December 17, 2009 Karuk Tribe Halts Logging
Posted by: Jennifer Huang
Posted in: Event, North America Siskiyou Wilderness Area.

In a confrontation that ended with activists declaring transitory victory, a human blockade in the Six Rivers National Forest halted logging operations that the local Karuk Tribe says is threatening its sacred sites and the survival of the forest. The protest took place near Orleans, about 140 miles northwest of Redding in northern California.

Logging crews were turned back at about 5 AM Wednesday, December 16, on Orleans Mountain Lookout Road by approximately fifteen activists who lit a large fire in the roadway.

“This morning’s small but important victory marks the beginning of our campaign to defend Karuk sacred sites and protect the health of our forests,” said Orleans local Chook-Chook Hillman.

The blockade was organized by the Klamath Justice Coalition, which claims that current logging does not comply with the fuels reduction plan agreed to in dozens of community meetings with stakeholders. Following a two-and-a-half-year consultation process, native and non-native community members from the Orleans region agreed to the Orleans Community Fuel Reduction and Forest Health Project (OCFR), which was intended to enhance forest health and reduce the threat of wildfire through undergrowth removal.

As part of the plan, the U.S. Forest Service agreed to protect corridors of the forest around the Karuk Tribe’s ceremonial trail system. The plan banned commercial harvesting and heavy equipment in the protected areas, and prohibited cutting of hardwood species and large diameter trees throughout the forest. The OCFR also called for multi-party monitoring of the logging operations.

Upon commencement of the plan, Karuk organizers say, subcontractors carrying out the logging work began violating the project guidelines.

“To date, we’ve had trees as large as three to four feet [in diameter] that have been felled in the buffer zone,” said Leaf Hillman, a spokesperson for the Karuk Tribe. He said the loggers have also set up heavy equipment, including a skyline logging system that uses towers and cables to move logs through the forest, inside the protected areas. In addition, the Forest Service failed to implement the promised multi-party monitoring.

Tyrone KelleClose-up of logs of wood, California, USAy, the Six Rivers National Forest Supervisor, told the AP that the current violations are the result of an oversight by the Forest Service, which failed to write the restrictions into the logging company’s contract.

The Karuk Tribe is demanding that the Forest Service cease all logging on the 914 acres in question until these issues can be resolved.

The tribe conducts a semi-annual ceremony throughout 9,000 acres of the forest, a region they’ve dubbed the Panamnik World Renewal Ceremonial District. According to Hillman, the area has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. During the ceremony, a priest travels through the forest on the tribe’s traditional trails to locations where various dances and prayers are held. This is the same area that was the subject of the historic “G-O Road” case in the 1980s, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans did not have a First Amendment right to stop a Forest Service logging road from penetrating their sacred High Country.

The Klamath Justice Coalition is investigating legal measures it might initiate to halt the logging.