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Earth First! co-founder on the stump for environment

When Dave Foreman looks back on Earth First!, the self-proclaimed radical environmental group he helped create in 1980, he figures he made a difference.

"There are a few things we would have done differently, but Earth First!, as it was in the 1980s, accomplished things that needed to be done," said Foreman, who turned 67 on Friday, in a telephone interview from his home in Albuquerque, N.M.

"Earth First! was a major part of the effort to protect old-growth forests," he added. "We had a victory on Bald Mountain. The Sierra Club and others had given up because it was too tough, but Earth First! took it on. As a result, quite a bit of country was saved."

Foreman, who will be speaking this coming week in Jackson and Josephine counties on "Rewilding North America," was referring to a standoff that began April 26, 1983, on Bald Mountain in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest some 20 air miles west of Grants Pass.

At issue was a 113,000-acre roadless area on the northern edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service wanted to begin logging some 221 million board feet of timber in the roadless area. But environmentalists were intent on preserving the area as wilderness.

After legal efforts by the Oregon Sierra Club and others failed to halt the logging that spring, Earth First! activists stepped in with direct action that included standing in the path of a D-8 bulldozer pushing a road into the area.

Their in-your-face action, one which shaped environmental protests around the nation, was a controversial move that angered the government, local residents and loggers while alarming many within the mainstream environmental community who had preferred a less confrontational approach. It also resulted in 44 protesters being arrested before a federal court injunction requested by the Oregon Natural Resources Council, now Oregon Wild, and others halted the project early in July of that year.

"I remember being run over by a pickup truck on Bald Mountain," Foreman recalled of a logging rig that didn't stop when he tried to block it. He was not seriously injured.

Foreman is no longer getting run over by pickup trucks. In fact, the man who wrote the controversial 1985 book "Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching," which provided detailed information on sabotaging equipment and spiking trees in the name of environmental protection, is now the executive director of The Rewilding Institute, an Albuquerque-based think tank advancing continental conservation. Tree spiking was later renounced by Earth First!.

"Rewilding is an approach I've been working on for a little over 20 years now," Foreman said. "It's both a scientific approach and an extension of what conservationists have been doing all along.

"The idea is to protect the big wild areas, and recognize the extreme importance of large carnivores like wolves and cougars and their role in ecosystems," he added.

Linking wildlands to provide corridors for them to travel is essential, he said.

"Those critters need big territories," he said. "They are trying to recolonize Oregon with wolves now. We call these corridors 'wild ways.' Protecting roadless areas and other lands between wilderness areas is really key. It's ecological restoration but on a continental scale."

Regions such as southwestern Oregon, with its Kalmiopsis and Wild Rogue wildernesses along with a handful of others, are important in that restoration effort, he said.

"And it is more than just large carnivores," he said. "We want to help preserve ecosystem engineers like beavers and prairie dogs as well. They also have a large influence on the ecosystem."

Foreman, whose environmental activism began with The Wilderness Society in 1971 and later The Wildlands Project, said he is devoted to the rewilding project.

"When I left Earth First! in 1990, after being there 10 years, it was changing from a conservation group to more animal-rights and social-justice issues," he said. "The folks I liked were leaving. I just didn't like the direction of it.

"I've never fought for control of an organization," he added. "When things change, fine, I just move on. I was already interested in the concept of rewilding."

He was also interested in writing more books on conservation. He has already published half a dozen, including "Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century."

"I'll soon be starting some kind of memoir fairly soon," he said. "It will allow me to address conservation happenings that otherwise might get lost to history."

He also plans to get out into the wildlands more often.

"I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more wilderness," he said, adding, "I'd still like to get out into the Kalmiopsis."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Earth First! co-founder on the stump for environment