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Eugene Weekly : News : 10.02.08




Tree Huggers Turn 10

Cascadia Wildlands Project is still saving Oregon’s forests

by Courtney Jacobs

They’ve been educating, organizing and agitating to protect the Pacific Northwest from habitat destruction for years now, and after a stream of environmental successes Eugene’s Cascadia Wildlands Project is still saving the forests as it celebrates its 10th birthday.

CWP was once known as a group oriented more towards provoking and protesting, but over the years, it’s turned into an organization that will also compromise and collaborate in order to get things done (and when that fails, it sues the pants off the federal agencies). 

Dancing at the Hoedown

Unofficially conceived in the mid-1990’s, CWP started blooming when some students at UO recognized the need for a voice to speak out about “logging without laws.” Proposals to clearcut acres of old growth were advancing throughout the Northwest under the “Salvage Rider” signed into place by Bill Clinton, and there was no opportunity for public opinion or discourse. 

“It was a sneaky piece of legislation that the Clinton administration regrets,” says Josh Laughlin, conservation director for CWP and one of the first people hired by the organization.

Laughlin and other students formed what was called the “Campus Forest Action Group” and focused their efforts on direct action and civil disobedience to protest the “logging without laws” movement, he says. 

The Warner Creek blockade, which took place in September 1996, is where many say it all began. The blockade prevented the sale of a 9,000-acre area of burned timber while mainstream enviros, Earth First!ers, locals and people from hundreds of miles away set up blockades in a previously protected area hit by arson and protested government plans to salvage log those burned trees. The U.S. Forest Service eventually ordered the protesters to leave, and in the end some were arrested, but none were sentenced. While some activists went on to step up their direct actions after the success at Warner Creek, others decided to go a more strategic route, ultimately starting what is now known as the Cascadia Wildlands Project.

The organization was founded by James Johnston and Mick Garvin (among others), who were both involved in the Warner Creek forest blockade. The group was originally called the Cascadia Forest Monitoring Project. The name Cascadia comes from the bioregion most commonly known as the Pacific Northwest. 

“Mick and I were probably the original instigators, but having the idea to start a conservation nonprofit in Eugene wasn’t exactly a stroke of genius,” says Johnston. 

These days, the organization is involved in a variety of strategic lawsuits aimed at protecting Cascadia’s old-growth forests and wild and sensitive places from logging, road building and other environmentally destructive activities. 

With a five person staff, a seven person board of directors and an “army of volunteers,” the organization is all about “enhancing habitat conditions,” says Kate Ritley, CWP’s executive director.

“We are guided by an incredible staff and very committed board of directors. We see it as our job to inspire and empower people,” says Ritley. “We have an opportunity right here and right now to protect.” 

They count among their successes a recent landmark case that halted mature and old growth forest logging in an old-growth reserve in the Deschutes National Forest, involvement in Oregon’s wolf recovery plan and stopping the logging of tens of thousands of acres of old-growth forests on public lands.

They are also working on halting the Bush administration’s proposal to open up old growth and streamside clear cutting under the Western Oregon Plan Revisions.

“We are educating community members, politicians and activating the media,” says Laughlin. “We’re not going to try to reform it; we’re going to stop it.”

CWP works with people ranging from businesses who donate money to volunteers who donate their time. The organization doesn’t rely on a check from the government to help protect our surroundings; instead, it relies on grassroots funding.

“Any contribution goes a long way,” says Ritley. “A lot of energy will be focused on putting on great community events.”

Celebrating the 10th anniversary with the annual CWP “Hoedown” is just one of the ways the organization plans to celebrate the work they do as well as gain some earnings. The Hoedown is open to the public, and all proceeds will go to support the organization. It will be from 6 to 10 pm Saturday, Oct. 4, at Avalon Stables, 80143 Hazelton Road, near Cottage Grove. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. For more information about this event or the organization, visit www.cascwild.org.

Laughlin says, “Symbolically, the Cas-cadia Wildlands Project stands for ‘wild nature.’ We ensure that there’s going to be wild places.”