Copyrighted material

Logger Deliberately Endangered Slain Activist, Earth First! Says

by Nicholas Wilson
Headwaters Article Index

"He told people, 'Better wear a hard hat, because this ones coming for you'"
FORTUNA -- A Pacific Lumber Company logger allegedly threatened forest activists and deliberately felled a giant redwood in their direction when one of them was crushed to death, according to an Earth First! statement and videotape released Friday, September 18.

David "Gypsy" Chain, 24, of Austin, Texas became the first fatality in a dozen years of protests over the logging of ancient redwoods. The incident took place Thursday September 17 on Pacific Lumber property adjacent to Grizzly Creek State Park, about 15 miles east of Fortuna. The site is close to but not part of the Headwaters Forest acquisition recently authorized by the legislature.

Pacific Lumber president John Campbell told reporters that loggers did not know of the protesters' presence until after the fatality. But a videotape made less than an hour before recorded the voice of the logger who allegedly felled the fatal tree shouting profanities and threats at the protesters. In a short excerpt from the tape aired by KMUD Radio News a voice is heard shouting angrily "Oh fuck! I wish I had my fucking pistol!"

During an Earth First! press conference Friday in Eureka one of the activists at the scene, a young woman named Zoe, said the voice on the tape is that of the logger who felled the tree which killed Chain. "What I witnessed yesterday was a very angry and violent logger," she said. "When we first approached him he was very angry. He was yelling out curse words."

She said he warned them he would be packing his pistol the next day. According to Zoe, "He told people, 'Better wear a hard hat, because this ones coming for you.' The direction he was falling the trees changed after he knew we were there. They started falling towards us, which means, I believe, that he was falling trees at people deliberately."

Asked if she thought the logger intended to drop a tree on the activists, Zoe replied, "I feel he was trying to scare people. He may not have known inside that he was trying to do more but ... it turned into more. And he yelled obscenities at us the whole time, and was very upset."

Pacific Lumber's first statements to media alleged that Chain had been struck not by the tree their employee felled but by a second tree which was struck by the first tree in a "domino effect." If true this would mean it was a freak accident. But Zoe, one of several activists standing within six feet of Chain said, "The tree that hit David Chain was the tree the logger felled. There was no domino effect."

"The body was lying underneath the tree," said Zoe. "It was very painful to see. His body was discombobulated. From the way it looked, the limb hit him first and then the tree hit him, and it was an instantaneous blow to the head. My fellow activists and I prayed next to him for a very long time. The logger came down and prayed on his knees and asked forgiveness. I feel that he didn't realize what could come from his actions. He's a hurting man inside right now."

Earth First! spokesperson Darryl Cherney said "Gypsy was the first person ever killed at an Earth First! protest." He said Chain and the other activists were in the woods trying to talk to the loggers to persuade them not to cut the ancient redwoods, which are believed to be habitat for the protected Marbled Murrelet.

The activists believed the logging operation was illegal because no surveys for Marbled Murrelet had been done as required under federal law. They were trying to persuade loggers to wait for an inspection they believed was scheduled for later that day, Cherney said. California Department of Forestry confirmed an inspection was scheduled, but for the next day.

Eight demonstrators were arrested at the site the previous day for trespassing and blocking the logging road, and two activists have been sitting on tree-top platforms in the grove for 12 days. Earth First! conducted a vigil and blockade of the logging site Friday. News reports said the blockade was successful in that logging trucks were turned away and no logging took place.

"Pacific Lumber has one of the finest records in the industry," said company spokesperson Mary Bullwinkel. "But despite all our precautions, a trespasser was apparently killed by a falling tree at one of our logging sites on our private property." John Campbell said, "It is a tragedy that this young man lost his life, and this was a shattering experience for our work crews who labored for more than three hours yesterday to free Mr. Chain's body. Clearly it is time for these groups to stop putting their members in harm's way."

But Earth First! activists feel it is Pacific Lumber which should change its ways. A young man who had been with Chain said at the press conference, "Once (the logger) saw us, his first reaction should have been to turn off his chain saw, and that's what the company should be telling their workers, not telling them to try to scare us. I know it's a hassle to get police and security out there, and they don't really want to deal with it, but in our society that's the way we're supposed to deal with it. We're not supposed to deal with it by trying to scare people or kill people. We're supposed to go thru the appropriate channels, which is security personnel and police."

Other Earth First!ers alleged there was a pattern and practice of Pacific Lumber loggers threatening and harassing forest activists, including falling trees toward them, even toppling trees that were occupied by tree-sitters, and hovering large helicopters over Julia Butterfly Hill and other tree-sitters so that violent downdrafts buffeted them. According to Cherney, Campbell confided to him recently that he was having a hard time restraining the desires of some of his men to attack Earth First!ers.

The Humboldt Sheriff's Department on Friday released its preliminary investigation finding that the death of Chain was accidental. This was "based on the physical appearance of the scene and the relationship of the fallen tree and victim's body...." The investigation continues.

A young man speaking at the Earth First! press conference said: "This is not an isolated incident. The police have routinely refused to file charges against anybody who assaults a forest activist. They have through the history of this movement given out the message that it's all right to hurt Earth First!ers, and I believe they share some of the complicity in this crime."

Among those attending the press conference was Arcata City Council member Connie Stewart. "Pacific Lumber Company has had a blatant disrespect for their neighbors, towards the wildlife that is a public trust, and now we see their disrespect for the activists," Stewart said. "In Arcata when you're protesting you have a right to be protected, and that's what should have happened to these kids. The Forest Practice Act says the loggers should have stopped and waited for the sheriffs to come arrest them. We at the Northcoast Environmental Center have been tracking the fact that there has been more and more violent activity toward these Earth First!ers."

Stewart's voice faltered as she said, "You know, I have a great respect for people who are willing to put their life on the line for what they believe in. I'm really sorry that someone had to lose his life for this, and I'm really glad that the Earth First!ers are still committed to doing this kind of activity. They've had a big impact about the way the world feels about redwoods in Humboldt County. I just hope that our elected officials realize that this is not over. When are they going to realize that the lawsuits are not going to stop? Neighbors are upset about the impact of all this logging in Humboldt County. The (regulatory) agencies are acting disrespectful, and the Sheriff's Department is as well, and it's time this is stopped."

A young woman spoke for those who were with Chain when he died. "Gypsy was a strong warrior who fought hard for the forest. His dedication and commitment to defending the Earth is inspiring to all of us.

An EF! statement said "We send our condolences to David's family and loved ones. We also believe that this has been a trying day for the P.L. timber faller, and ask the community to include him in their thoughts."

A local rabbi said she had spoken with Chain's mother, and she said she will try to come to the North Coast in the near future for a memorial for her son. She also applauded the work that he was doing, and suggested that people who might normally send flowers instead make a donation to Earth First!

Monitor updates will be available as more details are confirmed.

Thanks to Estelle Fennell, News Director at KMUD community radio of Garberville, who contributed to this report

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor September 18, 1998 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.