After four years of nickel-and-dime protests in the Nez Perce National Forest, Earth First! is bringing its national rendezvous to Idaho.
A few dozen protesters have generated hundreds of arrests by going to the forest every summer since 1992 to protest logging in an area called Cove-Mallard.
So, 500 activists could be a nightmare when they descend upon rural Dixie and Grangeville in late June.
But that all depends on whom you ask.
“It’s going to be in Idaho, it’s going to be at Cove-Mallard and it’s going to be fun,” said Gary Macfarlane, a volunteer with the Cove-Mallard Coalition. There is some “cultural hostility” which “could create some interesting interaction,” Macfarlane said.
“I think it is going to be a positive opportunity to learn about other viewpoints.”
In Dixie, that “cultural hostility” once took the form of a cafe owner on horseback threatening to use his lasso to string up an Earth Firster who was using a pay telephone.
Another year, a group of loggers severely beat activist Steve Paulson of Moscow.
The Forest Service is, at this point, unmoved by the prospect of hosting the Earth First! national convention in Idaho.
“We’ve heard rumors,” said Ihor Mereszczak of the Nez Perce Forest, “but until we get something more concrete, we’re not going to do anything with it.”
Rendezvous or not, “we’re expecting the protests, we’re expecting the people to be here, we’ll basically deal with it as we can,” Mereszczak said.
Earth First! last held a national rendezvous in Idaho in 1986, on the Challis National Forest. It selected the Cove-Mallard area for 1996 because “people see it as one of the most important Earth First! campaigns,” said Craig Beneville, who works for the “Earth First! Journal.”
Not only is it part of the largest roadless area in the continental United States, Cove-Mallard is an important corridor between established wilderness areas and home to “god-awful timber sales,” Beneville said.
Some of those sales are well under way. Ultimately it will mean 87 million board feet of timber harvested and 135 miles of new logging roads.
A rendezvous is a week of workshops on everything from writing press releases to atmospheric pollution. There is entertainment, “good-natured rabble rousing…a chance to get our batteries recharged,” Macfarlane said.
It is traditional, however, for some sort of civil disobedience to grow out of each rendezvous. “I’m sure this year will be no different,” Macfarlane said.
At the 1995 rendezvous, that included an attempt to take over the California Department of Forestry compound in Fortuna, Calif. Between 40 and 60 people swarmed two buildings, climbing on the roofs, locking themselves to furniture inside, said Joe Silva, a Department of Forestry law enforcement officer.
There was music, vandalism and attempts to “disrupt our whole operation,” Silva said.
Law enforcement arrested several protesters and were trying to haul them away when other protesters started blocking the vehicles with their bodies. “It got real ugly,” Silva said. Officers tried to get the crowd to disperse. It refused. “So we used chemical agents…pepper spray,” Silva said.
While quite unpleasant, that day paved the way for much better relations between Earth First! and law enforcement, Silva said. The two groups met, agreed on guidelines for more civilized protests, and subsequent events have gone better all around, he said.