Tree-Spiking and the Press

A Letter from Barb Hansen to the Industrial Worker, February 1988

Earth First!, the radical ecology activists’ movement never hesitates to give credit to the IWW for developing the tradition on which EF! bases its direct-action tactics in defense of Mother Earth. Tree-spiking is a favorite EF! means of discouraging rape of public lands and protecting remaining old-growth and wilderness areas. Foreign objects in logs cause breakdowns at the sawmill, increasing costs, and discouraging mills from buying timber from areas protected by spikers.

Recently Earth First! has been attacked for tree-spiking by both the bourgeois press and other ecology groups. The criticism results from publicity surrounding an accident in a northern California mill in which a saw-blade shattered when it hit a spike and a worker was seriously injured by the flying debris. EF!’s response has been basically to deny that the spike could have been one of theirs, and they make a pretty good case. However, I was raised here in logging country, and it seems to me the questions shouldn’t be “Is it OK to spike trees?” or “Who put the spike in?” but rather, “Why wasn’t the worker protected against accidents?”

All kinds of things get into tree trunks—barbed wire from an old fence can get overgrown and deeply embedded, even nails from a sign or a camper’s clothesline, Cedar trees will even pick up large rocks and carry them in a limb crotch as they grow, eventually burying them deep in a trunk. That’s why saw-blades are supposed to be changed before they get brittle enough to shatter, and why shielding is supposed to be in place to protect the saw-operator when something is hit, whether the object was placed there by nature or saboteur.

I’ve heard some of my friends and neighbors who run small home sawmills for extra income bitterly complain about how OSHA officials come around and harass them about safety requirements and let the big mills get off free. But none of the articles I’ve seen in the papers have questioned the safety standards at the mill in question. Let’s hope our friends in Earth First! haven’t fallen into the trap of letting the press define its politics as putting ecology ahead of workers, when the real issue here is worker safety, not the ethics or tactics of direct action.