January 28, 2021

Presenting: Timber Wars

by How to Save a Planet

Background show artwork for How to Save a Planet

When loggers with massive chainsaws headed into the Willamette National Forest on Easter Sunday in 1989, they found a line of protesters blocking the road. Some protesters buried themselves in front of bulldozers and spent months sitting in the tallest trees in the world. The ensuing battle would help catapult old-growth forests into a national issue, and become known as the “Easter Massacre.” Today, we’re sharing an episode of the podcast Timber Wars, which tells the story of how this fight over old-growth trees erupted into a national conflict that influenced environmental policy. 

Like what you hear? You can find Timber Wars, from Oregon Public Broadcasting, wherever you get your podcasts, or at opb.org/timberwars.

Want even more? Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter

Where to Listen


Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Welcome to How to Save a Planet. I'm Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.


Alex Blumberg: And I'm Alex Blumberg. And this is the show where we talk about what we need to do to address the climate crisis and how we're gonna make those things happen.


Ayana: Alex, I just Googled "spotted owl" — I Ecosia-ed "spotted owl."


Alex: Uh-huh.


Ayana: And I don't know why I doubted whether or not they'd be cute, because I think all owls are pretty good looking.


Alex: Uh-huh.


Ayana: It's no exception.


Alex: Do you know that we—two weekends ago, did I tell you what we did?


Ayana: No, I am not up-to-date on your off-hours activities.


Alex: I can't believe I didn't tell you this. So, you know, my son Calvin's really into birds.


Ayana: Very into birds.


Alex: And he—like, he did a bird unit in third grade and then became obsessed with it, and then literally read the entire North American Field Guide to Birds. [laughs]


Ayana: You have a very good kid.


Alex: Over and over and over again. And, like, memorized every single thing.


Ayana: Amazing.


Alex: And then we joined the Audubon Society and signed up, and we go on these bird walks around, you know, sort of like New York to Jamaica Bay and stuff. And then there was one other kid there, And so they became sort of like bird-walk friends.


Ayana: [gasps] I love this.


Alex: Yes. Anyway, a few weeks ago, Calvin's friend's mom texted me and was like, a couple of snowy owls have been sighted at Jones Beach.


Ayana: Ooh!


Alex: And she told me where to go to see them. And so my family and I we went out to look for snowy owls. And you know these owls, they usually hang out around the Arctic Circle, but in the winter they come down south to Long Island, apparently.


Ayana: Just hangin' out on Long Island.


Alex: And they sort of nest in sort of like on shore.


Ayana: In the dunes?


Alex: In that—like right off the beach. And so we went out there and we saw this snowy owl. And it was gigantic!


Ayana: Was it white?


Alex: It was white and fluffy and crazy looking. And, to your point, super cute.


Ayana: Super cute!


Alex: Yes.


Ayana: I mean, how could you not want to protect an owl?


Alex: [laughs] Who doesn't want to protect an owl?


Ayana: That is the question, actually, for today.


Alex: You've lured me into your podcast intro trap.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: You crafty podcast host. Right, why are we talking about owls?


Ayana: So we're talking about owls today because there's another species of owl that kicked up quite a controversy out in the Pacific Northwest a while ago.


Alex: And it was a controversy that we're both sort of vaguely familiar with. Like, it was the controversy over the spotted owl. And I remember it showing up in the newspaper, and I remember hearing about it. And it had to do with, like, the spotted owl, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act. And there were a bunch of logging companies who wanted to log on the land where the spotted owl was living, but were being blocked because of the owls' protection under the Endangered Species Act.


Ayana: Mm-hmm. As a protected species, yeah.


Alex: And I always knew about that story, but then I heard this podcast that we both listened to called Timber Wars. It's the fascinating backstory to that big conflict that happened. And I realized that, like, the actual story of what led to that standoff was something that I didn't really know.


Ayana: Yeah. And it's—I found it to be really, I don't know if informative is the right word, but really sort of illuminating, I guess, because the spotted owl is now bandied about as shorthand for these conflicts, these clashes between conservation and industry. And this is a really interesting case study in seeing how all that plays out. And of course, I am a firm believer that the dichotomy between livelihoods and conservation is a false one, but we need to sort of dig into the details to sort out how these things do versus should play out.

Alex: So today on the show, we're gonna play you an episode from this podcast Timber Wars, which is this story of how this fight over old-growth trees and the spotted owl erupted into this national conflict, and how that has influenced environmental policy for decades.


Ayana: And it's also ended up shaping how we manage our forests to prevent wildfires and address climate change. So please enjoy, from Oregon Public Broadcasting, this first episode of the show Timber Wars.


Alex: We'll turn it over to Timber Wars host Aaron Scott right after this break.




Aaron Scott: For just a minute, I want you to consider the logger. Bearded, burly, wearing suspenders and a flannel shirt, he's an American icon. He looks like Johnny Cash sounds.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Johnny Cash: Ride this train to Roseburg, Oregon. Now there's a town for ya. And you talk about rough.]


Aaron Scott: Cash didn't do a lot of songs about Oregon loggers, but in 1960, he released a concept album about golden Americana: stories and songs about gunslingers, coal miners, and of course, track number three, lumberjacks.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Johnny Cash [singing]: Well you work in the woods from morning to night/You laugh and sing and you cuss and fight/On Saturday night you go to Eugene/And on a Sunday morning your pockets are clean.]


Aaron Scott: Loggers are the epitome of rugged masculinity. I mean, go into any hipster bar and you'll find that flannel-and-beard lumberjack uniform. But if you sidled up to that bar and started talking about how you'd spent the day cutting down big old trees? Those same hipsters would probably throw their beer in your face. Because these days actual logging is unacceptable. It's gone from a Johnny Cash song to a Simpsons joke.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, The Simpsons: Congressman: Well Jerry, you're a whale of a lobbyist and I'd like to give you a logging permit, I would. But this isn't like burying toxic waste. People are gonna notice those trees are gone.]


Aaron Scott: Of course, buried under the joke is a lot of pain. And politics. And the collapse of an entire way of life. So this is the story of how people started thinking less about loggers and more about trees— and started valuing forests as more than just timber. And how that small shift in thinking turned into an epic battle that engulfed the Northwest, then spilled out across the rest of the country.


Aaron Scott: From Oregon Public Broadcasting, I'm Aaron Scott. And this fight over natural resources and the environment laid the groundwork for future conflicts. Both the ones we're fighting now, and those to come. So, if you want to understand where we're going, you have to understand the Timber Wars.


[NEWS CLIP: Buried to their waist, environmentalists blockaded this logging road.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, logger: You live in a mobile home made out of wood. Your paychecks are printed on paper pulp!]


[NEWS CLIP: Environmentalists are accused of turning the Endangered Species Act into a terrorist weapon.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, logger: So it was scary in a lot of levels.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Rich Fairbanks: And when you say timber wars, it's not a huge exaggeration.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ted Stevens: I really hope that some day it doesn't come into a civil war. But I see our country going that way.]


Aaron Scott: Johnny Cash's "Lumberjack Song" is about a boy learning to log with his dad in Oregon. It's not far off from the story of Stephan Weaver.


Stephan Weaver: I started in the timber industry basically out of high school.


Aaron Scott: I went to meet Stephan at his home in Stayton, Oregon. There's an electric baby grand in the living room.


Aaron Scott: Who plays the piano?


Stephan Weaver: Oh, I do. Country and western's always been kind of my kick, you know, so I play a little bit of that. Classical stuff.


Aaron Scott: I don't usually think of loggers as playing classical at their own baby grand. But that's why I was here. I had a lot to learn. For example, in the world of logging, there are actually a number of different jobs. But the guys who cut down the trees, the guys who yell "timber," they're called tree fallers, or timber cutters. And that's what Stephan did.


Stephan Weaver: Yeah, you had a lot of pride in what you did. Some of—99 percent of the timber cutters did. There was that one or two percent that were just there for the buck. But some of the best timber cutters came out of the Detroit Canyon.


Aaron Scott: Stephan primarily worked in the Detroit Canyon area of Willamette National Forest. It's huge. The home of seven snow-capped peaks. And it's a wet, dense landscape. Sword ferns, salmonberries and pillows of moss cover the ground. And the trees, they're almost as big as they come. Douglas fir, western red cedar, western hemlock, they can tower 300 feet into the air and stand eight feet wide. They feel like pillars holding up the sky, which is maybe why folks who saw them disappearing felt like the sky was falling.


Stephan Weaver: Where it really all started was at the North Roaring Devil sale.


Aaron Scott: It's impossible to pin down exactly when the timber wars started, because they had a different beginning for everyone involved. For Stephan, it was in 1989, in these forests, at a timber sale called the North Roaring Devil.


Stephan Weaver: There were a lot of things that went on up there.


Aaron Scott: The US Forest Service names timber sales. Things like North Roaring Devil, Sugarloaf, Hoxie-Griffin, Red 90. They can sound like the names of famous battles, which is what some of them were.


Stephan Weaver: We were snowmobiling in. We'd have to make two or three trips, you know, because we didn't have a dozen snowmobiles. But it was just a mess.


Aaron Scott: North Roaring Devil included several groves of old growth trees in the Willamette National Forest. Stephan had been hired to fell the trees, but he says three things were off about this particular job. First, it was late March. There was still snow on the ground, so they had to ride snowmobiles to the timber stands.


Stephan Weaver: They didn't want to plow the roads, so these other people could walk or drive in.


Aaron Scott: Second, they were trying to keep "these other people" away from the sale. That is, environmentalists. They had been fighting in court to stop the logging of the giant, centuries-old trees. And that led to the third thing that was off: Stephen and his crew were logging on a holiday.


Stephan Weaver: Then on Saturday night before Easter, Jim Morgan called me up.


Aaron Scott: Jim Morgan was Stephan's boss at one of the biggest timber companies in the canyon. And he said, "I need ten men."


Stephan Weaver: I need them tomorrow morning, Sunday morning. I said, "It's Easter, Jim." He says, "I don't care. I want 10 cutters in the morning, and you'll be compensated very well for it."


Aaron Scott: So what was with the rush? Well, there was a court date on Tuesday, and there was fear the judge could side with environmentalists and put this logging on hold. So the fallers were racing to cut the trees first.


Stephan Weaver: Because once it was on the ground, it was kind of a done deal.

Aaron Scott: So on Easter morning, Stephan and his crew got up before dawn, piled into their trucks pulling snowmobiles and headed into the woods. A low, chill cloud hung in the air, turning the surrounding trees into giant looming shadows. But this time, the trees weren't the only ones waiting for them.


[NEWS CLIP: Logging crews arrived at 5:30 this morning to find 30 protesters who sealed off entrance to the site.]


Aaron Scott: The protesters were standing shoulder-to-shoulder across the road, and holding signs stating "Save Our Old Growth" and "Earth First." The loggers stopped and discovered the media was there, too.


[NEWS CLIP: This morning a confrontation seemed possible, but both sides chose to talk about the issues rather than fight over them.]


Aaron Scott: The half-dozen loggers were outnumbered. So they stood in a circle with a handful of protesters down the road from the bridge. You could tell them apart because, where the loggers favored baseball caps and mustaches, the activists wore beanies and beards. Well, and the other difference: there were women activists.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Leslie Hemstreet: You know, I think this is kind of a—yeah, this argument is not very productive.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Dennis Nielson: Well, I don't think anything's productive. Do you think this is being productive? I got a crew of men I'm paying to be productive.]


Aaron Scott: In the news footage, you can see Stephan standing in the group of loggers, and he looks annoyed.


Stephan Weaver: We could talk to them and they could talk to us. But our views were dramatically different about the situation. So at that time, there wasn't any middle ground, you know? They just didn't want that timber cut. They didn't want any timber cut.


Aaron Scott: Stephan and the loggers had been hired to cut the trees, but they weren't the protesters' real target. That was the logging company that bought the timber, and the US Forest Service, which made the sale. Many people today might think of the Forest Service's mission as taking care of the forests. I mean, it's in the name. But actually, the forest service's main job at the time, particularly in the Northwest, was selling trees to the highest bidder. And this forest where Stephan was logging was the crown jewel. For decades, it sold more timber than any other national forest in the country—enough to build more than 50,000 homes a year. So logging companies weren't just going to walk away.


Aaron Scott: The loggers called the Forest Service and county sheriff to deal with the protesters. As word spread through the local community, no one had any idea this was the beginning of a multi-day battle that would change lives on both sides—and become known as the Easter massacre.


Catia Juliana: Some people ran in the door and said, "Hey, they're gonna start logging up at Breitenbush Hot Springs, and there's a group of us that are gonna go up there tonight. We would love to fill up our van with people."


Aaron Scott: This is Catia Juliana. She was one of the protesters who showed up that day, and had just graduated from the University of Oregon in Eugene.


Catia Juliana: I drove here in '85, and all I knew about Oregon was that there were lumberjacks and big trees. So I stopped and fell in love with it and never left.


Aaron Scott: The city was a hotbed for liberal activism, but Catia never had time for it. Then the day before Easter, she went to a nonviolence training. Just as it was ending, someone rushed in and said they needed people to protect some ancient trees. So Catia volunteered.


Catia Juliana: We arrived about midnight, and it was full on stuff was happening. There was people with walkie-talkies greeting us.


Aaron Scott: The North Roaring Devil sale was near Breitenbush Hot Springs, an intentional community and retreat center set in some storybook old growth. The action was loosely organized by the environmental group Earth First. I say loosely, because no one seemed to know how they were going to stop the loggers. To Catia, it was overwhelming.


Catia Juliana: One person who stood up and started talking about making a strategic plan to really get some stuff accomplished and it sounded really reasonable. So I was like, I'm just following that guy around. And it ended up being Tim.


Tim Ingalsbee: [laughs]


Aaron Scott: Tim Ingalsbee was a graduate student who worked as a firefighter for the Forest Service in the summer. Not to give away the ending of the story, but he and Catia are now married, and he's with us in their living room. Tim had heard about the logging through friends. He knew that being there was risking his summer job, but he couldn't handle what the clear cuts did to the forest.


Tim Ingalsbee: Those are the proverbial moonscapes. It's just nothing but, you know, scorched earth. This is not why I wanted to work for the Forest Service. I wanted to do forest service. And this is quite the opposite.


Aaron Scott: So the night before Easter while Stephan was calling his cutters, Tim was helping lead the resistance. All they had to do was hold off the loggers two or three days, until other environmentalists could file an injunction against the timber sale in court. But this wasn't the first time the Forest Service had gone ahead with a sale like this to head off a court challenge. This was actually the second Easter Massacre. So protesters knew that loggers had the upper hand.


Tim Ingalsbee: And if they can lay the trees down before the case went to court, the judge would moot the case. Cause yeah, I mean, yeah, he might've deemed it an illegal timber sale, but he can't order the trees to be stood back up. So we called it at the time chainsaw justice.


Aaron Scott: Chainsaw justice. Meaning the logger's chainsaws got to be judge, jury, and executioner. The protesters stayed up all night, dragging fallen logs and rocks from the forest and piling them on the road. Anything that would slow down the logging trucks and snowmobiles come morning.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, protester: Well, I was thinking build a wall between the two barriers of cars, too.]


Tim Ingalsbee: We built these immense barricades. And when, you know, dawn's rising, you just see the work as, okay, the loggers will never get through that.


Aaron Scott: And the loggers didn't. They actually went home that first day after talking with the protesters. But then the Forest Service showed up. With a front-end loader, think bulldozer.


Tim Ingalsbee: And within minutes, smashed the handiwork of all of us that took hours to build.


Catia Juliana: When they came in with the machinery, I realized I was a little out of my depth and I got very scared. So I just ran up the road, and I had no idea what I was going to find. What I ended up finding was this man Leo in the middle of the logging road trying to bury himself in this pyramid of rocks. And he started yelling at me, "Help me, help me!"


Tim Ingalsbee: Yeah, buried right up to his neck in a barricade of boulders. And that is what held off that front-end loader. I mean, the blade came right up to him, intimidated him, but he couldn't move. So it fended them off for the rest of that day.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, deputy sheriff: … in the roadway, will automatically be arrested.]


Aaron Scott: The deputies set to work moving the rocks and pulling Leo out.


[ARCHIVE CLIP. deputy sheriff: You want to be carried out, or do you want to walk out?]


Aaron Scott: He chose to be carried, because in these early years, it was all about nonviolent resistance—simply putting your body in the way. Deputies arrested him and 12 others on disorderly conduct that first day. But as word spread, more people arrived to take their place.


Tim Ingalsbee: Similar actions had been taking place all through the '80s, but in very remote places, with just a handful of people. This was at Breitenbush Hot Springs on the doorstep of Portland. So there were dozens and dozens of people coming. Hear the news, we're gonna go save the forest.


Aaron Scott: Despite the reinforcements, Tim and Catia still felt like they were up against the unstoppable juggernaut of the timber industry and the federal government.


Catia Juliana: How are we, this little ragged band of individuals with very little resources, how are we gonna stop this terrible machine that's really, in the span of just a few years, taking the very last parts of the forest?


Aaron Scott: The irony of human psychology is that, while the environmentalists felt like they were the proverbial David in the fight against Goliath, the local loggers and their families felt that way, too. Rightly or wrongly, they saw these scrappy protesters as representatives of big national environmental groups. Groups that were about to put all future timber sales in national forests on hold, all across the Northwest. So for the loggers, it was like their very existence was under attack.


Aaron Scott: More after this break.




Ayana: Hey, Earthlings. Welcome back. We've been listening to the show Timber Wars from Oregon Public Broadcasting.


Alex: When we left off, host Aaron Scott was describing how people were literally putting their bodies on the line to protect groves of old-growth trees in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon.


Ayana: And to be honest, when you hear about these chainsaws, this huge equipment coming in, ready to tear down the trees, it does seem like a pretty straightforward story of David versus Goliath.


Alex: Right. On the side of David are the activists and the trees, and on the side of Goliath are the logging companies and the bulldozers. But that is not how the people driving the bulldozers saw it.


Ayana: [laughs]


Alex: And so we're gonna turn it back over to Aaron, who is gonna pick up the story from another perspective: the perspective of the loggers.


Aaron Scott: I moved to Oregon the same year as the Easter Massacre, but I was eight, so frankly, I don't remember it.

Aaron Scott: Hello, Stephan. How are you doing?


Aaron Scott: But I wanted to know what was at stake in the fight over the forest besides the old growth, so I went back to see Stephan, who was hired to cut the trees.

Stephan Weaver: They don't make them anymore, and they're hard to come by. It's kind of dirty out here.


Aaron Scott: We start out back, at the shed where he stores his chainsaws.


Stephan Weaver: This is a pretty much as small a saw as we used.


Aaron Scott: It's bright orange, and the size of what you'd buy at the hardware store.


Stephan Weaver: 32-inch bar. That's what we use every day.


Aaron Scott: But then he reaches into the back of the shed, and he pulls out a big white mechanical box with two handles. It's so big, I would've guessed it was a portable generator, but it's actually the body of his first chainsaw. A McCullough 125. It's just missing the saw bar, or the long steel plate that the chain whips around to cut into the trees.


Stephan Weaver: I could run a 50-inch bar, four foot bar, pretty much. I should clean the damn thing up.


Aaron Scott: And is that about as big of a bar as—were ever used?


Stephan Weaver: We used some bigger ones, some 60-inch bars, occasionally.


Aaron Scott: Imagine that for a minute. A chainsaw that's big enough to get on all the rides at Disneyland. How big a tree needs a five foot long chainsaw?


Stephan Weaver: But I've got some pictures that I'll show you. Some big trees. I dug them out.


Aaron Scott: I'd like that.


Aaron Scott: Stephan takes me back inside, and opens a picture album of the trees they cut at the North Roaring Devil sale. The photos show a couple of loggers in helmets and red suspenders standing on top of a fallen log.


Aaron Scott: These things are enormous. He's standing on a tree that is as tall as—oh wait, is that you?


Stephan Weaver: Yeah, that's me.


Aaron Scott: You're standing on a tree that is as wide as you are tall.


Stephan Weaver: Oh, yeah. There was some huge timber up there. It was from five to seven, eight foot on the stump.


Aaron Scott: That means eight feet wide at the base. These were the kind of trees Stephan cut all through the '70s and the '80s. He spent every day in the woods, rain or shine, sick or injured.


Aaron Scott: What did you love about it?


Stephan Weaver: Back then, I liked being outdoors. I hunted, I fished, and it was a feeling of freedom out there because you might work for somebody else, but when you're out there working, you're your own boss.


Aaron Scott: You also made good money without needing a college degree.


Stephan Weaver: When I was 23 years old, I was making between $25 and $30,000 a year. Hell, I thought I was really making big money, you know?


Aaron Scott: It was the kind of job that could support a family, buy a house, a truck, maybe a boat. Timber was the economic lifeblood of all the small towns in the Santiam Canyon, and many of the small towns throughout the Northwest. If you didn't have a job at the mill or in the woods, you had a family member or a neighbor who did. And your kids probably played on a baseball team sponsored by the local timber company.


Stephan Weaver: It was a good—you know, then it was a good feeling. And in the '70s and '80s, we figured we're gonna do this forever.


Aaron Scott: Stephan planned to log until he retired. He even built up a business that employed nearly 30 cutters. But environmentalists wanted to keep Stephan from ever cutting trees again, or at least these ancient ones. So back at the North Roaring Devil sale, when the loggers returned on the second morning, their wives and families came out in support.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, protesters: Save our loggers! Save our loggers!]


Aaron Scott: Several dozen locals gathered alongside the road and under thick branches to stay out of the falling sleet. They waved hand-painted signs saying things like "Give a Hoot, Save the Oregon Woodworker." Their main goal was countering the protesters' message to the news cameras.


[NEWS CLIP: This is our livelihood. This puts food on our tables.]


Aaron Scott: It felt like loggers were watching their way of life teeter on the brink. And instead of getting sympathy, like farmers or auto workers, they were getting blamed. This is how one logger put it.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, logger: They had signs up calling us the US Destruction Crew. As far as I'm concerned, I care more about what is out there in that forest than anybody out there.]


Aaron Scott: For both sides, the clock was ticking. The judge would decide whether to halt the logging the next day, so the question was: Would there be any trees left standing for him to rule on? The loggers and law enforcement started up the final stretch of plowed road, led by the forest service's front-end loader.


Stephan Weaver: We kind of went in in a caravan, all went together because these people were on the sides of the road and up in the hills, and this one guy, he jumped up off the side of the road and got right in my face and threw some mud and then spit in my face, too. And I was mad, and I stopped the pickup and Jim Morgan said, "Just set here. Just take it." I said, "You just don't know how hard that is to take."


Aaron Scott: Meanwhile, Tim was racing the logging convoy by foot, trying to figure out how to slow it down.


Tim Ingalsbee: They went all out. It was a huge convoy of law enforcement vehicles and front-end loaders and snowmobiles. It was kinda horrific because that front end loader is just smashing through all barricades. Just behind me, I saw one of our activists throw himself into the scoop of the front-end loader, just to—just slow it down. I mean, epic heroism there.


Aaron Scott: Knowing they couldn't stop the heavy machinery, Tim headed up the road into the deeper snow, where the loggers would have to continue on snowmobiles.


Tim Ingalsbee: And then one by one, other people started joining me. And we say, "Let's make our stand here." And right at that moment we hear the whine of a snowmobile. So we just held hands like paper dolls and spread out across the road. And sure enough, it was a snowmobile carrying the county sheriff. And he was, like, standing up on the back, and he jumps off and says, "You're all under arrest!" And he actually handcuffed us together holding hands. And it was the most bizarre moment, because he steps back and then realizes, "Oh, there's one of me and five or six of you, and you're all handcuffed together and still blocking the road." So the sheriffs had been doing all the arrests up to that point, and the forest service is out of the camera view, staying behind. But that required a bunch of forest service people to—you know, we had laid down in the snow and they had to drag us out. To me, that was just shocking, the lengths that the agency was going to try to preempt the court case. I mean, it was just kind of a mad rush to get those trees cut down.


Aaron Scott: And they did. Over the next few days, the logging company brought in an extra team of tree fallers. And Stephan says they cut two weeks' of trees in three days, just to get them on the ground. Which only incited the protesters more.


Stephan Weaver: All we did, we—it was like a big bees' nest. We just stirred 'em up really good, you know? They really went to work then.


Aaron Scott: The Forest Service fenced the area off, but activists snuck in at night.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, protester: The forest service is cutting too fast. They're too greedy. We want to slow things down.]


Aaron Scott: Each day, they tried new methods to stall the logging crews, inventing and refining the strategies that would become hallmarks of the Forest Defense Movement, and inform future protests against everything from oil pipelines in Montana to mountain-top mining in West Virginia.


[NEWS CLIP: Three hours later, the sheriff arrived and the real drama began.]


Aaron Scott: They circled one of the giant trees and locked their necks together with u-locks, forcing the sheriff to bring in a locksmith.


[NEWS CLIP: The Linn County deputies arrested four protesters on disorderly conduct charges.]


Aaron Scott: Earth First! was known for sabotage. And according to loggers, activists damaged chainsaws and other machines in the night. Then a few of them climbed trees and set up slings, thinking the cutters would steer clear of the whole area. But Stephan's boss told him to cut the nearby trees anyway.


Stephan Weaver: I got a little bit close to that one tree. It didn't hurt the person, it didn't hurt the tree, but it scared the living bejesus out of the kid that was up in the tree. He came down pretty immediately, decided he didn't want any more of that, and it wasn't a good idea to do it, but I did.


Aaron Scott: So even with their lives literally hanging in the balance, the protesters couldn't stop the chainsaws. On Tuesday, two days after the protest started, a federal judge heard the environmentalists' challenge. Like many justices in Oregon, he was widely regarded as sympathetic to the industry. So his ruling came as no surprise.


[NEWS CLIP: A federal district judge in Portland, Oregon, today rejected a request by conservationists that he block logging on a stand of centuries-old trees.]


[ARCHIVE CLIP, activist: There's going to be so many people who are outraged. This is all out war.]


Aaron Scott: But unlike the smaller protests that had come before, this time the nation paid attention. The North Roaring Devil Sale got covered by the likes of Good Morning America, The Today Show, and NPR.


[NEWS CLIP: Loggers and environmentalists in Oregon are locked into a battle over a stand of ancient trees ...]


Tim Ingalsbee: That was the first time that at least public opinion radically shift. We weren't a bunch of eco-terrorists in the woods, we were upholding the law and, you know, defending what was irreplaceable.


Catia Juliana: And it is really the action that put old-growth logging in ancient forests on the map. It really helped form the movement and inform our tactics.


Aaron Scott: For Catia and Tim, that was the silver lining. Because it's hard to say there was a winner of this battle at North Roaring Devil. In one big sense, the protesters lost. All the old growth trees were cut down, and the environmentalists took to calling it the Easter Massacre. But for Stephan and the loggers, it felt like a different kind of loss.


Stephan Weaver: It decimated a lot of communities. It wasn't good, it was real bad. It was bad on me. I mean, I went from, let's say just having a good job to no job for a while. But, you know, I picked myself up and—well I didn't. I was really mad at the world. In the late '90s there, I kinda hated everybody that didn't like the trees to be cut. You know, when you go from being a logger that makes $40,000 a year maybe back then $50, to flipping hamburgers down at McDonalds, it wasn't a very good deal.


Aaron Scott: So these were the stakes that would define the war to come: The last of America's great virgin forests versus the livelihood and dignity of timber towns across the Northwest. This wasn't a war between good and evil, it was a confrontation between two opposing worldviews. Were these forests irreplaceable ecosystems that we needed to preserve, or were they renewable resources we could cut and regrow over and over? Because it was never a given that America would preserve any of its ancient forests. After all, humans cut the old growth that grew in places like the Middle East, Europe, and most of the US so long ago, we don't even remember it was there.


Aaron Scott: So when the trees came down at North Roaring Devil, it was the first move in a high stakes chess match that's still playing out. Because the timber wars didn't end—they evolved. And at the heart of this conflict—the deep down root cause— was another revolution going on in the forest: A series of scientific discoveries that would upend the timber industry. In fact, what we were learning was about to fundamentally alter how people interact with the natural world.


Aaron Scott: That's next time on Timber Wars.


Aaron Scott: Timber Wars is reported and written by me, Aaron Scott, with editing by Peter Frick-Wright, Robbie Carver, David Steves and Ed Jahn. The series is produced by me and Peter and Robbie, of 30 Minutes West. Our music is by Laura Gibson, sound design by Robbie Carver and final mixing by Steven Kray. Fact checking by Matt Giles. Legal oversight by Rebecca Morris, and our executive producer is Ed Jahn. Special thanks to the NPR Story Lab team for helping us get this series and the first episode off the ground, especially Michael May, Cara Tallo, Matt Ozug, Katie Dahgert, Adelina Lancianese, and to Jenna Molster and Daniel Wood for the NPR archival tape. Thanks to the University of Oregon Library for the KEZI-TV footage, and archivist Nathan Georgitis for helping us dig through it.


Aaron Scott: It's really rare for newsrooms to have the resources to commit to big projects like Timber Wars, and I can't express how grateful I am to have been given the time to talk to so many people about this huge moment in US history. But that's only possible because of all the members who support Oregon Public Broadcasting. So if you want us to do more projects like this, please become a sustaining member today. It's super easy to do at www.opb.org/pod.


Aaron Scott: And if you like this show, please share it and give us a rating and review wherever you're listening. It helps us spread the word.




Ayana: When I hear stories like these, I'm always simultaneously inspired by the depth of commitment to protecting nature, and horrified that we've gotten to a point where people are feeling the need to put their lives on the line to protect it. And then also extremely frustrated at how often it feels like we're just talking past each other.


Alex: Yeah. There's so much talking at each other, and so little talking to each other. And fitting with that vibe of talking to each other that we try to model here on How to Save a Planet, the Timber Wars series ends—so there's a lot more episodes, and we encourage you to go and follow on Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And the Timber Wars series concludes with a story about a group of environmentalists and loggers who have managed to overcome their differences through a lot of hard conversations.


Ayana: And shared bourbon.


Alex: Shared bourbon indeed. [laughs] To try to manage the forest in a way that works for everyone. Works for people and for the planet.


Ayana: We love a win-win.


Alex: Yep. We do.


Ayana: So check out Timber Wars from Oregon Public Broadcasting. And we—How to Save a Planet we—will be back with a new show next week.

More Episodes