The Cascadia Forest Defenders (CFD) have been using treesits, blockades and other forms of civil disobedience to halt logging in the Elliott State Forest for the past four years. But a bill, HB 2595, that was brought before the Oregon Legislature’s House Judiciary Committee in Salem March 4 would make free speech and protest activities a felony, complete with a mandatory minimum sentence. Another bill, HB 2596, also aiming to quell state forests protests, has also been introduced.
The Elliott protests have paid off, Jason Gonzales of CFD says. He says that logging projects that the group has protested in the forest were halted by a judge pending the resolution of a lawsuit brought by conservation groups Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild. The lawsuit showed that threatened marbled murrelets were likely to suffer “irreparable harm” if the Oregon Department of Forestry didn’t halt the logging. Gonzales points out that “civil disobedience becomes the only behavior efficient enough to stall the logging and give the courts time to catch up.”
Gonzales says the bill is very similar to a state law that was known as “Interfering with Agricultural Operations” that was struck down in 2009 as unconstitutional when challenged by attorney Lauren Regan with the Civil Liberties Defense Center. He says an amendment was discussed at the Salem committee hearing that would create “protest zones,” but he says that those zones have also been constitutionally challenged elsewhere.
Gonzales and Grace Pettygrove, also of CFD, testified at the hearing, and the group says it will continue to follow and testify against the bills, which they say “are designed to have a chilling effect on citizens exercising their free speech rights to protest the management practices of the Oregon Department of Forestry.”
Gonzales says Rep. Wayne Krieger of Gold Beach, who introduced the bill, said at the hearing that it would prevent things like treespiking and sabotage. Gonzales says those allegations are “off the wall.”
He says, “It’s time for elected officials to respond to the public, which has accepted the science of climate change,” and he adds that protesters have served jail time, performed community service and paid fines for their environmental civil disobedience, but mandatory prison time would “clog and burden the prison system with peaceful protesters.”