Cheers greet timber harvest foes

As speaker after speaker received a rousing cheer at an environmental rally in Medford Tuesday to oppose the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Biscuit fire salvage, Dan Vest’s face grew redder and redder.

The former timber faller turned auctioneer, who described the participants as "terrorists," had wanted to use his portable loudspeaker system to counter the rally but said he was prevented by local officials.

"I would have told them (activists) they are pitifully inaccurate," said Vest, 60, of Grants Pass as he stood at the edge of the rally at Alba Park. "They don’t know a damned thing about what they are talking about. 

"Without forest management (after the fire), they are going to be the instrumental factor in the destruction of our forest and our state and the United States," he added.

As he spoke, a female folk singer began a ballad which included the line, "No more chainsaws," prompting the estimated 200-member crowd, some wearing fish hats or "Biscuit berets," to join in.

Vest appeared to be the only one at the rally supporting the proposed timber salvage in the Siskiyou National Forest at the rally.

Organized by local and national environmental groups, the rally was held to demonstrate opposition to the proposed salvage of some 370 million board feet of fire-killed trees from the 2002 fire, which burned about a half million acres. A similar rally in Portland drew about 150 people.

With participants bused in from as far as Eugene, the event featured signs which read "There Are No Jobs On A Dead Planet" and "Support Healthy Forests — Remove Bush."

One exhibit, dubbed the "Scales of Injustice," included five biscuits on one side being outweighed by 95 biscuits on the other.

"What this symbolizes is that 23,000 citizens commented on the Biscuit timber proposal," Lesley Adams, spokeswoman for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, told the crowd. "Of those, 95 percent of the public were opposed to this project, 5 percent were in support."

Adams called the proposed salvage the largest timber sale on public land in the contiguous 48 states in modern history.

Although the agency has reduced its original proposal from a little more than 500 million board feet, the salvage will still have a devastating environmental impact, she said.

"They are still proposing to cut into roadless areas," she said. "They are still proposing to cut into old-growth reserves. They are still proposing to cut on steep slopes above salmon-bearing streams."

She said the area is recognized worldwide for its unique ecology.

Longtime environmental activist Lou Gold, a former college professor, told the crowd he became active during the Bald Mountain blockade in the northeastern section of the Siskiyou forest 21 years ago.

"Twenty-one years later what I can say is the proposals of the Forest Service are much worse and much more extreme," he said.

However, there are more people concerned about environmental issues today, he said.

"There truly is a movement that now can be felt across the country and across the world," he said.

Speaker Jasmine Minbashian, representing the Northwest Old-Growth Campaign, pointed to a slice of old-growth cut from a stump in the Willamette National forest. She noted that it had fire scars, indicating it had survived wildfires.

"Unfortunately, it did not survive the Bush administration," she said.

A "Biscuit Brigade" skit was performed at the end of the Medford rally, followed by a march to Sen. Ron Wyden’s local office to deliver post cards opposing the Forest Service plans. The biscuits from the "Scales of Injustice" were also delivered to his Medford office.

But none of it impressed Vest, the former timber faller.

"I believe in saving Oregon — these people are trying to destroy us," he said. "If we don’t cut that (burned) forest, it’s going to be a disaster."