. . . As my old friend David Brower warned: "When we prevail, it's just a stay of execution. When the corporations win, they win forever. That's why we must be eternally vigilant." But eternal vigilance is wearying. The daily
life of a grassroots green (as opposed to the DC subspecies) fighting big
corporations is grueling and filled with vicissitudes. There are few rewards and many, many defeats, each one bitter and inconsolable. It's hard not to be worn down by it all. Now wonder so many enviros these days sound like glowering prudes, freighting a rhetoric of doomsterism. But we must fight against it, because it's unhealthy and no way to build a movement.

Brower himself never surrendered to the grave pessimism that is standard
fare in the direct mail appeals of his former employer the Sierra Club and
the other Beltway greens. Indeed, the last time I saw Dave was a few
months before he died. We were in a parking lot overlooking that monument
of evil: Glen Canyon Dam. Hundreds of young activists had joined us in the
broiling Arizona sun, united in a single cause: the liberation of the
Colorado River and the restoration of Glen Canyon. "Hell, I think we've
really got a chance now," Brower said, his eyes sparkling with optimism.

Cling to that optimism that fired Brower's soul for 85 years. . . .


The Map is not the Territory

By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

     An excerpt from . . .

Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature

Our house sits on the rim of a canyon sheathed in Douglas-fir. The creek
down below is roaring this time of year. Chinook salmon still climb its
torrents. Spawn and die. We find their carcasses, picked over by ravens.
There are fewer dead salmon every year. This is not a good sign.

Osprey twist in the air on bent wings nearly every morning, cruising over
the creek bed for live fish. Year after year they rear new broods in the
craggy top of a broken hemlock, the nest an inverted igloo of found
material-a model of organic architecture. The creek flows into the mighty
Clackamas River a couple of miles away. At the confluence is an old mill
site. The ground is saturated in creosote and PCBs, leaching remorselessly
into the water, the flesh of salmon, the blood of osprey.

At least one cougar still prowls the canyon. Some nights we awaken to its
eerie moaning. Dogs have gone missing. Big ones. But we hear the cat less
often now. The city advances, glowing with light. The canyon is an island
eroded by sprawl.

On clear days the stark pyramid of Mt. Hood flashes into view on the
eastern horizon; its flanks draped with glaciers, pink as coho flesh. The
glaciers are in retreat. The history of the forest is written on the face
of those mountains, sixty miles distant. In winter, the clearcuts shimmer
with snow, thousands of them, separated only by thin veins of ancient
trees. This land is a battlefield. Perhaps, the largest in the nation. It
sprawls over millions of acres. There have been so many losses. Stumps
twelve feet across stand as headstones of the fallen. Still it rages. And
the blood boils.

In 1990, Kimberly and I moved our family from the hill country of southern
Indiana to Oregon. We were looking for someplace green, wet and foggy. We
were told such weather was good for the skin, not a purely narcissistic
consideration given the daily shredding of the ozone layer. There were
other considerations, too: thousand year old trees, six-hundred foot
waterfalls, salmon, spotted owls, black bears, free-flowing rivers,
progressive politics. The essentials of life.

Of course, the essentials aren't that easy to come by. The New Physicists
have a saying: the map is not the territory. The conundrum is a metaphor
for sub-atomic matter that rearranges itself so quickly that any depiction
of its traces becomes obsolete before it is even drawn. When we arrived in
Oregon, the Pacific Northwest was in the midst of the Great Change. Sure,
Oregon still offered most of what we imagined, but there was less of it
every day. In a word (Ed Abbey's), Oregon was being "Californicated":
paved, smogged, subdivided, dammed, logged, mined, spiked with cell-phone
towers, bankrupted schools, malicious rightwing politicos in the
ascendancy. It even sported an ailing nuclear plant named after a condom:
Trojan. But there was nothing remotely prophylactic about that demonic tower.

When you think of Oregon, you probably think of forests. The highway maps
help pump the mystique, splashing wide swaths of green across the state.
It's another illusion. Two-thirds of the Oregon is desert, high desert:
parched, austere, beautiful and vulnerable. The other third of the state,
a thin 150-mile wide band from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Coast,
harbors the mightiest forest on the continent. Now it too is becoming a
kind of desert, a biological desert, an ecological dead zone.

A century of unbridled clearcutting has taken its toll. By 1980, the
Cascades, that lush volcanic range running from British Columbia to
northern California, had been transformed into a patchwork of a hundred
thousand clearcuts, a sight so surreal that stunned even President Carter
when he flew over Mt. St. Helens to survey the damage. Carter mistook the
scars of logging for the blast of the volcano. There's a difference. The
forests flattened by Mount St. Helens are starting to come back to life.
The land leveled by the timber cartel isn't.

Many frail coastal mountainsides, punctured by logging roads and the
forests shaved to the bedrock, simply collapse each winter in monstrous
landslides, burying some of the world's most fertile salmon streams under
mega-tonnage of rock and mud. This is the pillaged landscape of Ken
Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion. Never give an inch. Don't stop cutting
until you reach the bone. Suck out the marrow and move on. There's never
been a better guide to Oregon than that strange muddy novel.

But now the ravaged land of the Coast Range, in a kind of death spasm, is
beginning to lash back. With a fearsome regularity, the winter landslides
have begun crushing the new houses and trailers that regularly sprout up
on logged-over forests. These days the clearcuts are killing more than
salmon and owls.

Empires were built off the rape of these forests: Boise/Cascade,
Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, Willamette Industries, International
Paper and, mightiest of all, Weyerhaeuser. These corporations played a
two-step game. Most of the companies owned millions of acres of their own
land, acquired for pennies an acre through the Railroad Land Grants of the
nineteenth century. Each one those acres harbored tens of thousands of
dollars worth of trees, mainly Douglas fir, the wood that built suburban
America. Billions were made unfettered by law or morality or even common
sense. A kind of capitalist anarchy swept through the woods; cut and run
was its mantra. It is a theme that replicated itself across the mountains
with the mercilessness of the parasitic beast in Ridley Scott's Alien,
consuming its host forest and moving on to fresh ground.

In the early 60s, the timber behemoths had blitzed through their own vast
holdings and turned their sights on the national forests. They got them.
By 1970, logging on the public lands in the northwest had more than
doubled. The writing was on the wall for the spotted owl, marbled
murrelet, coho salmon and 800 other species that depend on old-growth
forests. By the time we arrived in Oregon, the timber industry was
clearcutting more than 256,000 acres of national forest land in Oregon and
Washington each year. Nationwide, the logged-over acres topped a million
annually. These are national forests. Public lands. Your forests. Pissed
off yet?

The timber barons are masters of the art of corruption and for decades
they've had every politician in the Northwest firmly pocketed, liberal
Democrats and rightwing Republicans, alike. It's served them very well,
indeed. When pesky laws like the Endangered Species Act blockaded their
way, they had their politicians declare the logging exempt from such legal
constraints. When federal judges ruled against them, they got Congress to
overturn the injunctions. When Forest Service employees, such as my friend
Jeff DeBonis, blew the whistle on illegalities, the timber industry got
them transferred, demoted or fired. When Weyerhaeuser came under scrutiny
by the Justice Department in a multi-million dollar timber theft case, the
timber giant prevailed on the Clinton administration to quash the probe.
Similar investigations into bid rigging, fraud and monopolistic practices
got terminated from above.

With legal avenues of protest routinely annulled by Congress, forest
defenders adopted more creative tactics. Along the Brietenbush River, Lew
Herd buried himself up to his neck in a pile of boulders to block a
logging road. Julia Butterfly and others took to the trees themselves,
living in them as human shields against the chainsaws. At Warner Creek in
the High Cascades, Earth First!ers built a makeshift fortress in the
forest to fend off the loggers, squatting there through a winter that saw
more than 500 inches of snow fall. George Atiyeh, a Vietnam vet and nephew
of a former Oregon governor, held off Forest Service timber sale planners
with a shotgun as they tried to mark for cutting the thousand year old
trees at Opal Creek. A decade later, and despite all odds, those trees are
still standing, now fully protected as a wilderness area.

Still the lost acres stagger the mind. Ninety-five percent of the primary
forest, the ancient trees of the Northwest, had been liquidated by 1990,
the year of the Earth Summit in Rio. At the global pow-wow, one American
politician after another (except George Bush the First, who snubbed the
entire show) rose to chastise Brazil for the destruction of the Amazon,
where 75 percent of the primary forest remained intact. These same
politicians, led by Democratic Party luminaries such as House Speaker Tom
Foley, had underwritten the looting of the temperate rainforests of the
Northwest and tried to crush any environmentalists who stood in their way.
Of course, Foley is gone and greens helped to bring the titan down. So
there's reason for hope.

We were somewhat prepped for the great struggle for the Northwest's
forests, but nobody told us anything about Hanford. The last free-flowing
stretch of the Columbia River cuts through a place of death and terror,
the place where they assembled hydrogen bombs: the Hanford Nuclear
Reservation. The bomb making there is largely over. But the horrific
echoes of that age will never go away. It may be the most polluted place
in the world, seething with tons radioactive waste that will haunt the
entire Northwest for millennia to come. There are easy no answers to the
Hanford crisis. Indeed, there may well be no answers at all. The
technology that built the bombs has no idea how to clean up the mess. In
the meantime, the downwinders from Spokane to Portland pay the price. The
price is cancer of the thyroid, of the lungs, of the blood. The Soviet
Union is kaput, but the atomic clock is ticking in the middle of the
American outback. Some Hanford investigators warn that the leaking tanks
of radioactive debris may get so hot they'll explode-if the worst happens,
it will be a dirty bomb we've dropped on ourselves.

The West is a vast place, but not nearly vast enough to handle all the
demands laid upon it. Drive down any road in the Interior West and the
ongoing ruination passes by your window in a grim montage: open pit mines
a mile wide and a half a mile deep, leach piles of cyanide, bombing
ranges, nuclear labs, and the internment camps known as Indian
reservations. The interior West is America's own version of the Third
World, a resource colony to be pillaged and abandoned. The timber and
minerals are extracted as fast as possible and rendered into cash. Of
course, the money doesn't stick around these parts. The boom and bust
towns that sprouted up during the frenzies, never boomed that big and when
they busted they descended into a gloom as terminal as any Kurt Cobain
song. Want a taste? Try the asbestos wasteland of Libby, Montana or the
mining towns Elko, Nevada and Wallace, Idaho. Places that might even give
David Lynch, director of Twin Peaks, the creeps.

You can graph the damage in tables and bar charts, but it doesn't do it
justice. For that you need to get out there and witness the roughened
edges of the West yourself: the orange flow of Iron Mike Creek, a Montana
stream defiled by mining; the sound of F-16s screeching across the
Superstition Mountains; the omnipresent smell of cowshit in the Gila
Wilderness; the feel of your fingers skimming over 800 growth rings on the
stump of a Douglas-fir along the Umpqua River.

There were fervent hopes that the election of Clinton and his slime green
sidekick Al Gore would apply the brakes, pass new laws with sharp teeth,
prosecute polluters, set aside wildlands from the dozers and the
chainsaws, turn away from oil, uranium and coal and toward the sun.
Instead, the Clinton/Gore era turned out to be a short-lived romance that
ended in the environmental equivalent of date rape. For eight years, the
forests, deserts and rivers took a beating, but the real loser was the
environmental movement itself.

Oregon was a hotbed of environmental activism in the 1980s and early
1990s. It's a big state with a small (though not small enough) population.
But Oregon boasted more environmental groups than any other state, even
more than that golden tragedy to the south of us, California. This was not
merely a sign of an elevated consciousness. It was, to deploy the
breathless language of Ashcroft, an indication of the dire threat level.

The threat hasn't diminished by any means, but the number of groups has
shriveled. They couldn't survive the Clinton ice age. Many of the smaller
groups simply flatlined. Meanwhile the mainstream groups got bigger and
bigger and less and less effective. By the mid-1990s, mainstream
environmentalism had become fattened and tongue-tied by foundation grants
(many originating from the fortunes of big oil) and blindered by a
reflexive loyalty to the Democratic Party. The new green executives
sported six-figure salaries, drove around in limos and worked out of DC
offices as plush as the headquarters of Chemical Manufacturer's
Association. But the movement lacks heart and guts.

Along the way, I've come to disdain institutional environmentalism, as
little more than soft-soled courtiers to entrenched power. Once the
environmental movement was seen as a public interest movement of
unimpeachable integrity-trusted by the left, despised and feared by the
corporate right. After Clinton, many people rightly saw professional
environmentalists as just another special interest lobby, obedient hand
puppets of the DNC. The great Southwest writer and desert rat Charles
Bowden says he'd never belong to any tax-deductible group, since the very
tax status serves as a kind of seal of approval from the government. He's
got a point. When the Sierra Club got too demanding in the 1960s, the IRS
threatened to take away its coveted tax status. It promptly settled down.

As my old friend David Brower warned: "When we prevail, it's just a stay
of execution. When the corporations win, they win forever. That's why we
must be eternally vigilant." But eternal vigilance is wearying. The daily
life of a grassroots green (as opposed to the DC subspecies) fighting big
corporations is grueling and filled with vicissitudes. There are few
rewards and many, many defeats, each one bitter and inconsolable. It's
hard not to be worn down by it all. Now wonder so many enviros these days
sound like glowering prudes, freighting a rhetoric of doomsterism. But we
must fight against it, because it's unhealthy and no way to build a
movement.

Brower himself never surrendered to the grave pessimism that is standard
fare in the direct mail appeals of his former employer the Sierra Club and
the other Beltway greens. Indeed, the last time I saw Dave was a few
months before he died. We were in a parking lot overlooking that monument
of evil: Glen Canyon Dam. Hundreds of young activists had joined us in the
broiling Arizona sun, united in a single cause: the liberation of the
Colorado River and the restoration of Glen Canyon. "Hell, I think we've
really got a chance now," Brower said, his eyes sparkling with optimism.

Cling to that optimism that fired Brower's soul for 85 years. And remember
Abbey's admonition to be a part-time warrior, sparing time to enjoy the
offerings of the planet you're fighting to preserve. And it's okay to have
a sense of humor. In fact, it's mandatory. At CounterPunch out motto is:
be as radical as reality. Fight fiercely for what you feel passionate
about, no matter how long the odds seem. But don't fret so much about the
meta-crises, such as global warming or ozone depletion. It'll only weigh
you down and drive you toward nihilistic despair.

There's a war going on just outside your window. It's a battle for life
itself. So stow away this silly book and come join it. Remember: the map
is not the territory. So burn the maps and get lost in the territory,
while you've still got a chance.

 

THE WILDNESS WITHIN US