Earth First! Eco-warrior Takes His Stand In And For Trees

Militant Green Rules Out Compromise

October 31, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Radical environmentalists don't grow on trees, but sometimes they live in them.

They do this when it seems that all else has failed, when it appears that Mother Earth stands defenseless against the forces of destruction. Ron Huber, active in county environmental battles, once lived in a fir in Oregon for 40 days, held off federal agents and threatened from aloft to conk a logger on the head with a jar of Cornnuts.

"I'm saying, take the law into your own hands," Huber was quoted as saying in the book, "Green Rage." "That's all you have to do. If you just go by their laws, then down come the trees, up goes the slashin smoke."

Welcome to Ron Huber's world of militant environmentalism, where compromise is a four-letter word.

"There are plenty of groups like the Sierra Club who are willing to have credibility and willing to compromise," said Huber, whose house sits on the Anne Arundel-Calvert county line. "We decided that credibility was not on our agenda."

"We" means Earth First!, the group founded in 1980 under the motto: "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth." Huber says thatenvironmentalism is not a political cause at all, but a matter of life and death, and hence not amenable to the give-and-take of the democratic process.

"That process has conspicuously failed," said Huber, a 36-year-old home-renovations contractor. "The compromise has always been skewed in favor of the destroyers, the resource extractors."

That means loggers and oil drillers, dam builders, real estate developers and mining companies, among others, many of whom have been targets of Earth First! "ecotage."

The word means a form of sabotage that has included planting metal spikes in trees slated to be cut -- posing a threat to loggers and their chain saws -- and destroying construction equipment and power lines. Members of the group also haveengaged in acts of civil disobedience by blocking logging roads.

Colby Rucker, president of the more moderate Severn River Association, said he disapproves of Earth First! tactics, but he said, "I can identify with the frustration."

Asked about the group's stated unwillingness to compromise, Rucker said, "I think there's something to belearned from it. You cannot look at environmental problems as a political football. These are not political problems; these are real problems."

Both men point to the state reforestation bill, which requires developers to plant new trees to replace older ones they cut, as a compromise that contributes to the destruction of ancient forests and wildlife habitat.

Once a month, about 20 members of Chesapeake Earth First! -- mostly from Anne Arundel and Calvert counties and Washington -- meet in Huber's rented home, a former slave house.

In the heavy-beamed, low-ceilinged living room, Huber writes the group newsletter on a word processor and mails it to about 200 people.

He speaks softly and smokes heavily. "Health and the environment don't necessarily mix," he said, smiling. "Hey, I'm supporting our native industry." Underneath a down vest he wears a T-shirt that declares, "Defend the Bay."

" 'Save the Bay' is a cry for help," Huber said. " 'Defend the Bay' is a cry for action."

Beneath Huber's environmentalism lies a dim view of humankind, particularly the Western, industrialized portion of the species.

"This is really harsh-sounding," Huber said, "but the human race has unfortunately become a cancer on the planet. There are too many of them, and it's out of control."

Asked where he draws the line on protecting nature against development, Huber thought for a while before answering, "I don't think I'd everconsider extinguishing a person in pursuit of this. Never."

He said he came by his angry environmentalism in Oregon, where he lived for four years on a cooperative farm. In Oregon, he saw clear-cut forests with their "devastated topsoil, gouged earth. . . . It just made me madder and madder, seeing all the ads by the timber companies saying they were replanting and everything was fine. And it just wasn't true."

After returning to Maryland in the winter of 1984, Huber stumbled across a copy of the Earth First! journal in the University of Maryland Food Coop.

"They were angry, amateur environmentalists," he said, and they struck a chord for the former biology student at Prince George's County Community College. That spring, he returned to Oregon.

In 1985, he made Earth First! history by staging a 40-day vigil in a Douglas fir in Willamette National Forest, northeast of Eugene, Ore. His effort marked the birth of a new way to protest clear-cutting of ancient forests: tree sitting.

Huber, one of seven Earth First!ers taking part in the tree-sitting, harnessed himself to the tree and lived on a door-sized platform suspended by ropes from a bough about 80 feet off the ground, or about halfway up the great conifer. From the platform he hung a U.S. flag and a sign that said, "Ecotopia is Rising."

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