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Blockade Stops Loggers, Growing Demand For Independent Investigation

by Nicholas Wilson
Headwaters Article Index

to September, 1998 MONITOR articles about death of David "Gypsy" Chain
Forest activists demanding an independent investigation have maintained a week-long blockade of roads leading to the logging site where a felled tree killed David "Gypsy" Chain, the first fatality in the "timber wars" that have simmered in California's redwood region for over a decade.

protesters block logging road Intent on preventing Pacific Lumber Company employees from disturbing evidence that might lead to criminal charges, Earth First! activists said they arrived at 6AM the morning after Chain's September 17 death, and loggers appeared just five minutes later. The blockade next to state Highway 36 has continued around the clock since that time, with blockaders occasionally harassed by drivers throwing objects as well as insults.

Emotions climaxed on Thursday, September 24, as an estimated 300 people took part in a memorial rally and march in Eureka, where a police spokesman said that they "had to keep an eye on the drivers of logging trucks shouting obscenities at the protesters."

The week ended as California Department of Forestry apparently confirmed that the logging operation that David Chain gave his life to stop was indeed illegal, with citations issued to Pacific Lumber.

Thrown bottles and raw eggs
The blockade has weathered incidents of drive-by harassment including thrown bottles and raw eggs. On Tuesday night, three of the blockaders were shot with a paintball gun, drawing blood from one victim. That incident was reported to police.

Not all passersby are hostile, however, and many of them returned the peace sign flashed by the blockaders, or tooted their horns and gave a thumbs-up.

After the drive-by assaults, activists added a screen of cardboard and plywood as well as a line of boulders and tree branches to stop any driver who might not see the line of human bodies chained across the road.

Now facing the highway are numerous sign boards propped or held up by activists for the benefit of passing traffic. Among statements written on the signs are:

Gypsy died doing CDF's job
$ makes life cheap
Who chainsawed CDF's backbone?
CDF, do your job
Gypsy, you did not die in vain

CDF stands for Calif. Dept. of Forestry.

Protesters chained together
The week began with a line of activists lying across the entrance to the logging road with their wrists chained together inside steel and concrete protective sleeves they call "super lockboxes," and with the persons at each end locked to guardrails.

protesters block logging road Twice on Tuesday a sheriff's helicopter hovered and circled over the death scene doing aerial photography. However the aircraft also spent significant time circling and apparently photographing the blockade a mile or more away.

Protesters were expecting an assault by the sheriff's department or Pacific Lumber -- a fear not unrealistic, considering it is almost exactly a year since Humboldt County deputies daubed or sprayed pepper spray directly into the eyes of protesters on three separate occasions. To better protect themselves -- as well as the scene of the death -- defenses against such attacks have been added. Multiple barriers and trenches have been created to prevent vehicles from using the road.

Activists are ready to quickly lock themselves to heavy logging equipment in case loggers or deputies find another way in. But so thoroughly and ingeniously is the road blocked that foot traffic or helicopter is the only sure way in. All food, water and other supplies are laboriously carried by hand and backpack up the steep ridge to defensive positions.

Ammons allegedly said he would not hesitate to kill him
Pacific Lumber has maintained the death was an accident, claiming that the logger -- now identified as A. E. Ammons -- didn't know the activists were present, and that Chain was killed in a domino effect which could not have been foreseen. But witnesses said Ammons explicitly threatened to drop a tree on them when they confronted him less than an hour before Chain was killed.

One witness told Monitor of being chased, caught and threatened by Ammons the day before Chain's death. The witness alleged that Ammons said he would not hesitate to kill him if he was in or near a tree that Ammons intended to cut. When asked if he would do the same to a young woman standing nearby, Ammons allegedly said he would.

Police have never investigated or filed charges in any of dozens of attacks
On Thursday, one week after Chain's death, his funeral and burial took place in Houston, Texas. Simultaneously hundreds took part in a memorial rally and march to the courthouse in Eureka, California, seat of Humboldt County.

Speakers at the rally called for an end to more than a decade of violent attacks targeting forest activists. They alleged that Pacific Lumber encourages its employees to chase and threaten activists in the forest rather than call security and wait for them to be arrested and removed. They also alleged that county law enforcement officials have never investigated or filed charges in any of dozens of attacks over the years, giving the green light for such attacks to continue.

Also important in local news is that The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the most prominent regional daily newspaper and owned by The New York Times, has again come under fire for inaccurate and biased reporting.

The September 26 edition ran a story headlined "Investigators blocked from logging site," which incorrectly reported that activists blocked investigators from entering the site Friday. But according to Earth First! a party of investigators for the Humboldt Sheriff's Department, Pacific Lumber and Chain's family walked halfway up the steep ridge before deciding it would be too late in the day for photography. They decided to quit for the day and return Saturday morning.

Earth First! spokesman Josh Brown said he had been waiting on the ridgetop to assist the investigation party Friday afternoon. The road has been rendered impassable to highway vehicles, and some barriers can't be easily or quickly removed, but there is no blockage of access by foot, and Brown said the activists would also make it possible for a trail bike or ATV to pass.

Press Democrat accused of bias
Earth First! also accused the Press Democrat of bias and distorting the group's position September 24 when the paper ran a boxed headline atop the front page saying "Logging activist's death accident, group says." The story headline was "Activists admit forest death unintended." But that was emphatically not the message of the letter on which the story was based, and in fact the subject indicated on the letter was "Re: Homicide of David Chain."

The story quoted out of context a line from a letter Earth First! attorney Jay Moller wrote to Humboldt DA Terry Farmer demanding an unbiased investigation. "I do not doubt and none of the eyewitnesses believe that (the logger) was intending to kill them."

Read Jay Moller's letterBut in the same the paragraph Moller's letter continues, "But virtually all of the eyewitnesses believed, based on A.E.'s words and actions that day, that he was trying to scare them and was intentionally dropping trees in their direction. If the eyewitnesses are believed, that conduct is sufficient to constitute manslaughter."

Moller's letter also chastised Detective Juan Freeman, the sheriff's investigator, for refusing to consider Pacific Lumber's possible culpability in Chain's death. Freeman had made premature statements to media even before interviewing all the witnesses that the death appeared to be an accident.

Wrote Moller, "... There is a documented history of PL's violence towards environmental protesters, with David Chain's death only the culmination of an increasingly violent response towards the protesters, including a videotape of a tree that nearly hit and killed Julia Butterfly while she was in the redwood tree she is trying to save. A look at [citation omitted] will show that a corporation and high level employees can be charged and convicted of negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter."

In contrast to the Press Democrat's treatment of the Moller letter, an AP story accurately condensed the message of the letter with the headline "Lawyer: evidence supports charge of involuntary manslaughter."

Inspection carried out following Chain's death
Earth First! said last week that the reason activists were trying to interfere with Pacific Lumber's logging operation in Grizzly Creek was that the company was in violation of forest practice rules, and they were trying to delay what they considered an illegal operation until a California Department of Forestry inspector showed up to inspect. Earth First! had contacted CDF to request the inspection and was told it would be done. The inspection was carried out the day following Chain's death.

The group's allegation was apparently confirmed when CDF cited Pacific Lumber for illegal practices, according to a front page story in the Eureka Times-Standard September 25. CDF Deputy Chief John Marshall told the paper that two citations were issued to PL this past week, one for being too close to a Marbled Murrelet survey area and one for not reporting changes to the company's timber harvest plan.

The company's logging license was revoked last year due to excessive rule violations, numbering over 200. However PL was then issued a conditional operating permit, similar to probation, provided that the company obey all rules.

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Albion Monitor September 27, 1998 (

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