A U.S. District court judge has ruled in favor of Cascadia Wildlands, and Oregon Wild, and primary attorney Jennifer Schwarz in their lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management’s “White Castle” logging project. The legal win for White Castle is exciting news, and we can all breathe a little easier knowing that this forest will not be clearcut. But the battle to save White Castle did not begin in the courtroom; it began in the forest with the Northwest Ecosystem Survey Team and later on, the Cascadia Forest Defenders.
The White Castle timber sale proposed clear-cutting a 160-acre swath of native forest, calling it a “Variable Retention Harvest.” VRH is a form of clearcutting developed by scientists and marketed as “eco-forestry.” The BLM and the timber industry are using VRH to get around environmental protection laws and fast track clearcutting across the state. Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild has called VRH “a cynical attempt to pass off clearcutting century-old trees as restoration.” White Castle was designed as a pilot project for VRH. This means it would have been used as a prototype to replicate similar clearcuts on O&C lands and throughout the state.
In 2011, the Northwest Ecosystem Survey Team, an all-volunteer citizen-survey group, documented red tree vole nests to create unloggable “buffer zones” in White Castle. The BLM’s refusal to consider NEST’s data was the basis for one of the claims in the White Castle lawsuit. If the BLM had rightfully considered NEST’s data, White Castle may not have needed to go to court at all. But the BLM ignored this data and continued with their controversial plans into the following years.
In June 2013 the Cascadia Forest Defenders, a non-violent direct action group, took up the fight to save White Castle. The project had been surveyed and those surveys had been ignored by the BLM. So CFD stepped in to put their bodies in the way of the destruction and bring attention to the issues around VRH and the proposed management of the O&C lands. CFD ascended into the canopy of White Castle setting up multiple platforms and effectively occupying the forest.
Throughout the summer, CFD organized hikes, potlucks, and talks to inform the public about the sit and its connection to the proposed clearcuts masked as variable retention harvests. The activists made friends in the community surrounding White Castle and learned about local issues regarding the project. Most of the residents in the area were concerned about irreversible watershed pollution and loss of local recreation areas. Once relationships were established in the area, the White Castle direct action campaign was fortified. The activists were encouraged and supported, not only by CFD’s support network, but by the community downstream of the forest.
The activists remained in the canopy into the winter of 2014, as snow began piling up on the forest floor, preventing Scott Timber from building a road necessary for logging to begin. Once media attention was garnered by the treesit, attorney Jennifer Schwarz and other NGOs were inspired to file suit in January 2014. Once legal proceedings were underway, CFD left the trees, ready to go back at a moment’s notice if Scott Timber attempted to cut the forest before the lawsuit was resolved.
This brings us to the present: the lawsuit has been won and White Castle is free, thanks to the efforts of diverse groups working together for a common cause: to save the forest and halt the destruction of the planet where it is occurring in our communities.
Judge Anne Aiken found that the BLM did not fully consider the environmental risks and consequences of clearcutting. This ruling set a precedent that renaming a clearcut doesn’t take away its devastating effects, and that we will not accept the kind of science designed to prop up big timber in the state of Oregon. CFD hopes that this lawsuit will influence better management from the BLM in the future as well as encourage communities to come together and support each other in the face of corporate timber interests.
“If it had not been for the collaboration of a tree-sit, forest surveys, and the NGOs, White Castle would be gone,” said forest defender Cordelia Finley. “CFD’s presence at White Castle convinced legal groups to take action and bought them time to litigate. While lawyers made plans to go to court, activists put their bodies between the chainsaws and the forest.”
The story of White Castle proves once again that if we want to succeed in protecting our earth from the destruction of science and governments funded by corporate interests, a diversity of tactics is essential to our success. Without direct action to garner attention, keep the destruction at bay, and convince the public that this was a worthy cause, there would have been no lawsuit and no more forest in White Castle. Without the citizen surveys and the lawsuit, the direct action front would have been an uphill battle with no way out. Our diverse coalitions are endemic to the struggle and we need to keep them strong and remember how all the pieces work together to create what we all desire: a world where all life is valued and defended, where the forests grow old, free and wild.