Earth First!

Earth First!
Abbreviation EF!
Founded 1980
Founder Dave Foreman
Mike Roselle
Howie Wolke
Bart Koehler
Focus Environmental protection
  • Active in over 19 countries
Origins Southwestern United States
Method Direct action
Slogan No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth!

Earth First! is a radical environmental advocacy group[1] that emerged in the Southwestern United States in 1979. It was co-founded on April 4, 1980[2] by Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, Howie Wolke, Bart Koehler, and Ron Kezar.[3]

There are Earth First! groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Philippines, Czech Republic, India, Mexico, France, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, Nigeria, Slovakia, Ireland, Italy, and Spain.[4]

Inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Aldo Leopold's land ethic, and Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, a group of activists composed of environmental activist Dave Foreman, ex-Yippie (Youth International Party) Mike Roselle, Wyoming Wilderness Society representatives Bart Koehler and Howie Wolke and Bureau of Land Management employee Ron Kezar pledged, "No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!" while traveling in Foreman's VW bus from the El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in northern Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Provoked by what they considered a sell-out by mainstream environmental advocates during the "RARE II" (the Forest Service's Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) planning process, the activists envisioned a revolutionary movement to set aside multi-million acre ecological preserves all across the United States. Their ideas drew on the main concepts of the new science of conservation biology, which scientists like E.O. Wilson had developed over the past twenty years, but which mainstream environmental groups had been slow to embrace. All of this came together after a grueling hike, as the men headed toward Albuquerque. "Suddenly Foreman called out 'Earth First!' The next thing you know," Wolke says, "Roselle drew a clenched fist logo, passed it up to the front of the van, and there was Earth First!"[3]

Early years

During the group's early years (1979–1986), Earth First! mixed publicity stunts (such as rolling a plastic "crack" down Glen Canyon Dam) with far-reaching wilderness proposals that reportedly went beyond what mainstream environmental groups were willing to advocate (with conservation biology research from a biocentric perspective). The group's proposals were published in a periodical, Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal, informally known as the Earth First! Journal. Edward Abbey often spoke at early gatherings, and his writings were an inspiration that led him to be revered by the early movement. An annual gathering of the group was known as the Round River Rendezvous, with the name taken from an Ojibwa myth about a continuous river of life flowing into and out of itself and sustaining all relations. The rendezvous is part celebration with art and music, part activist conference with workshops and accounts of past actions. Another project led by the organization at this time was the creation of a tax-deductible fund, then called Earth First! Foundation, which was established with the aim of providing financial support for research, advocacy and education by Earth First! activists. The fund was later renamed to Fund for Wild Nature in 1991.[5]

In the spring of 1985, a nationwide call to action in the Earth First! Journal brought Earth First! members from around the United States to the Willamette National Forest of western Oregon, to take action against Willamette Industries, a logging company. Finding logging road blockades (carried out by Corvallis-based Cathedral Forest Action Group) were offering too short-term a protection, Marylander Ron Huber and Washingtonian Mike Jakubal devised tree sitting as a more effective civil disobedience alternative.[6]

On May 23, 1985, Mike Jakubal made the first Earth First! tree sit.[7] When U.S. Forest Service law enforcement official Steve Slagowski arrived, Mike Roselle, Ron Huber and others were arrested sitting at the base of the tree in support. This first tree sit lasted less than a day—Jakubal came down in the evening to look over the remains of the forest that had been cut down around him that day, and was arrested by a hidden Forest Service officer—but the tree-sitting concept was deemed sound by Earth First! members. Huber and Jakubal, in the company of Mike Roselle, brought the concept to the June 14 Washington EF Rendezvous;[8] on June 23, a convoy of activists arrived at Willamette National Forest, and set up tree platforms[9] in "Squaw/Three timbersale",[10] a location the group thought was threatened with imminent destruction. While at one point, up to a dozen trees were occupied, a July 10 clash[11] took down all the trees with platforms except for Ron Huber's as the other sitters had gone for an overnight meeting elsewhere. Huber remained in his tree, dubbed Yggdrasil, until July 20 when two Linn County sheriff's deputies were lifted in a crane box[12] and wrestled him from the tree.

Later, from about 1987 on, Earth First! became primarily associated with direct action to prevent logging, building of dams, and other forms of development which Earth First! finds may cause destruction of wildlife habitats or the despoliation of wild places. This change in direction attracted many new members to Earth First!, some of whom came from a leftist or anarchist political background or involvement in the counterculture. Dave Foreman has related that this led to the introduction of such activities as a "puke-in" at a shopping mall, a flag burning, heckling of Edward Abbey at a 1987 Earth First! rendezvous, and back-and-forth debates in the Earth First! Journal on such topics as anarchism, with which Foreman and others did not wish to be associated. Most of the group's older members, including Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, Bart Koehler, Christopher Manes, George Wuerthner, and Earth First! Journal editor John Davis, became increasingly uncomfortable with this new direction. This change reportedly led several of the founders to sever their ties to Earth First! in 1990. Many of them went on to launch a new magazine, Wild Earth, and a new environmental group, the Wildlands Project. Roselle, on the other hand, along with activists such as Judi Bari, welcomed the new direct-action and leftist direction of Earth First!.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Earth First! began an increasing promotion of and identification with "Deep Ecology", a philosophy put forward by Arne Næss, Bill Devall, and George Sessions, which holds that all forms of life on Earth have equal value in and of themselves, without regard for their utility to human beings.

Since 1990

Since 1990, action within the Earth First! movement have become increasingly influenced by anarchist political philosophy. This change brought a rotation of the primary media organ in differing regions ,[13][14] an aversion to organized leadership or administrative structure, and a new trend of identifying Earth First! as a mainstream movement rather than an organization. In 1992, the push of Earth First! toward being a mainstream movement led to the creation of an offshoot group called Earth Liberation Front.[15] The Earth Liberation Front was formally born during the 1992 Earth First! Round River Rendezvous, where young activists debated the effectiveness of civil disobedience activism tactics in light of the ever-increasing destruction of the planet by human activity. Elders of the Earth First! movement gave their blessing to this newly formed strike team known as ELF.[16] ELF became the extremists of the environmental movement, just as the Earth First! movement itself had been when it was created a decade earlier.

Earth First! protests commonly involved occupations of forested timber sale areas and other threatened natural areas. In these protests, dozens of people physically locked their bodies to trees, bulldozers and desks, using specially created lock boxes (metal tubes reinforced with rebar, through which protesters threaded their arms,[17][18] or using bicycle U-locks to lock their necks to other objects. In 1997, as part of the ongoing HeadWaters Redwoods protests, activists locked themselves to a redwood stump which was carried into California Congressman Frank Riggs' office.[19]

The HeadWaters campaign in northern California aims to protect the last old-growth Redwood tree forests from being logged by Pacific Lumber Company. The Pacific Lumber Co. was bought out by Maxxim, a hedge fund company that planned to liquidate its assets including these old-growth forests. HeadWaters has been an ongoing protest for over 15 years.[20]

In 1990 following an agreement between California Earth First! with local logger worker unions, Judi Bari and her co-activists were bombed by the FBI.[21] The FBI arrested Bari and her friends and accused them of planting the bombs in the first place.[22]

From 1992 to 1998, the Cove/Mallard Timber Sale, the largest timber sale in U.S. Forest Service history, occurred. The forest, located in Idaho, was occupied by Earth First! with the aid of a nearby landowner, a former land developer turned activist. Earth First! succeeded in saving most of this threaten wilderness area. Over 350 people from 12 countries were arrested and the project was reduced from a planned 200 clear-cuts with seven new roads built on the untouched lands to 37 clear-cuts and two roads. In June 1993, Earth First! halted the construction of the Noble Road by erecting elaborate multi-layered barricades which included U.S. Forest Service vehicles. These barricades were constructed in one night, during which activists traveled 17 miles through the mountains dodging patrols of law enforcement officers who had been informed of the planned demonstration. The first tripod lockdowns occurred at this action, which involved three 30 foot logs, tied together and placed upright, with an activist tied to a platform between them 20 feet in the air.[23] The tripod was placed over trenches in which four activists were buried in quick-drying cement. Two additional activists used U-locks to lock their necks to the front axles of responding vehicles. U.S. Forest Service shot at fleeing activists and raided the private land with a SWAT team armed with M-16s.[24] 27 activists were arrested.

During Free Cascadia, a mass occupation organized by Earth First! at the Warner Creek timber sale in Oregon, 50+ activists continuously occupied the burnt forested mountains of Oregon for a year in 1994/95. They endured bad weather and law enforcement raids. Their barricades, dug in reinforced trenches, forts with watchtowers, tree-sits enabled a constant occupation of the land while lawsuits and political actions locally and in Washington D.C., ultimately saved the land.[25][26] Warner Creek is often seen an example of how Earth First movement was successful, though most Earth First occupations of timber sales, fail.

In the summer of 1995, environmental activists attempted to occupy the old-growth timber sale area of Sugarloaf Mountain in southern Oregon. The Sugarloaf Mountain had been in legal battles for over an decade when the "Rider from Hell" was added in committee to the congressional Crime Bill of 1994, which mandated the logging of thousands of acres of old-growth forest.[27] The United States Forest Service declared an exclusionary zone[28] of 30 square miles of southern Oregon and arrested anyone in the area including a local woman walking her dog. Over 100 federal agents, supported by helicopters and the elite US Army Ranger-trained law enforcement squad known as "Camo-Feddies," arrested hundreds of activists. The environmental activists engaged at all levels of protests with numerous public and illegal demonstrations by Earth First, protests at government offices locally and in Washington D.C., tree-sits in active logging zones and even an attempted helicopter pad lock-down action to stop the logging helicopters. One tree from Sugarloaf timber sale, which was an 4 day long tree-sit by a local father & son Earth First team, required 9 log trucks to carry it out in sections.[29] This tree was estimated to be over 400 years old and took 27 minutes to cut down by a 7-foot chainsaw team and shook the Earth as it fell

Earth First! responded by immediately occupying the nearby timber sale known as China Left in early October 1995 to defend the old-growth forest and the last wild salmon spawning grounds of Oregon. EF activists used dragon lock-boxes on both ends of the valley's only road to protect the area[30].[18][31][32] An female Earth First!er known as 'Ocean held the road for a day as police attempted to remove this human-and-cement blockade, allowing Earth First! to dig in farther down the valley. This was the start of two year-long occupation protest, during which a pickup truck was turned into a lock box to block the only bridge to the valley.[33]

Earth First! protesters were often tortured by police, who used pepper spray, pain compliance holds, police dogs, and the threat of guns to attempt to coerce the protesters to release from their lock downs.[34]

The Earth First! movement has been labelled as a terrorist organization by its opponents. Supporters of the movement disagree, explaining that their cause is one of civil disobedience and honor for the Earth.

The Earth First! movement engages targets of environmental destruction with civil disobedience actions designed to draw attention and to slow down destruction of threaten wild areas, using lock-down techniques to create living blockades.[17][35]

The first acknowledged death of an Earth First!er during a direct action occurred in September 1998, in northern California's Redwood forests. Earth First! activist David Chain attempted to protect the forest by moving around inside the active logging site, thereby creating unsafe conditions for timber harvest. Normally, this would have resulted in the interruption of logging, but a large Redwood, thought to be over 300 years old, was cut down by a Pacific Lumber logger and fell upon Chain, who died instantly.[36]

'Avalon, a member of the Earth Liberation Front, died on the night of Winter Solace 2005 in a prison cell, while in FBI custody, being held on terrorism charges for multiple arsons from over the last decade, including the Vail Ski resort fire. The rest of his ELF group was also arrested. They are currently serving life sentences in federal prison for crimes that involved property damage. 'Avalon was a long term Earth First activist, one of the occupation activists of Warner Creek Oregon and the Cove/Mallard Idaho protests for years and one of 4 whom constantly camped out in snow-caves monitoring the only logging of Noble Road in the winter of January to March 1995 in 12-foot deep snow and sub-zero temps.[37] After witnessing the destruction of "America's Amazon Jungle" where for hundreds of miles around was wild untouched mountainous forests, 'Avalon became disenfranchised with mere civil-disobedience tactics and became radicalized. :[38][39]

Most activists of Earth First! have previously participated in more moderate forms of environmental and political activism, including marching in the streets and writing letters to politicians. The Earth First! activist called 'Llama, of the Great Lakes Earth First! chapter in Chicago, had been involved in college activism for years. He traveled to D.C. and other capitols to lobby government officials, and even received a letter from President Clinton thanking him for his "efforts to save the wild lands of America." 'Fawn, another Earth First!er, grew up as a Republican in a middle-class family.[40]

Most members of Earth First! identify as decentralized, locally informed activists whose ideas stem from communitarian ethics. Earth First! adversaries characterize the group akin to terrorists.[41] One of the early critics of Earth First!'s change in tactics later accused the FBI of deliberately introducing the concept of Non-Violence to the group.[42]

In various parts of the country, individual citizens and small groups form the nuclei for grassroots political actions. These actions may take the form of legal actions, including protests, timber sale appeals, and educational campaigns; or civil disobedience, including tree sitting, road blockades, and sabotage (also called "ecotage" by some Earth First! members, who claim it is done as a form of ecodefense). Often, disruptive direct action is used primarily as a stalling tactic in an attempt to prevent possible environmental destruction while Earth First! lawsuits try to secure long-term victories. Reported tactics include road blockades, activists locking themselves to heavy equipment, tree-sitting, and sabotage of machinery.[23][43][44][45]

Earth First! was known for providing information in the Earth First! Journal on the practice of tree-spiking and monkeywrenching (or ecotage), which have led to reports of injuries from such tactics, although there is no evidence that Earth First! was involved in related activity.[46] In 1990, Judi Bari convinced Earth First! in the Northern California and Southern Oregon region to renounce these practices, calling them counterproductive to an effort to form a coalition with workers and small logging businesses to defeat large-scale corporate logging in Northern California.

Judi Bari car bombing

In 1990, a bomb exploded in Judi Bari's car, shattering her pelvis and also injuring fellow activist Darryl Cherney. Bari and Cherney were later arrested after police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation suspected that they had been transporting the bomb when it accidentally exploded. Bari contended that extremists opposed to her pro-environmental actions had placed the bomb in her car in order to kill her. The case against them was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.[47] Bari died in 1997 of cancer, but her federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland, California police resulted in a 2002 jury verdict awarding her estate and Darryl Cherney a total of $4.4 million.[48] Eighty percent of the damages were for violation of their First Amendment rights by the FBI and police, who tried to discredit them in the media as violent extremists despite ample evidence to the contrary. The bombing remains unsolved.[48]

A documentary movie about the court case, entitled The Forest for the Trees, was released in 2006. It was directed by Bernadine Mellis, whose father is one of the lawyers featured in the documentary.

The documentary Who Bombed Judi Bari?, directed by Mary Liz Thomson, was released in 2012. The filmmakers are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading the arrest of the bomber.[49][50]

On March 21, 2011, a U.S. federal judge in California ordered the FBI to preserve evidence related to the car bombing. The FBI was planning to destroy all evidence in the case.[51]

In the United Kingdom

An arrest at the Liverpool docks, with protestors occupying cranes in the background

The Earth First! movement in the United Kingdom started in 1990, when a group in Hastings, Sussex organised an action at Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent. It grew rapidly, and many groups formed, with or without the EF! name, over the next years.

The first big Earth First! actions happened in 1992 and focused around the importation of tropical hardwood. The first major action had happened in December 1991 at Port of Tilbury. The second major action, the Merseyside Dock Action, attracted between 200-600 people who occupied Liverpool docks for two days. This action coincided with the Earth First! roadshow, in which a group of UK & US Earth First!ers toured the country. Other early campaigns also focused on timber-yards, most notably the Timbmet yard in Oxford.[52]

There are now various regional Earth First! groups, the EF! Action Update has been joined by the EF! Action Reports website[53] and a yearly Earth First! national gathering.[54] At the first gathering in Sussex the debate focused on the use of criminal damage as a protest technique. Earth First! decided to neither 'condemn nor condone' criminal damage, instead it focused more on non-violent direct action techniques. Some people at the gathering coined the term Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which became a separate movement which spread back to the US. Actions involving criminal damage did happen often under cover of night and were typically done under an ELF banner and attributed to elves and pixies, or the Earth Liberation Faeries, giving a distinctly British feel to the movement.

Major growth in the direct action movement started with a concurrent focus on roads, and a protest camp at Twyford Down was started, against the M3 in Hampshire. Whilst Earth First! groups still played an essential part, other groups such as the Dongas tribe soon formed. Alongside SchNEWS, such publications as the Earth First! Action Update,[55] and Do or Die[56] were means of communication between the groups. The movement grew to other road protest camps including the Newbury bypass, the A30 and the M11 link road protest in London, where whole streets were squatted in order to slow down the construction work. Later the focus widened to other campaigns including Reclaim the Streets, anti-genetics campaigns,[57] and Rising Tide. More recently, there have been groups such as Peat Alert![58] and Plane Stupid.[59]

The UK Earth First! groups differed considerably from the U.S. groups as reported in a ten-year retrospective of the Earth First! by two of the founders Jake Bowers and Jason Torrance:

We knew EF! US's original hardline "rednecks for wilderness" attitude wouldn't appeal here, so we set out to build a group that combined radical action and social justice to protect Britain's few remaining natural places.[52]

Seeing ecological and social justice as part of the same thing, plus organising along anarchist lines and bringing in other radical & militant struggles, mixed with audacious actions and real radicalism spread the EF! ideal to other countries and helped morph the US movement.


Telluride Ski Resort

On August 10, 1991, vandals identifying themselves as members of Earth First! forced the closing of the Telluride Ski Resort in Mountain Village, Colorado using a chemical to write messages on 11 greens, such as "Earth First!", "Hayduke lives" and "Ron you pig".[60] In relation to the incident, the Telluride Times Journal received a letter signed "Earth First" stating that the ski lift had been sabotaged with a welding gas applied to the lift cable that weakens the metal.[60]

Fairfield Snowbowl Ski Resort

Earth First! member Mark Davis pleaded guilty in Federal court to malicious destruction of property at the Fairfield Snowbowl Ski Resort near Flagstaff, Arizona.[61] Davis had been charged with "using a torch to cut around the base of the top pylon of the main chair lift at Snowbowl on Oct. 25, 1988."[62]

Nuclear power and weapons plants

Earth First! member Mark Davis was sentenced to six years in prison for conspiring to damage the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Facility, and the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.[61]


References in entertainment media

I know you. You're that Earth First bastard.
What's Earth First?
Professional saboteurs.
Knock it off! Listen to me.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park at 1h04m56s

See also


  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation - Congressional Testimony
  2. "Radical Environmentalists: Who Are These People And What Are They Doing Here?".
  3. 1 2 Wolke, Howie, Earth First! A Founder’s Story,
  4. "Contacts - Earth First! Action Reports".
  5. Bevington, Douglas (2009). The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear. Island Press. ISBN 978-1-59726-656-7.
  6. "Earth First! 1985".
  7. "Earth First! 1985".
  8. "Earth First! 1985".
  9. "Earth First! 1985".
  10. "Earth First! 1985".
  11. "Earth First! 1985".
  13. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. by Christopher Manes.1991 Little, Brown and Company
  14. "Earth First! The Next Generation".
  15. "Provencio Release". Archived from the original on 23 March 2003.
  16. Burning Rage of a Dying Planet. by Craig Rosebraugh. Lantern Books, New York. pg20
  17. 1 2 "Locking Down with Lockboxes - Crimethinc.".
  18. 1 2 "Earth First! Direct Action Manual, 3rd Edition". Issuu.
  19. "Acts of Ecoterrorism by Radical Environmental Organizations".
  20. Paul Rogers Mercury News (8 March 2009). "A decade after Headwaters deal, truce comes to Northern California redwood country".
  21. "Judi Bari Revisited: New Film Exposes FBI Coverup of 1990 Car Bombing of California Environmentalist". Democracy Now!.
  22. "Earth First activists win case / FBI, cops must pay $4.4 million for actions after car bombing". SFGate.
  23. 1 2 "Logging protesters say they won't give up".
  24. "Earth First!ers experience Idaho-style justice".
  25. "Last line of defense".
  26. "What a difference a year makes".
  27. "Welcome to Environmental Review - Archives - 2004".
  28. "When the crackdown came".
  29. TreeHuggers: Victory, Defeat & Renewal in the Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign. by Kathie Durbin. The Mountaineers Press Seattle. p264-276.
  30. "UW.Org: China Left Timber Sale, June 4, 1997".
  31. "Clinton says: Stop logging".
  32. "Florida Sheriffs Train in Defeating "Sleeping Dragon" Lockboxes Using Jackhammers, Chainsaws - Earth First! Newswire". Earth First! Newswire.
  33. "In Oregon, tension over coho and trees".
  35. "civil disobedience". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  36. "David Chain".
  37. TreeHuggers: Victory, Defeat & Renewal in the Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign. by Kathie Durbin. The Mountaineers Press Seattle. p270.
  38. William C. Rodgers
  39. "Earth Liberation Front".
  40. TreeHuggers: Victory, Defeat & Renewal in the Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign. by Kathie Durbin. The Mountaineers Press Seattle. p269-271
  41. mail tribune par.5
  42. "Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences by William P. Meyers".
  43. "Ecotage: A Practical or Punishable Means of Environmental Activism?".
  44. "Earth First! Tactics in Fight to Save Planet Anger Some, Tickle Others". latimes.
  45. "Earth First! protests the destruction of Redwood Forests (Redwood Summer), United States, 1990".
  46. "The Secret History of Tree Spiking - Part 1".
  47. Guthmann, Edward (February 1, 2005). "Is the biograph". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  48. 1 2 FBI, Oakland handed defeat in Bari lawsuit
  49. "Judi Bari Revisited: New Film Exposes FBI Coverup of 1990 Car Bombing of California Environmentalist". Democracy Now!. March 27, 2012.
  50. Sheri Linden (December 6, 2012). "Review: 'Who Bombed Judi Bari?' wants to know". Los Angeles Times.
  51. "Headlines for March 22, 2011". Democracy Now!.
  52. 1 2 Bowers, Jake; Torrance, Jason (May 2, 2001). "Grey green". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  53. "Earth First! Action Reports - Direct action - no leaders - confront, stop & reverse the destruction of the earth".
  54. "Earth First! Gathering".
  55. "Earth First! Action Update".
  56. "Do or Die".
  57. "ライトデビル".
  58. "peat alert in south yorkshire".
  59. "Plane Stupid - bringing the aviation industry back down to earth!".
  60. 1 2 "Vandals Force Closing of New Golf Course". The New York Times. August 11, 1991. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  61. 1 2 "Man Gets 6 Years in Plot to Damage A-Plants". The New York Times. September 8, 1991. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  62. "JUDGE REJECTS SEPARATE TRIAL FOR EARTH FIRST 3/8 CO-FOUNDER". Associated Press. December 21, 1990. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  63. Becker, Michael; Gamboa, Stephen (2007). "Testify! - Eco-Defense and the Politics of Violence". Green Theory & Praxis: The Journal of Ecopedagogy. 3 (1).

Further reading

Books about the early Earth First!

Books about the post-1990 Earth First!

Books critical of Earth First!

External links

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