Oregon Laws Proposed to Punish Logging Protesters

Here is an editorial in today’s Oregonian. I tend to agree with the editors, mostly because I think timber protests are the least of our worries. Laws already exist regarding trespassing, theft, vandalism, and public indecency, so doesn’t that already cover most of the new actions?

I think Commenters on this blog sometimes fail to differentiate the stark differences between industrial landowners (Weyco, Plum Creek, G-P, etc.) — who often profit directly from the protest actions and litigation taking place on State and federal lands — from the 20,000+ family-owned woodlands in the State, and/or from the “forest industry” folks typified by the predominantly family-owned sawmills and logging companies that are most dependent on public lands for their needs. The industrial forests had regularly attempted to severely limit public land timber sales since the early 1900s — with the help of Congress and the environmental industry they have pretty much succeeded, and to their own significant profit. It is the family-owned woodlands and small business owners who have suffered most through a lack of competitive markets, taxpaying jobs, and raw materials — and almost all seemingly limited by political decisions, rather than actual biological or ecological limitations.

Here’s the editorial link: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/05/logging_protesters_should_face.html

Logging protesters should face financial, more than criminal, liability: Agenda 2013

By The Oregonian Editorial Board

May 13, 2013 at 4:17 PM, updated May 14, 2013 at 12:16 PM

The Elliott State Forest, east of Reedsport, is but a sliver of some 30 million acres of private and public timberland in Oregon. But whether its trees can be cut according to state plan runs beneath a debate in the Legislature over logging on all state lands and those who would protest the practice.

A pair of bills recently introduced by Gold Beach Republican Rep. Wayne Krieger represents a get-tough stance that brings real consequence to forest protests. The ringer of the two, House Bill 2595, defines any action on state lands that slows or blocks a logging operation as criminal, a misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders with jail time attached.

We get the sentiment. Logging in Oregon, to which public education funding is linked, has been down for more than two decades owing to species protection and disputes — both in the woods and in the courts. Meanwhile, mills have closed, jobs have vanished and timber-dependent counties have suffered unduly from the loss of revenue.

But throwing the book at protesters will neither restore the cut nor tamp down on protests. What HB2595 would do, despite amendments that have softened the bill’s penalties, is criminalize one form of civil disobedience. What about the hundreds who challenged businesses surrounding a couple of city blocks in 2011 during the tiring weeks of Occupy Portland?

State laws already allow Oregon district attorneys to prosecute protesters for disorderly conduct, trespassing, property damage and other forms of criminal mischief. Those who are so knuckleheaded as to conduct outright acts of ecoterrorism — purposefully damaging equipment or placing lives in danger — can face federal penalties, as well.

HB2595, passed by the House 43-12 but awaiting Senate Judiciary Committee action, goes too far in abridging personal freedoms while trying to pave the way to hindrance-free harvests. The bill should be sidelined as an earnest but flawed attempt to help step up the pace of logging.

We have little doubt, meanwhile, that loggers with a contract to cut trees on the Elliott in 2009 lost money because of work obstruction. Protesters had placed themselves in harm’s way to prevent logging from going forward, and until the last of them was arrested and removed by state police, they succeeded in halting operations. It was the type of circus for which Krieger’s companion proposal, House Bill 2596, would have made great sense.

This bill makes clear that any private firm allowed by Oregon to log on state land would have the right to file a civil lawsuit against protesters for financial damages incurred by disruptions associated with the protest. Passed by the House 51-4, the measure is smart because it attaches palpable, rather than punitive, consequence to actions that illegally bring financial harm.

Loggers must have reasonable expectation they will be able to log once they contracted to do so. If they are blocked by protesters, they should be able to charge for the downtime and associated losses. And those protesting should expect they might not only be arrested but face a judgment for those losses. The Senate should approve this measure.

3 thoughts on “Oregon Laws Proposed to Punish Logging Protesters”

  1. As an amendment to that bill, perhaps there should be a liability placed on the timber companies for environmental consequences of their actions, if any. Included as a consequence would be loss of quality of life for the human citizens who call the state home, as well as loss of habitat for wildlife, compensated by an equal set aside elsewhere.

    The timber industry appears to want to make it’s environmental counterparts powerless, while it plows through the forests in the interest of short term dollars for a few. There has to be a balance and the environmental community will not allow itself to be silenced at the whim of the timber industry, represented by it’s beholden politicians.

    • Jerry, I think you’re saying the timber industry in Oregon, you feel, is not adequately regulated.. because I think we all have environmental impacts and I doubt whether any of us pay for the “environmental consequences” of our actions.. in the eyes of some..

      So how about people who convert forestland to suburbs or people who convert forestland to agriculture? Are they not “paying enough for the loss of quality of life to humans and wildlife? ”

      I’m curious exactly what practices you think need to be changed for “timber industry” to be fairly regulated. I’m willing to consider that The Timber Industry is the Big Bad Wolf (whoops wolves are good ;)) of Oregon, but I would say that nowhere else in the country is there the same level of vituperation about cutting trees and turning them into boards. I’d be interested in exploring this further- even in neighboring Washington does the vituperation level seem to be so high.

      If you could be specific about which companies and practices and on federal, state or private land, you are concerned about, that would also be helpful.

      Because most of the sawmills I see around are family owned and small, and really not worth the capital letters in Timber Industry (sorry, guys and gals).

  2. The comments in the Oregonian are quite “interesting”. How would a forest protester feel if another more radical activist sabotaged his car, “because cars are destroying the environment”? Would he call that “freedom of speech”? Would this simply be considered “civil disobedience”?

    Then there’s always that thing about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Since everyone has those rights, there has to be a balance but, some people aren’t interested in balance.


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