource Council won their lawsuit in favor of the forest. The Forest Service had illegally offered the land for logging, despite the presence of citizen surveys which affirmed the presence of endangered Spotted Owls by extensive documentation of their main food source, red tree voles.

During that winter, however, the government retracted the Survey and Manage policy, which had been the legal foundation for winning the lawsuit. The next spring, forest defenders occupied Straw Devil once again, and late that fall were able to take down their tree sits and blockades with the hope of not ever having to come back—at least, not to defend it.


Following the success at the Straw Devil campaign, Southern Oregon would host the largest timber sale in history. The Biscuit fire and timber sale gained national attention and outrage against post-fire logging. Civil disobedience and direct action groups worked both in camaraderie and tension toward their shared goal of ending this monstrous project. Some Willamette Valley activists worked with Biscuit full time while others, among them Cascadia Forest Defenders, did their best to make frequent trips offering support, funds, and equipment.


During the summer of 2005, a small group of activists from the former Red Cloud Thunder erected a tree-sit at Sten timber sale in the McKenzie district of the Willamette National Forest. After they established themselves as the “Guardians of the McKenzie,” they requested support from CFD and Cascadia Rising. The groups mulled it over with much tension and divided interest. The CFD meetings were larger than they had been in a long time and many people from the collective’s formative years had begun to attend.

CFD as a group had to make a choice about values. Certain people involved in Sten were remembered for their aggressive attitudes and their resistance to anti-oppression which caused a split in the community just two years ago. Now they were asking for support and much of the group was willing to give it. Word-of-mouth spread through the Pacific Northwest that CFD was to support a campaign without an anti-oppression commitment, and many came to the meetings to express their dissent.

Attempting to find a compromise, the group decided to support the Sten campaign, but claimed that it was not an official CFD campaign. They then requested a statement, a word, a letter, or any other sign of commitment to anti-oppression, which would help the group feel more confident in sending out prospective activists. However, no such word of commitment came. Several individuals who had been invested and committed to CFD’s feminist vision came to the meetings deeply disappointed and re-voiced their discomfort with the group’s decision. Many people who had passively or grudgingly accepted the choice then spoke out in resistance. CFD relinquished group support—enraging the people at Sten as well as their in-town supporters—and the Portland based Cascadia Rising sent out a letter which included this statement:

“CR takes its anti-oppression statement very seriously. Since our founding, we have worked to support organizations that share our perspectives in actively addressing oppressive behavior within our movement. We do not actively support, recruit for, or direct people to campaigns that choose not to adopt anti-oppression policies or perspectives.

The Sten campaign has not made an anti-oppression statement, nor have they expressed interest in such an action. Beyond that, we do not work with some of the core people involved with the campaign based on our own anti-oppression statement and our personal convictions. In the past, these individuals have engaged in disruptive and degrading sexist behavior on many occasions. They have committed unaddressed and unreconciled hurtful acts against other active members of the regional EF! eco-radical community.

We want to make it clear that we are not condemning people who participate in the Sten campaign as a whole, nor that we in anyway believe that everyone, or even the majority of the people involved in the campaign, have engaged in such behavior.[sic]”[33]

After a very dramatic “break up,” the next meeting was down to four people. The four decided to rewrite the anti-oppression policy to become even more explicitly feminist. CFD grew new roots and worked throughout the winter in preparation for its next campaign.

Not long after Sten lost support from CFD, the activists there began to face another trouble. Several men in logger’s hats with shot guns and an electric bow and arrow paid them a visit. The forest defenders dodged the shots. On a second visit, only a few days later, an arrow grazed a tree-sitter’s hand. Several more shootings at Sten garnered media attention from Eugene but no compassion from the law. License plate numbers, descriptions, bullet casings, and multiple witnesses were not enough to hold the Forest Service’s or police department’s attention. And neither did the media attention and public awareness of the shootings prevent logging in the area. It was logged late that fall, and one of the main “Guardians of the McKenzie” left this angered note:

“…Far too few real-deal forest defenders somehow manage to put up a fight on a frazzled shoestring, facing cold, wet, hunger, loneliness, MUCH STRESS, unsupported, even discouraged and demoralized by the venemous spewings of misinformation and lies (“position statement”s) of the most staunch of these patheticfuk control politicians (See Cascadia Rising-“Shots add tension…”).The resistance at Sten fell due to lack of support. Congratulations, assholes. You got another one cut. You want to call anger at pretense and fraudulency oppression? You assholes need to either start defendin forests or stop calling yourselves forest defenders.[sic]”[34]

In a classic move, Grasshopper blamed the larger activist community for the failure of the Sten campaign rather than looking at his own unwillingness to make the space safe for prospective activists.

This is where I end the chronicles of this small part of Cascadia’s forest defense. The Green Scare soon loomed over activist landscapes. Activists continued to defend forests, creating unique campaigns, techniques, and communities. I choose to end at the Sten campaign to show several important points about the trajectory of social change within this movement. While the movement more or less reshaped its politics over time, it was not necessarily a linear route. Sentiments more supported in the past still pulled a certain weight in the present. As much as those of us involved in Straw Devil would love to see a heroic story of social and environmental prerogatives intertwining once and for all, we find instead that moments of radical praxis involve an immense amount of energy, and we must produce counter-ideologies to patriarchy and earth-destruction not just once but constantly. The following section is about that counter-ideology.

Part Two: Discursive Resistance

This section considers in four parts the cultural discourse around gender, power, and sexuality in this forest activist community. At the foundation of this cultural discourse was the lived experience of intersectionality—that is, the multiplicity of activists’ political prerogatives, and the ways these projects overlapped. Second, I consider the implications of the feminization of nature in environmentalist rhetoric; Third, I analyze and challenge male-centered anarchist discourse, particularly looking at the ways it has been wielded to divert attention from patriarchy. Finally, I develop a queer ecoradical perspective by zoning in on the particular effects queer had on the culture and practice of forest defense in the Straw Devil campaign. I mean for the rest of these pages to interpret the political and theoretical implications of the movement that I have thus far described.

1. Intersectionality

Cascadia forest defense saw the unfolding of feminist consciousness and the widening of the activist lens from single-issue politics to a broader social and environmental consciousness. Some say that these changes were inevitable, while other say they were brought on by force and manipulation. Some say that a web of resistance is stronger than a single resistance, while many believe that “other issues” are distractions that weaken the movement.

Single-issue environmentalism led early EF! activists to propose environmental solutions that were deeply racist, classist, and imperialist. For instance, activists in the 1980s advocated AIDS epidemics and famines around the world as a form of population control. Dave Foreman claimed that “famine relief in Ethiopia was contrary to a biocentric perspective.”[35] Another Earth First!er advocated AIDS in 1987, suggesting that “if radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human population back to ecological sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS.”[36] Such ways of thinking lead to the death of thousands of communities, languages, ethnicities, and experiences only to leave the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy intact. Note that, especially in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was devastating gay communities, this kind of thinking was deeply heterosexist.

Fortunately, these views are not consistent throughout the movement at large. EF! and other environmentalist collectives have engaged in a plurality of actions against social oppressions throughout the years. For instance, the Katuah EF! collective has held an anti-racist presence in the South by intervening in the KKK.[37] The Oxygen Collective of Southern Oregon went to New Orleans to help in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Anarchists and environmentalists have also adopted Food Not Bombs, co-opting food and resources for anyone who desires a meal. These actions bridge the gap between “social” and “environmental” oppressions by creating direct praxis which sees that environmental oppression relies on social oppression and vise versa and that it is necessary to create a “horizontal” resistance to “vertical” institutions.

As the culture of forest defense adopted a multi-issue praxis, it was forced to make painful breaks with its earlier roots. In her 1990 essay “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Earth First! activist Judi Bari writes about the environmental movement’s growing contention with its roots. Bari writes of EF! founder Dave Foreman’s disappointment with EF! as it broadened from a conservation movement to a social change movement. Bari writes, “It does not make sense to bemoan the destruction of nature while supporting the system that is destroying it. Yet Dave Foreman proudly calls himself a patriot, and glorifies the dominant culture of our corrupt society. He says he is a no-compromise defender of biodiversity, yet he has made the ultimate compromise of accepting a society that is literally based on the destruction of the Earth.”[38] When activists work toward multi-issue resistance, they forge a culture that could potentially support the changes that their activism proposes. Bari’s redefinition of “no-compromise” radically altered it from its original, single-issue origins.

Chaia Heller’s book Ecology of Everyday Life begins with a distinction between need and desire. She writes that “ecology addresses two demands, then—one quantitative, the other qualitative.”[39] She writes that the quantitative demand, the threat of ecological collapse, overpopulation, pollution, et cetera, often usurps the desire for a “more healthful and sensual expression of everyday life.”[40] Forest defense, as a multi-issue project, is a meeting of the quantitative and the qualitative, the need and desire. The ecological desire brought feminism and anarchism to the forefronts of forest activism. Activists did not just want forests, but also to have the opportunity to thrive and love within them.

The Straw Devil campaign was the height of feminist environmental activism in Cascadia Forest Defense. While men, womyn, and transgendered folks lived in resistance to logging, the forest provided a space to learn to create non-oppressive communities. Grounded in place and community the forest was a space to grow freely, somewhat separate from economic and state institutions embedded in towns and cities. An old flyer for a tree-sit at Clark timber sale in Fall Creek (about an hour and a half from Eugene) reads, “Currently offering rent-free co-op housing in upper and middle canopy condos 150-230 ft. above reality with suspended sidewalks winding between 500/600/700 year old doug fir and hemlock trees.” In tree-sits like these, there is usually an in-town group who brings in food and takes out trash a few times a week. The people who stay in the forest have time and space to create lives less constricted by institutional boundaries, to develop relationships outside many social restrictions that exist in towns and cities. Place is literally foundational for creating a feminist, anti-authoritarian culture. The forest gave this to us as we worked to protect it.

2. The Feminization of Nature

Wrapped around a green fist, these words have since the inception of Earth First! claimed the feminization of nature as a central metaphor for radical environmentalism: No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth. The slogan reveals that the EF! movement rejects the destruction of nature, yet does not question the problems of its feminization. In this section I use an ecofeminist standpoint to question the feminization of nature in forest defense rhetoric.

The feminization of nature is not necessarily anti-liberatory; rather, because white Western culture has a deeply destructive and exploitative relationship to both womyn and nature, we must seek to understand what we are doing when we reconstruct this paradigm in a liberatory context, such as activist spaces. Western culture has perpetually defined nature in the language of the feminine as a part of a system of thought organization engrained in the world-view of Western civilization, to what many ecofeminists claim, the mutual detriment of both.[41] Ecofeminist author Karen Warren writes, “Just as conceptions of gender are socially constructed, so are conceptions of nature.”[42] While people celebrate in nature reproduction, fertility, the wild, the erotic, the nurturing, the abundant, these same qualities are used to justify its subordination and exploitation, and that of womyn. Wielded uncritically, the links between womyn and nature can perpetuate the thought patterns behind ecosystem destruction.

In white Western culture, thought is organized into a series of dualisms. Ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood explains that “Dualism is the process by which contrasting concepts (for example, masculine and feminine gender identities) are formed by domination and subordination and constructed as oppositional and exclusive.”[43]

Environmentalist and forest defense rhetoric has inadvertently situated itself within the value dualisms of Western culture. It has unconsciously accepted the notion that nature is feminine, vulnerable, and defenseless. The feminization of nature suggests that culture (man) must become warrior-like and defend nature (womyn). An ecodefender must be masculine, warrior-like, and separate from nature. Nature and womyn are objectified, stagnant victims as opposed to resisters and defenders with their own power and agency. Men and culture remain the unexamined protective class, and womyn/nature must submit to men’s/culture’s dominance/protection for their own good. This warrior/victim paradigm is not helpful to the project of forest defense. However, the feminization of nature has, for better or for worse, had a significant liberal/mainstream appeal. For instance, consider the following:

The narrative of the helpless female: “Mother earth needs our help”[44]

The narrative of war: “Welcome to the 2003 episode of the War in the Woods, or the Empire Strikes Back!”[45]

The narrative of sexual purity: “Only five percent of America’s virgin forests remain, while 70 percent of the fiber consumed by the pulp and paper industry continues to be generated from virgin wood (emphasis mine).[46]

After following this narrative long enough, one will gather that nature is the stereotypically disempowered, helpless, exotic, erotic, feminine woman, caught in a man’s war. The forest defender is a soldier, saving the world and getting the girl. It is a story of sex and violence. It is a pornographic story. Just like the stories of strong men rescuing helpless young womyn, there is absolutely nothing in the story that advocates respect and autonomy for its subject.

Essentialism, Gender, and Identification

Forest defenders feminize nature when they relate to the narrative of forest defense through a lens of heteronormativity. Whether the forest defenders are male or female, their relationship to the trees they occupy fit a similarly gendered narrative. In the Northern California Redwoods, for instance, a woman named Julia Butterfly Hill occupied the famous tree Luna. Butterfly used her woman-centered connection to nature and the Christian god to justify her opposition to logging. Ecofeminist author Audrey Vanderford describes a scene in Hill’s book in which Hill convinces a logger that she is not a dread-locked hippy tree hugger. She fills a bag with granola and a picture of herself all dressed up and feminine, attaches it to a rope and lowers it from her platform. The logger is surprised. But feminists are pissed. Julia Butterfly Hill used the hegemonic, dominator model of femininity to legitimize her position on the environment. Vanderford concluded that Hill did not make the logger receptive to her on a human level, but rather, on a heterosexual level.

Similarly, an enthusiastic bunch of female forest defenders self-proclaimed “The Stafford Sweeties,” dressed their best one fall morning in 1997, bringing donuts, coffee, cute looks and suggestive touches to loggers in order to instill in them a sense of compassion for the forest.[47] Vanderford’s critique of Julia Butterfly Hill applies here as well.

Men have also organized their relationship to the forest through a lens of heteronormativity. The movie “Tree-sit: The Art of Resistance” documents one man’s relationship with a tree named Mariah, also in the Redwoods.[48] In this sit a male activist named Nate continually refers to the tree as “she,” claiming the need to “protect her.” The language he uses suggests that “she,” meaning the redwood, must be feminine, vulnerable, and defenseless. This relationship fits the traditionally male-dominated discourse of male defender, female forest, male culture, female nature. Nate, the Stafford Sweeties, and Julia Butterfly all chose to construct their identities as forest defenders by the dominator model of patriarchal gender norms.

Strategic woman-nature associations

A gendered relationship to the environment and environmentalism may seem helpful in the short term for people like Hill and the Stafford Sweeties who do not choose to critically assess the relationship of gender and the environment, but they certainly do not benefit the attitudes toward womyn in activism. In her well known essay, “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism,” Warren articulates, “…the conceptual connections between the domination of womyn and the domination of nature are located in an oppressive and, at least in Western societies, patriarchal conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination…. The failure to notice the nature of this connection leaves at best an incomplete, inaccurate, and partial account of what is required of a conceptually adequate environmental ethic.”[49] An ecofeminist critique would argue that the failure of environmentalists to realize their participation in patriarchal culture led them to an inadequate environmental ethic.

Strategic Associations

While conceptual connections linking womyn to the environment are not useful when they serve the hegemonic, dominator model of gender and power, they can work as the foundation for ecofeminist activism. When we, as activists, connect our personal experiences of oppression to an oppressive conceptual framework—as defined by Karen Warren as a set of basic beliefs that “explain, justify, and maintain relationships of domination and subordination”[50]—we are creating a strategic ecofeminist praxis, where identification does not necessarily lead to essentialism. When people who have been raped connect their experiences with patriarchal violation to the violation and exploitation of the earth, they may realize that these oppressions are connected through an oppressive conceptual framework. The logic of domination that justifies one oppression justifies the other. Thus, to resist one, we must resist the entire conceptual framework.

Julia Butterfly Hill’s book also works on this level. She writes, “learning about the clear-cut made me feel like a part of myself was being ripped apart and violated, just as the forests were.”[51] Female forest defenders have associated clear-cuts to their own experiences of bodily violation again and again. In a ‘zine of collected writings of the Straw Devil womyn’s and transgender action, a poem by Cyndal reads, “She holds the secrets of a thousand centuries/ and she is clear-cut, destruct the blood of each/ on our knees and hands, innards and guts pour from/ our cunts and tree stumps….”[52] Hill and Cyndal’s strategic use of this experiential connection works to elucidate the mutual domination of women and nature.

The link between patriarchy and the destruction of forests has been expressed through ecofeminist forest defense in the naming of a tree “Dworkin,” after Andrea Dworkin, a well known feminist activist and writer who focused on issues of pornography and violence against womyn. In this case, naming a tree with a female name was strategic, not essentialist. Standing in an all womyn’s and transgender action camp, this tree signified both resistance to violence against womyn and resistance to violence against the forest. Dworkin represented strategic connections, whereas Luna/ Butterfly and Mariah/ Nate represented essentialist, even patriarchal narratives.

Beyond Essentialism

Forest Defense campaigns have seen both the uncritical perpetuation of essentialist notions of gender and critical analyses of how these essentialisms perpetuate the oppression of womyn and nature. While the woman-nature connection arises out of experiential and conceptual negotiations with violence for many womyn, an unexamined acceptance of this paradigm leads to the perpetuation of certain dualities that fail to radically alter the state of either womyn or nature within an ideological or material context.

To move beyond these gendered activisms which associate womyn with nature and men with culture, we must, as activists, not simply ignore or reject these connections, but critically reflect on the ways in which gender violently removes a range of experiences from our lives. One must actively reject these norms and metaphors in order to eradicate male-dominated, hierarchical relationships with the environment, and replace these relationships with active ecological feminist consciousnesses.

3. Anarchism and Patriarchy

Though metaphors are significant in their ability to rationalize oppression or set the tone of a social space, patriarchy seeps into more than metaphor. Patriarchy shades even those movements antagonistic to Western constructions of hierarchy and authority—most notably, anarchism. In this section I interpret the experiences of womyn and transgender participants in the forest and in particular in the Straw Devil campaign. These activists challenged meanings of freedom and power within anarchist discourse.

During the first major campaign in the Willamette National Forest, Warner Creek, social justice had little footing in the culture of environmental activism. By the time the Warner Creek campaign came to a head it was shaded with a leftist, eco-anarchist tone, but it was still a distinctly single-issue struggle: any other political goals—especially what was bitterly noted as “social issues”—fell by the wayside. Radicalized tactics and deepened urgency barely concealed a parochial nature conservation politics. Despite that four womyn occupied lockdowns at the climax of the campaign, womyn generally carried the brunt of the behind-the-scenes work while men gleaned public notoriety and occupied the camera’s gaze.

Feminism, at the time of Warner Creek, was continually contested and pushed aside. A few comments referencing womyn in Pickaxe, the film documenting the Warner Creek struggle, reveal the early status of womyn in direct action. The film’s narrator was self-congratulatory on the very presence of womyn, despite that at

“every single meeting that we had, every single action that we planned and carried out, there were always issues of male dominance that had to be looked at. And as much as they were trying to make us look at it, a lot of men had a hard time focusing on that issue. There was a lot of pain in our camp, and there was always the excuse on the men’s side that forests were falling and that we could look at our deep seated patterns later but we needed to get out in the forest and address that issue right now.”[53]

Throughout the campaign, men relegated womyn to subordinate positions. Although there was at least one all-womyn’s jail sit-in—that is, where four womyn strategically went to jail in solidarity with each other— at every meeting womyn voiced concerns, demanded better treatment from their male peers and demanding “more valued” positions. Contradictorily, another comment on womyn in the Warner Creek struggle described environmentalism as a post-social movement: “Like we once had to work for womyn’s rights, like we once had to fight against racism, we now have to fight for the environment.”[54] In either position, environmental crisis is prioritized in exclusion of social issues. Forest defense is posited as a single issue project. The lack of social responsibility among privileged environmentalists frustrated those who knew that social inequalities diminished their participation in direct action and weakened the campaign at large.

Male-dominance in the culture and discourse of anarchism has blocked anarchist communities from reaching their anti-authoritarian goals when their theory is put to practice. Self-proclaimed “ex-Eugene manarchist” wrote, “that many anarchist men tend to identify ‘the State’ and ‘Capitalism’ as the oppressors, suggests a preoccupation with their own class exploitation. For many male anarchists, many of whom are also white, young, able-bodied, and heterosexual, class exploitation is the only area in which they experience any form of institutionalized domination.”[55] Kooky suggests that a male-dominated anarchist thought only represents certain oppressions as legitimate—and the ones that are illegitimate happen to be the ones that compromise their own authoritarian power.

In anarchist communities and free-states such as forest defense, patriarchy becomes a question of authority and imposition. When womyn ask men to step down from dominating, oppressive, or authoritarian positions, men who occupy these positions often perceive womyn as anti-anarchist or “oppressive.” Ironically, they interpret womyn questioning their access to privilege and power as a way of hoarding power or trying to curb their “freedom.”

The “freedoms” that feminists threaten include the freedom to exploit and have unlimited access to womyn’s bodies, and the freedom to have male actions and beliefs remain unquestioned where womyn’s voices are routinely silenced or minimized. Because patriarchy and oppression are couched in a language of anarchism, common responses to feminist concerns are “live and let live,” or “don’t tell people what to do.” The call for accountability in gender relations comes off as “oppressive” to men rather than liberatory for non-men. Somehow, it becomes difficult for some people who wield anarchist discourse to turn that rhetoric toward themselves, or to understand patterns of oppression across social and environmental landscapes. The demand for an end to earth exploitation or police oppression somehow does not equate a demand for an end to gender oppression.

For ecodefense to continue in a sustainable way, it is imperative that freedom, even (and especially) in radical communities is not simply interpreted as the liberty of one’s self, but the assurance of respect, accountability, and safety for all of life. In this way, agreements toward anti-oppression do not deny anarchy, but rather, in a patriarchal culture, reinforce that these ideologies of freedom apply to all, not just a few privileged people.

4. Faeries in the Forest: Queering Environmental Activism

Womyn’s and transgender activists used separatism to create safe and empowering spaces while challenging sexism and sexual harassment. The separate space was a hinge on which local politics of forest defense shifted. Their work was tri-fold: against industrial logging; against social injustice in the forest; and against social injustice in their lives and community outside of the forest. Ecofeminist philosopher Chaone Mallory writes that a better strategy than putting up with sexism in the woods, “Forest Defenders have quite rationally concluded, is to eliminate the risk of heterosexual assault altogether through the creation of womyn-only spaces and actions.”[56] Mallory describes womyn-only activist projects as necessary for four reasons: “challenging masculinism in radical activism,” “challenging gendered labor in the forest,” “combating sexual assault in the forest,” and creating a dialectic of theory and practice that engages with the intersecting oppressions of womyn and nature.[57] They used separatism as a tool of resistance and healing, a temporary strategy situated within a larger process of change over time.

The Straw-devil brand of separatism worked in conjunction and solidarity with an all-gender group, allowing womyn and many queer activists to simultaneously work with, yet apart from, male allies. While queer men acted as invaluable allies anchored in the all-gender camp, there was much tension around their exclusion from the womyn’s and transgender camp. The linked separation between the two camps acted as an everyday reminder of how patriarchy pervaded the forest activist community, and how desperately activists needed a commitment to social justice. While not uncontested, this strategy transformed and strengthened their community rather than fracturing it.

Traditional discourses in forest defense have been based on the feminization of nature, a notion deeply etched into Western culture. For instance, men often assigned feminine names to trees, then hoarded the task of defending them with a heroic, warrior style bravado. Earth First!, a radical environmentalist group with which forest defense is often associated, claims the motto, “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth,” where nature is passive, feminine, and victimized; men, her defenders, are brave, masculine, and warrior-like. This sexist and heterosexist narrative carves out circumscribed roles and gender expressions for both men and womyn, affecting how activists participate within forest defense as well as how they understand themselves in relationship to nature.

Queer forest defenders understood how nature/culture, male/female, and reason/erotic dualisms fed their oppression and imbued heterosexism into forest defense. Forest defense is most often viewed as an active, rational force (culture) entering a passive sexual being (nature) in order to save “her.” But many forest defenders agree with ecofeminist philosophers who have claimed that the eroticization of womyn and nature serves “the mutual detriment of both.”[58] Rather than embracing the eroticization of nature or simply reversing the dichotomy by claiming that nature is not at all informed by the erotic, queer forest defenders have undermined the polarization between nature and culture. Ecofeminist author Greta Gaard writes that “A queer ecofeminist perspective would argue that liberating the erotic requires reconceptualizing humans as equal participants in culture and nature, able to explore the eroticism of reason and the unique rationality of the erotic.”[59] Armed with a sex positivity forged in urban queer spaces, forest defenders were able to tangle and complicate the nature/culture, erotic/reason, male/female dualisms that had heretofore invisibly shaped much of environmentalist thinking and therefore activism. Queer praxis in forest defense, then, destabilizes the erotic in nature and extends the intuitive, the irrational, and the passionate into culture.

One of the ways forest defenders realized this was through the popularization of gender-neutral pronouns. Activists in the Fall Creek and Straw Devil campaigns adopted a gender-neutral pronoun which operated differently than gender-neutral pronouns found in other queer communities. Rather than referring only to gender-queer people, adding a third, more androgynous option in between “he” and “she,” this pronoun replaced all pronouns for all people of all genders, explicitly undermining the binary construction of gender. Everyone was “co,” which is short for either comrade or companion. Straw Devil’s “Womyn’s and Trans” only area drew many womyn and queers into the campaign that would not have felt safe or invited to join otherwise. The space allowed many people to experiment with gender-queer identities, feeling out the contours and breaking free from traditional gender expectations.

Gender-neutral pronouns allowed people to experiment with their identities without having to immediately define themselves as gender queer, transgender, butch, femme, girl, or boy. The gender-neutral pronoun, becoming increasingly common among a certain contingent of radical activist subcultures, allowed communities that actively included trans and gender-queer people to bypass a language that otherizes them, while, to an extent, queering people who would not otherwise transgress traditional gender performances. In mainstream society, gender-queer and transgendered people have to “out” themselves, often bending to gender binaries and surviving within a tiny niche of acceptance, of “other.” Frustrated with this reality, transgender and gender-queer forest defenders envisioned a new way of being which would require straight and non-gender queer people to take responsibility for gender oppression by shifting their own understandings of gender. It is not the otherness of queer identities which causes violence against them, but the world-view, including these oppressive dualisms, through which straight culture directs its gaze. Forest defenders agreed that if everyone in their community adopted the use of this new language, gender-queer and transgendered people would no longer carry the responsibility and burden of undermining the oppressive binaries by themselves.

Even in the all-gender part of Straw Devil, which worked alongside the womyn’s and transgender only space, this practice was radically empowering and commonly used. The intention behind “co,” rather than “he” or “she,” and “co’s” instead of “his” or “hers,” certainly queered gender, but also imbued the community with a general sense of equality. With such a strong legacy of male dominance in forest defense, the presence of womyn can sometimes be overemphasized, made “special.” One is first recognized as or assumed to be female, perhaps even congratulated for being so, and secondly recognized as a forest defender. The use of gender neutral pronouns intervened in this pattern.

When people are all referred to as co, it is not in denial of gender identities; rather, it is in recognition of the multiplicity of gender identities and the failure of a binary stratification to articulate that. The use of “co” calls into question the importance of gender as a prerequisite identification. It resists sexist and heterosexist assumptions simultaneously. For example, pretend that a person named Maple has just come to the forest and had co’s first climb training: co learns how to caterpillar co’s self up a rope that is hanging from high up in a tree. After the climb training, one person asks another person, “How did Maple’s climb training go?” The person responds, “It went alright. Co got scared and decided to come down, but we’re going to try again tomorrow.” If the climb trainer chose to use a gendered pronoun instead of a gender neutral pronoun, the listener could make all sorts of assumptions about this person based on ingrained sexism and heterosexism. For instance, if “she” got scared, the listener would easily, perhaps inevitably, make assumptions about how womyn naturally get scared, womyn are not as good climbers as men, or that womyn should not be climbing. If “she” did not get scared, perhaps the listener would think “good for her, she’s a tough woman.”

If co was replaced with a “he,” however, the conversation would be laced with a whole different set of assumptions. If “he” got scared, the listener may think he is less than manly, he is pussy, he is weak, he is gay, and of course, queers are too weak and frilly to be doing serious forest work. If “he” did not get scared, on the other hand, he would be maintaining the status quo, putting on his eco-warrior persona and stepping into the narrative exactly where he’s expected.

Although most activists agreed that gender neutral pronouns evaded common language problems that reinforced sexism and heterosexism, some people chose not to participate in the language project. Those who opposed it argued that when non-transgendered people use gender-neutral pronouns, they erode the meaning and the weight that the word would have had for transgendered and gender-queer people. The person is potentially using the word without understanding the real struggles that transgender people face in their everyday lives.

Many have tried to balance this tension by suggesting that forest activists honor every individual’s chosen pronoun. For example at a typical meeting where people are introducing themselves, one person will suggest doing a “go-around,” and others wiggle their fingers in an upward direction, or agree verbally as they shift their attention to the circle. Each person says co’s name and preferred pronoun, often “co” or “she or co” or “anything and everything.” Often, if it is the beginning of a meeting, a person might say what co wants to add to the meeting’s agenda, or might comment on co’s pride at the work they have done or co’s excitement for the events to come.

In this scene there is an unresolved tension between whether pronouns are individualistic—meant for the subject to decide and each speaker to remember, along with a person’s name and other particulars—or whether “co” is a communal word, used consistently by the speaker with little regard to individual preferences. Even while each speaker claimed an individual pronoun preference, I, as the story teller, chose to use co as a universal pronoun. The function of the pronoun is left in a dialectic tension as forest defenders use it, however contradictorily, in both ways simultaneously.

These dialogues continue to create dynamic and creative explorations of gender, identity, and forest defense. The use of gender neutral pronouns radicalizes queer activism and forest defense, but not without a healthy amount of controversy and critique.

Shifting queer praxis from urban landscapes, academic institutions, and reform or assimilationist projects to anti-assimiliationist, anarchistic free states like those in forest defense greatly shifts the possibilities for radical experimentation and embodiment of theory. A radical queer praxis influences how we organize as human beings, and how we live in solidarity with the non-human world.


Forest defense is rooted in a place, a dialogue, and a vision. In other words, forest defense is rooted in the site of local forests; the cite of intersecting discourses including theory and activism, and feminism, anarchy, queer theory, and environmentalism; and the sight of radical empowerment, a vision which extends beyond one form of activism and one bioregion.

Activists came to forest spaces to learn, to create, and to embody liberatory theory. Rejecting the old notion that environmental justice precludes social justice, activists celebrated forest defense for providing physical spaces in which they could experiment with anti-oppression, anti-authoritarianism, and queering space. Some of their projects would not have been possible in urban spaces, or spaces in which people with passion, time, and a willingness to challenge and be challenged were not concentrated into such close and isolated quarters. At the site of forest defense, then, theory intersected with practice and social justice with environmental justice. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the early 2000’s, activists who defended forests also deconstructed gender and sexuality, freeing something in themselves while defending their wild and free surroundings. They transformed a once starkly heteronormative, male-dominated activism into one which loudly undermined gender convention. Used alongside such pragmatic items as wrenches, truck rope, and harnesses, theory became another tool toward liberation.

Integral to defending the earth and ourselves is the intersectionality between theory and practice, social and environmental justice. The structures of ropes in the trees hold strong only if each and every one if its elements are in place. Anarchism without feminism is inadequate. The platform will fall. Feminism without ecology is inadequate. The platform will fall. Forest defense without queering gender is inadequate. The platform will fall.

A multi-issue praxis has come from an ecological desire for a future, and, moreover, an ecological desire for a present. Its objectives reach further than that of gaining social equality within an exploitative system, and further than dismantling that exploitative system within the bounds of exploitative social relationships. A multi-issue praxis leads to radical theory, radical practice, radical change, and radical empowerment. A radical praxis implores us to not lose sight of our desires for either quantitative or qualitative ends. Womyn, queers, and feminist men need not risk their personal safety and empowerment for environmental activism. All forest defenders must realize that social justice is environmental struggle. How can we create ecological ways of life without such basic life skills and values as communication, mutual aid, anti-oppression, respect and autonomy?

Forest defense in Cascadia has exemplified both hegemonic, essentialist social constructions of gender and nature, and engaged in a critical ecofeminist consciousness. While the earlier years were characterized by an Edward Abbey version of deep ecology, later campaigns and activist collectives have taken ecofeminism to the foundation of their actions. Best said by a forest defender herself, “we’ll be taking down patriarchy and puttin’ up tree-sits.”[60]


Thank you Ran, Sean, Pitch, Cannibal, Huck, Dendron, Dragonfly, Raccoon, Brad, Quin, Phoenix, Oxeye, Androgyny, Elizabeth Reis, Chaone Mallory, Yvonne Braun, Eugene, dad, and Sally, Sally, Sally, thank you dirty, beautiful, forever in our hearts Sally.


1 Sprig, “EF! Journal- Climbing Proud.” May 2000.http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=43 (accessed December 25, 2008).

2 Anonymous, “Straw Devil Update: Activists ask, “How much is a human life worth?”.” October 9th, 2003.http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2003/10/273036.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[3] I do not, in this paper, prove or explain the problems with clear cutting or mass deforestation. For a detailed analysis of forest exploitation, see Jensen, Derrick, and George Draffan. Strangely Like War: The Global Assault On Forests. Politics of the Living. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003.

[4] While I argue for a multi-issue praxis, I want to acknowledge that this paper only considers sexism and heterosexism in the context of forest activism, leaving many other present social issues unexamined. For a thorough analysis of race in environmental activism, see Sturgeon, Noel. Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action. New York: Routledge, 1997. For a useful example of forest defenders’ alliances with loggers and townspeople, research the Watch Mountain forest campaign. For example, see McClure, Robert. “Tree-sitters launch towering protest.” August 17, 1999.http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/tree17.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[5] I do not mean to vilify the early history of forest defense, but to learn from our past, to create some sense of historical memory, so that we do not—in forest defense or elsewhere— make similar mistakes in the future. Chaia Heller writes, “What is necessary is not to criticize previous thinking for being a product of history, but to understand the historical processes which have produced such thinking in order to create new ways of conceptualizing ecological change” Chaia Heller. Ecology of Everyday Life: Rethinking the Desire for Nature. New York: Black Rose Books, 1999.

[6] Schuster, Henry. “Domestic terror: Who’s most dangerous?” CNN.com. August 5, 2005. http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/08/24/schuster.column/ (accessed December 25, 2008).

[7] Bishop, Bill. “Is it the Green Scare, eco-terrorism, or none of the above?” Article Archives. April 15, 2006. http://www.articlearchives.com/crime-law-enforcement-corrections/human-rights/150362-1.html (accessed December 25, 2008).

[8] Jean Franscois Lyotard writes, “the ‘prefect crime’ does not consist in killing the victim or the witnesses…but rather in obtaining the silence of the witnesses…” Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Translated by Georges van den Abbeele. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988.

[9]http://www.adl.org/learn/extremism_in_america_updates/movements/ecoterrorism/ecoterror_11_12406.htm. 11 Indicted in Five-State Ecoterror Campaign. January 24, 2006. (accessed December 25, 2008).

[10] Le, Phuong Cat. Activists’ passion turns to violence. October 18, 2006. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/289091_elfwomen18.html?source=mypi (accessed December 25, 2008).

[11] Forest defense in Oregon differs from forest defense in California because the Redwoods are on private land. The cutting is most often legal—though no less abhorrent.

[12] Sprig. Climbing Proud! May 2000. http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=43 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[13] I use the term “womyn” consistently throughout this paper because it is a term which many, though not all, female-identified people in the forest chose to use. Because language and gender were constantly contested, I choose to use the revisionary spelling rather than the traditional spelling, even though it was not as consistent among forest defenders as it is in this paper.

[14]Huber, Ron. Earth First! 1985. http://www.penbay.org/ef/mikejakubal_1sttreesit85.html (accessed December 25, 2008).

[15] Sprig. Climbing Proud!

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Note that the trees there had no commercial value to begin with, given that they were permanently protected.

[19] Bell, James John, J Cookson, Ilyse Hogue, and Patrick Reinsborough. Earth First! Journal: Direct Action at the Points of Assumption. 2002. http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=149 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[20] Abraham, Kera. Flames of Dissent. November 2, 2006. http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2006/11/02/coverstory.html (accessed December 25, 2008).

[21] Lewis, Tim, and Tim Ream. Pickaxe. Cascadia Media. Oregon, 1999.

[22] Pods are three-legged structures with a platform suspended from the center

[23] Campaigns included Silo, Windberry, Blodgett, several in the Umpqua National Forest, Berrypatch, Slap, Watch Mountain, Madre Loca, Freshwater, Helldun, and others.

[24] Anonymous

[25] Anonymous interview

[26] Watching…, Hank. rape and rapists in portland, part 2- HANK. September 27, 2003. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2003/09/271150.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[27] Anonymous correspondence

[28] Anonymous email

[29] A unit is a section of forest slated for logging. There are usually many units to any given sale.

[30] (Cascadia Rising). Oh no! website is gone!

[31] Defenders, Cascadia Forest. Forest Defense Training Camp @ Straw Devil timber sale. July 7, 2004. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/07/292496.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[32] There have been all womyn’s or womyn-centered blockades and action camps, and campaigns elsewhere, including the 1993 effort to protect the Clayoquot Sound in Canada and the Greenham Common Womyn’s Peace Camp participant in 1983.

[33] (Cascadia Rising) deceased…

[34] Asshopper, G. R. Grasshopper speaks- of Sten. November 27, 2005. http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/11/329463.shtml (accessed December 25, 2008).

[35] Sturgeon, Ecofeminist Natures. 54

[36] Miss Ann Thropy (Christopher Manes). “Population and AIDS.” Earth First!, 1987: 32.

[37] Irwin, Chris. Kicking the KKK Out of Katuah. 2002. http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/article.php?id=126 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[38] Bari, Judi. Timber Wars. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1994. 57

[39] Chaia Heller, Ecology of Everyday Life, 1

[40] Ibid., 6

[41] See Val Plumwood, Carol Adams, Greta Gaard, Susan Griffin, Karen Warren

[42] Warren, Karen, ed. Ecological Feminist Philosophies. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996. 25

[43] Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1993. 31

[44] For a more thorough analysis of the feminization of nature, see Heller, Chaia. “For the Love of Nature: Ecology and the Cult of the Romantic.” In Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, by Greta Gaard, 219-242. Philadelphia: Temple Universtiy Press, 1993, in which Heller argues that present day discourse around the destruction of nature is shrouded in a language of romanticism rooted as deep as the Middle Ages. I chose a quote from an engineering blog to expose what Heller has similarly described as a surge of corporate and professional men rushing to participate in “the romantic, ecological drama, becoming ‘econights’ ready to proest and save helpless ‘Lady Nature’ from the big, bad dragon of human irresponsibility” (219).

[45] Whiteley, Don. Vancouver Sun — New War of the Woods shaping up in B.C. forests. April 9, 2003. http://www.forestethics.org/article.php?id=814 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[46] Motavalli, Jim. Native Forest Council: News. May 26, 2004. http://www.forestcouncil.org/tims_picks/view.php?id=114 (accessed December 25, 2008).

[47] Tree Sit: The Art of Resistance. Directed by Earth Films. Performed by Julia Butterfly Hill. 2003.

[48] Tree Sit: The Art of Resistance. Directed by Earth Films. Performed by Julia Butterfly Hill. 2003.

[49] Karen Warren, Ecological Feminist Philosophies, 34

[50] Ibid., 20

[51] Hill, Julia Butterfly. Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods. New York: HarperCollins, 2000, 9

[52] Unit 6 zine

[53] Lewis, Tim, and Tim Ream. Pickaxe. Cascadia Media. Oregon, 1999.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Zine, Kookie

[56] Mallory, Chaone. “Ecofeminism and Forest Defense in Cascadia: Gender, Theory and Radical Activism.” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2006: 32-49. 44)

[57] Mallory, 40-42

[58] Warren, Ecological Feminist Philosophies, xiii

[59] Gaard, Greta. “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism.” In New Perspectives on Environmental Justice: Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, by Rachel Stein. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 132

[60] Anonymous



  1. This is a very well researched and well written summary of protest in PNW forests.

    I share a strong interest (and some knowledge) regarding Black history and women’s history in the region, as well as a long-standing interest in the life and written works of C.E.S. Wood. I think that radical protests in the forests of Oregon and the western US has had terribly negative long-term consequences for the economy, ecology, biology, and aesthetics of the region, however.

    Tim Ingalsbee, et al., are not heroes and protectors of the forests, as presented, in my view they are enemies and destroyers. However heroic they may paint their own involvement and ideals, or however much they strive to capitalize on their 15 minutes of infamy.

    My PhD is in catastrophic wildfire history of western Oregon. Warner Creek currently is an ugly, dangerous mess of dead and dying forest fuels waiting to explode into an even greater inferno of death and destruction next time it goes up. Thank you, forest protectors! You really screwed up the area, thanks in large degree to the efforts and “fire ecology” expertise of Dr. Ingalsbee and his cohorts.

    Oh, well, they were “well intentioned,” some of them, I guess. Our forests and rural economies are largely destroyed by their actions, but the participants likely felt like the Crusaders of the Middle Ages when they were acting out to the local public’s detriment. On one side of the continent we have white nights and damsels in distress; on the other we have rape, pillage, and destruction. Depends on your point of view and whose God is on your side, I guess.

    I suspect this is a paper you wrote for one of your classes. Printing the footnoted citations would be a good addition for your blog readers, too.

    Keep up the good (written) work, and keep an open mind. Learn about the “Six-Year Jinx” of Oregon’s Tillamook Fires to better understand the sealed fate of Warner Creek. No one is happy with the result. It is not good. You have created an ugly dangerous palce where once beauty existed.

    Comment by Bob Zybach — December 24, 2008 @ 11:13 p12 | Reply

  2. What’s up Polywog,

    We last spoke at the the women & environmentalism panel at ELAW last March.

    I just gave your paper the old grad-school skim and was very pleased to see how much you made of the early 21st century oriented years when you were most involved in forest defense.

    Reading this triggers so much passion in me, so much I want to say! Your welcome to call 360-789-7843 or email me to talk more.

    In grad school we talk of the “So What?” of our papers. And to me the “so what” that’s most significant in this subject matter is the plight of non-male identified forest defenders.

    Did you know that the first person to ever appeal an old growth timber sale in the Pacific Northwest in 1976 was a women? The first old growth redwood forest ever saved was saved by a women? I could go on and on about the two dozen most significant women forest defenders of the PNW. I’d actually like to work with you and others to create a website dedicated to the history of non-male identified forest defenders. And this desire is a good lead in to my critique of your framing.

    But first realize that their is a certain narcissistic quality to the gender bender era of PNW forest defense (1998-2005?) In this era it could be argued that the previous emphasis of personal liberation thru the protection and restoration of ancient ecosystems was upstaged by personal liberation through questioning society oppression and isms with the actual forest defending part merely being the stage or setting where it takes place. And in my view this approach leans more towards the masculine-oriented utilization of forest resources rather then the defense and protection of forest resources as the reason and purpose for uniting as defenders in the first place. And that’s why I think we need a broader more intentional frame of the who, where and how of the greatest non-male identified forest defenders. And from this frame far greater insight will be provided as to what’s going wrong and write in the war of the sexes.

    And as the saying goes: the first major sacrifice in any war is the truth. And because of this the analysis as currently framed obfuscates a huge amount of insight. For example To say that the Warner Creek campaign was a single-issue focused campaign that didn’t pay any attention to sexual abuse that occurred in basecamp is not at all true. (alot to say about that one.)

    In addition the green scare was mentioned as primary in your introduction, yet not at all represented in the main body of your work? This is discomforting in that most readers question the legitimacy of arson and the fact that the issue has been sidestepped weakens the integrity of your overall work. More important to me though, is the loss of the primary emphasis on the protection of rare and ancient forest ecosystem, a concept that very few humans have taken the time to even understand! And to not explain it to the readers hardly at all… it’s not only a form of normative oppression but it also takes away from the clarity of narrative / frame.

    So what if the cliche’ frame of “the battle of the sexes” was replaced with a women’s liberation framed analysis of what is sustainable & correct direct action when it comes to the successful defense of forest ecosystems? From this frame I suggest an analysis of risky life endangering behavior, as well as green scare oriented long-term jail oriented behaviors could be contrasted with what great women forest defenders accomplished as well as endured?

    What I’m trying to say is that from a women’s liberatory frame the forest defense scene can be seen as way that 1) inspires the feminine value of thinking through the impacts of our civil-disobedience and community building behaviors, 2) inspire the feminine value of having a holistic all inclusive approach to eco-defense and groups dynamics, and 3) most of all we need to inspire the feminine value of persistent, sustained robustly developing beneficial change of societal mores and laws no matter how insurmountable they may at first seem. —> And of course the given here is that society is horribly wrong to mama nature because it only values ecosystems in utilitarian / consumptive ways.

    That’s enough for now. I’d like to dialogue / collaborate with you further on this! I think something really significant and culturally evolving power can come out of your endeavors so keep up the good work!

    Be well, Deane

    PS: If there’s a way we could put something together to present at this years eco-feminism panel at ELAW in MArch I’d put much effort into helping get it together?

    Comment by Deane — December 29, 2008 @ 11:13 p12 | Reply

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