Defending Giants: The Battle over Headwaters Forest and the Transformation of American Environmental Politics, 1850-1999
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The redwoods have long been a source of inspiration and conflict. By the end of the twentieth century, disputes over logging Redwood Country had helped transform American environmental politics. Historians have largely neglected the redwood wars, but their impact on environmental politics was great. After 1945, the redwood wars ended official corporatist timber regulation in California, established a series of legal precedents governing private property management, and prompted the reordering of the federal environmental protection regime. This dissertation describes those transformations in detail, and helps situate the long history of conflicts over logging the redwoods in American history.
The history of the redwood wars demonstrates the ways in which local activism influence the development of environmental politics, Northcoast activists complicate our understanding of radical environmentalism and wilderness ideals, and conservation methodologies persist in the priorities of modern environmentalism.
The redwood wars were one of the longest and most violent environmental disputes in American history, beginning during the 1970s and lasting into the twenty-first century. Northcoast residents had grown increasingly concerned about the future of the ancient forest, timber jobs, and their rural culture as the rate of clear-cutting increased and as corporate giants swallowed up land. Some residents organized and challenged the industrial logging regime because of its threat to the health of their rural society. Eventually, the Northcoast was awash in daily direct actions, persistent litigation, and intense media scrutiny. After 1986, the citizen activists focused more and more on Pacific Lumber's plans to harvest its remaining old growth groves in Humboldt County. Pacific Lumber owned nearly all of the unprotected ancient redwood forest in the world, and the forest complex that contained those old-growth groves became known as Headwaters Forest. In 1999, after more than a decade of violent and protracted conflict, Pacific Lumber, California, and the federal government consummated an agreement to publicly acquire several old-growth groves and manage the rest of the company's land under a comprehensive land management plan. Even so, the wars continued because of the uncompromising nature of the local activists.