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Region will get nation's first forest rescue site

Greenpeace chose Southern Oregon to launch an education center and campaign hub to protect public old-growth forests

GRANTS PASS ' In a move that promises to focus the national environmental spotlight on the region, Greenpeace will open its first forest rescue station in the United States on public land in Josephine County on Tuesday.

The mobile station, whose location the group is keeping mum until Tuesday morning, will serve as an education center and campaign hub for the global group, which is calling for a moratorium on logging federal forestlands.

In addition to working with local environmental groups to protect and restore what they describe as endangered forests of international significance, organizers plan a summer of peaceful protests.

They have taken the public out of the public process, said Ginger Cassady, a forest campaign organizer for Greenpeace. We're getting to the point where going to the front lines is really the only thing we have left to do.

People have gone through the public comment process. People have gone through the legal process. People have done every single thing they have been told to do on how to have a voice on managing public land.

— But their concerns are being ignored, Cassady said.

People don't know what else to do at this point, she said. Greenpeace is going to put the public back in the public process.

If that means us getting on the front lines, then that's going to have to happen, she added.

Although Greenpeace, which has some 250,000 members nationwide, may be better known for protecting whales, it has spent years protecting endangered forests, said group spokeswoman Celia Alario.

If you think of the classic image of Greenpeace, of David and Goliath, a large whaling ship and a small Zodiac, people with their bodies between the whales and the harpoons, you can translate that into what will be happening in the ancient forests, Alario said. In this case, people will be out there putting their bodies between the chainsaws and the ancient forests.

The work of Greenpeace is to pick some of the most important ecological places in the world and spotlight them, she added. We could be anywhere this summer. We're here. That's a testament to how important this area is.

Steve Shrader, chief law enforcement ranger for the Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, said his agency hadn't heard about the Greenpeace station until contacted by the Mail Tribune Wednesday afternoon.

But the bottom line, from the law enforcement point of view, is to make sure the activities are safe and don't interfere with other people's activities, he said. In the past, we've always tried to provide areas for people to exercise their First Amendment rights.

But the group must also abide by federal land regulations that restrict camping to no more than 14 days at a time during a 90-day period in the district, he noted.

In the Siskiyou and Rogue River national forests, campers are restricted to no more than 14 days per calendar year, according to spokeswoman Mary Marrs. Special use permits are also required for large groups, she added.

Greenpeace hasn't contacted the Forest Service about the station, she said.

The organization is holding a news conference in Washington, D.C., this morning to announce the creation of the station and other actions being taken by the group.

The station is a solar-powered facility which consists of several giant domes, organizers said.

Imagine a giant M&M that is 24 feet in diameter ' green one and a blue one, Alario said, noting that a fire truck will be stationed at the site. The group will adhere to agency regulations, she added.

Our purpose is to highlight this particular place, she said. This whole area is emblematic of some of the most important ancient forests left on public lands. This area is representative of the Bush rollback of environmental policies.

Greenpeace intends to ask timber firms this summer not to bid on public land sales containing ancient or old-growth timber. They also will ask other firms to use only timber that is certified as being harvested by environmentally friendly methods.

For a decade or more, the issue has been framed as environmentalists versus loggers, Alario said. The issue really is wealthy timber barons, big corporations and a greedy administration against loggers, small communities that want clean water and every taxpayer in America.

So we don't see ourselves as pitted against the loggers, she added.

Alario noted that many rural communities have come up with plans to restore forest health while providing jobs.

They are doing the numbers, figuring out how to create meaningful jobs in the forests while restoring the eco system, she said. People are developing detailed solutions at the community level.

Those community efforts include a diverse group of people of all political backgrounds, from conservative to liberal, who are concerned about forest health and protecting the environment, Alario said.

The chorus is growing, and it's not just the usual suspects, she said.

Protests will be used as a last resort, Cassady and Alario said, reiterating the focus on non-violent action.

We will be highlighting some specific timber sales throughout the Pacific Northwest, Cassady said. These will be egregious examples of logging. We will be heading to the front lines to defend those areas.

I do see a lot of people coming from throughout the country to protect these last wild places, she added. That will take many different forms. The role Greenpeace is going to play is putting the spotlight on these areas and highlighting the assaults on public lands.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at