But, days before the planned event, with no public acknowledgement of the pending protest, the Mt. Hood Forest Service re-opened public access to the area. The conciliatory move left the activists gasping for a conflict. Moreover, by determining when and if conflicts will occur, the Forest Service signaled that they decidedly retain the upperhand in the conflict over Eagle Creek."We're going to take back our woods," protested a dark-haired woman who gave her name only as Suki. Speaking with the Mercury, though, she acknowledged that the surface-level victory of gaining access to the forest failed to address any deeper policy issues.
Eagle Creek has emerged as the main battleground in a turf war between local environmentalists and the Forest Service. Because the pending sale falls under so-called salvage logging laws, the sale is immune to lawsuits like the notorious "Spotted Owl" case of the late 80s. As such, local environmentalist have staged protests to mount public opinion against the Forest Service. In early July, one activist perched for 11 days on a ledge of the Portland building that houses the Forest Service.
Beneath a muted sun and next to 60-foot pine trees, about 120 protestors gathered and clasped hands in a circle. As they burned sage that was intended to purge the forest from "conflicting energy," several Forest Service officials stood idly by.
"It's a nice afternoon for a hike," said Marc Hollen, a middle-aged and bearded Forest Service ranger. His face was placid and only occasionally did he look at the nearby protestors. Despite the expressed indifference by Forest Service officers, environmentalists struggled to find substance and a victory in Sunday's event.
"I imagine that the Forest Service has had enough publicity," said Miriam Feelingtree, pausing between songs on her guitar and speculating why the Forest Service did not put up any resistance. Later in the afternoon, nearly half of the activists carried materials about a mile into the Forest Area to set up a "base camp." A month earlier, the Forest Service forcefully removed two makeshift treehouses that environmentalists had perched across one of two roads leading into the forest. But on Sunday, as a line of environmentalists carried logs, tarps, and food, Forest Service officials made no moves to stop them. One official stood by as the parade passed, like a line of army ants, and simply shrugged his shoulders.
The sentiment expressed by more than a dozen activists was that the Forest Service was conceding to mounting public pressure. But the conciliatory tone from the Forest Service covered a deeper reality that no policy changes or alterations to the timber sale have occurred since protests began this summer.
Hollen reiterated that the protests had not affected details of the timber sale in any manner. The primary activity by the Forest Service in response to the protests, said Hollen, has been cleaning up areas where environmentalists have camped out. In order to rejuvenate patches of matted forest where protestors had camped for several months, the Forest Service has spread about a dozen bales of straw. "They had bathrooms one hundred feet from the river," he said. "And, they complain about us."