At the end of August, around 600 trees were chopped down in the Marrutxipi area of Donostia (San Sebastian), in the Basque Country, to build the new motorway junction. In this case there was no real opossition to the removal of the wood, as it has happened in other situations and in other places. The following is an account of real opossition to forest removals ongoing at the time of this disaster.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
At the end of August, some 600 trees were cut down in the area of Marrutxipi in Donostia, in order to build a new link to the motorway. This meant the disappearance of another of the city’s natural habitats, a small natural habitat of local vegetation. This fact showed us something that is well known to those of us who are a few years old: all those speeches by our politicians, the city council of Donostia, the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and other institutions about more ecological cities and against the climate emergency are pure hot air. Rhetoric. Greenwashing. Hypocrisy. When we get down to reality, we see that they don’t give a damn. They talk about reducing emissions and build more roads to facilitate fossil fuel traffic. They talk about carbon sinks and destroy the few natural areas we have left, those ancient, local trees, which absorb CO2 and other greenhouse gases, but which above all are habitats and with their life contribute to … the Life of the Planet. They have no shame.
Meanwhile they also prepare our city for more concrete, for other projects such as the mini-metro or the High Speed Train (TAV) which has destroyed so many other forests and trees in its path. As in that other anachronistic project, that addition to the SuperSur highway in Bilbo that had the same effect on the Bolintxu forest, how can such a disaster be justified in this situation, in this climatic and environmental emergency?
And what is more, as this year with the temperatures rising, droughts and fires, here too in the Basque Country, the consequences are more palpable and more dramatic. In addition to being rich ecosystems and fundamental against the climate emergency, forests have the capacity to store water, and protect us from heat, droughts and floods. What a contradiction it is that while we are desecrating them or planting monocultures as if they were going to fulfil their function! (by the way: we also remember that this 21 September was the International Day against Tree Monocultures).
But, as we have said, we find ourselves in a situation in which forests and trees are already being reduced by conditions that we cannot control (although they are our responsibility and we can alleviate them). Fires that cause loss of trees, of the Amazon rainforest and others; or even drought and, to a greater degree, desertification. Or even war that also results in deforestation: last March, the Russian defence minister’s request for indiscriminate logging (not just explosions and fires) of Ukrainian forests was announced1. Obviously, in this situation the last thing we need is to lose 600 trees in this way. To lose more trees than those killed by the last fires, by the last heat wave.
If we often focus on the deforestation of the Amazon or the great forests of Africa, Indonesia and others, it is because of their size. But that does not mean that the same is not happening here, nor that it does not deserve attention. Perhaps more so because of the rapid deterioration, because of their importance here.
We should have defended them. We did not. For many reasons. But elsewhere the defence is underway. It is part of that climate struggle, which is more: it is environmental and it is anti-capitalist, it is social, it is political because as humans we need those trees. As inhabitants of the Planet we need them. And those habitats need them, the Planet needs them!
The forest camps had their heyday in the 1980s in the southwest of the United States, in the fight against the logging of redwoods. This movement involved the occupation of forests through encampments, sitting in trees, etc. And it inspired the movement against a national highway programme in the UK. Protest camps were replicated everywhere on every planned road.
Tree houses were built, which were connected to each other with ropes, zip lines, nets, to facilitate the movement of their occupants in a possible eviction and to avoid their capture; benders were improvised or even tunnels were dug under the threatened terrain, which were added to the occupation of machinery and other formulas of direct action. These were joined by other methods such as chaining activists to drums and tripods on which they climbed, which have now also been adopted internationally.
All of them sought to dissuade companies and institutions from moving forward because of the risk to the lives of activists in tree houses, tunnels, tripods or drums. And indeed, some activists suffered the consequences in the evictions, when they hired professional climbers and lifting platforms (cherry pickers we called them) to get them out. My friend J Brighton fell 15 metres from the top of a tree. He fucked up his back and wore a rigid brace for a long time, which severely limited his mobility.
Forest protest sites can be understood as part of DIY (Do It Yourself) culture, which means there is nothing pre-planned or established, but the freedom to take matters into your own hands and make a change; to do it with others, peers, in solidarity, in collectiveness, self-funded. Another feature of protest camps is the organization, based in participatory democracy or assembly decision making. They have no affiliation to any political party, let alone institutions or companies, and the complete absence of leaders. And they follow a strong principle of non violence.
These methods continue to inspire and are still in practice in the face of the advance of deforestation and the impossibility of stopping it in other ways (political, legal). Nowadays, forest defence camps are concentrated in Germany and Poland, although they can also be found in the United States, Austria, Holland and England.
Resisting deforestation in Poland
This August news reached us from Poland of the eviction of a forest defence camp 219, in Nora. Defenders of the forest resided for more than a year (583 days) in this forest in order to defend it from disappearing. Forest 219a has a rich history: until 1945 no trees had been cut down there. Now it is planned that 30% of the trees will be cut down. This forest is included in the Nature 2000 Bieszczady area, although, as in many other cases, this does not seem to be an obstacle to its deforestation.
In the same country, another camp was resisting the logging of the primeval forest Puszcza Borecka. At the end of August the camp was attacked by masked men. The attackers tried to drag a person from a tree, destroyed the hangings of one of the houses nestled in the treetops and then drove off in a vehicle. This attack is reminiscent of that suffered by anti-logging activists in the Khimki forest (Russia) in 2011. In 2012 similar intimidation tactics were used against activists defending the Tasmanian forest in Australia, with their homes being torched.
The great millennial forest of Białowieża between Poland and Belarus is the great forest treasure, a primeval forest home to 800 bison. In recent years it has been the victim of increased logging, but undoubtedly the biggest impact has been the construction of a wall along its border with Belarus to prevent migration. This mega wall to protect Fortress Europe (yes, it wasn’t just Trump who built walls!) has a budget of 353 million euros and is being built by Budimex, a subsidiary of Spain’s Ferrovial. Its construction involved the cutting of a 200-metre strip along the border, access roads for machinery, warehouses for materials and tools, etc. On 1 July Budimex-Ferrovial reported the completion of the project.
In 2017, the Polish government liberalised the logging of forests through the Szyszko law. As a reaction, the group Matki Polki na wyrębie (Polish Mothers against Logging) took pictures of themselves in logging areas breastfeeding their babies to give a dimension of the disaster.
Defending forests from mining and developmentalist encroachment in Germany
«The Forest Squatting Movement in Germany» already had its own article in A Planeta, a translation of the homonym in CrimethInc. It covered the camps in the Altdorfer Wald forest since 26 February 2021, threatened by a quarry. It coincided with the eviction of another camp in Flensburg in October 2020. People started to build tree houses and platforms, to save trees that were to be felled to build a hotel and car park there.
The most well-established forest resistance in Germany is in Hambach, against the destruction associated with the open-cast lignite mine of the same name. This camp is now 10 years old after it started on 14 April 2012. The mine belongs to RWE and has been in operation since 1978. It has a depth of up to 500 metres and covers an area of 43.8 km2, with a total mining area of 85 km2. This means that the mine is gradually swallowing up land, communities (Manheim and Morschenich are now threatened) and the Hambach forest, 90% of which has already been destroyed. Therefore, the defence camps are moving or restarting in this vast area. As the movement itself proclaims, «every eviction has always been followed by reoccupation «2.
This camp is close to the Ende Gelände movement, which links the use of lignite coal to the climate emergency and calls for mass civil disobedience. The communiqué continues: «The resistance in the Hambach Forest has always been more than just a local struggle. It is about confronting the mechanisms of oppression and making visible the power relations of capitalism in patriarchy «3.
RWE’s extensive lignite mine in Garzweiler also threatens the forest and the village of Lützerath near Münster. The neighbouring village of Immerath has already disappeared. The resettlement of this village started in 2006 aiming to be completed in September 2021. But the occupation of the forest that year, Lützi (Luetzerath Lebt) establishing itself as ZAD (Zone à Defender), managed to stop it. And there they are, still perched in the trees.
Wald statt Asphalt «Forest instead of asphalt» is the network that was originally founded to support the protests against the 42.5 km long motorway from Neuental to Kassel and for the preservation of the Dannenröder forest. In October 2019 the first tree-houses were erected in the treetops. In November 2020 it was evicted, but the struggle continued against other projects such as the Lobau motorway east of Vienna, the A44, A14, A26, A20, A49, the threat to the Langen forest by gravel extraction. Thus, the occupation and defence of the Osnabrück forest started this July.
In 2015 the Robin Wood organisation held a protest camp in the Treburer Oberwald forest (Offenbach) against the construction of Terminal 3 at Frankfurt Airport.
Forest occupation in Turtle Island
In the USA one of the current forest defence camps is the one in Atlanta, which started on 18 January and is still going on, as we have recently reported. In this city a nearby Weelaunee (South River) forest is threatened by the speculative and police project Police City, known by protesters as Cop City, and a macro-stage for the Blackhall Studios movie theatre. This forest belonged to the Muscogee (Creek) people. This forest is very close to the city and it’s hihly valued by locals as a natural habitat and place for leisure. The protest camp has had a large local turnout, who fear that the wooded wilderness area closest to their town may disappear. On 28 January there were even clashes between police and activists with several of them arrested. Several machines have been sabotaged.
Although not specifically for the purpose of defending forests, but in many cases as well, in the late 2010s many encampments arose in the face of proposed pipeline projects. Although the most famous was Standing Rock in the Dakotas against the DAPL, there were also others such as the Two Rivers in West Texas against the Trans Pecos Pipeline (TPPL), and others of a more indigenous character in Split Rock Sweet Water (New Jersey) against the Pilgrim pipeline and the expansion of the AIM, another in South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation against the Keystone XL pipeline, and more.
Another occupied forest is Jefferson Forest in West Virginia. There, at the Yellow Finch camp, they managed to stop plans to cut down trees for the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for almost three years from September 2018, until March last year (2021). Two activists suffered 79 and 107 days in jail, respectively. But the struggle persists even though it is now stalled because the company lacks permits. They hope to resume this spring 2023, for which they are already planning new opposition. In addition to protecting the forest, like Standing Rock and other protest camps, activists denounced the colonial genocide that took the land from its original inhabitants3 to initiate policies of plunder and sacrilege of Mother Earth.
In Canada there is also a large civil disobedience movement against native forest logging on Vancouver Island (British Columbia) dating back to 1993. That year, what was called the War in the Forest took place with 856 arrests. Last year they staged massive blockades of logging and transport. This June, mounted police cracked down on protesters and evicted the last cam site.
UK: defending forest from highways and ES2
After the anti-roads movement, forest defence camps were limited to those threatened by the UK’s next major development project: the HS2 (High Speed 2) high-speed rail project. As the climate movement has been gaining momentum in recent years and adopting more direct action methods in the face of political inaction, groups such as Extinction Rebellion have now joined these camps and formed HS2 Rebellion. HS2 will destroy 44 hectares of old-growth forest: forest that has been continuously forested since 1600 and is therefore irreplaceable. Initially this project counted 83 woodlands as affected, when in fact there are 108. In this dilemma, 3 camps4 were set up, two in Buckinghamshire and one in Staffordshire, which have already been vacated.
One of these was at Fulfen and Little Lyntus, Staffordshire, in September 2020, which were felled despite the fact that the project envisaged their «relocation». In order to do so, they proposed the absurd approach of replanting the stocks of already cut down trees. But in addition to doing so out of time in a way which was very inadequate for their regrowing, they do so ignoring the natural and ecosystemic complexity. Despite all this, they are relentless in presenting this project as «the most sustainable in the world, and will go a long way to helping Britain fight climate change and achieve its net zero carbon targets by 2050» (Kat Stanhope, head of ecology for the first phase of HS2).
But resistance goes on: on 5 September Dave Buchan was released after 100 days in prison for failing to comply with a civil injunction. Buchan was involved in defending the Bluebell Forest (Staffordshire) affected by HS2, where they also dug tunnels to prevent the construction of the train. Also sentenced on 28 July were Wendover Active Resistance (WAR) activists from Buckinghamshire who spent 47 days in tunnels, the longest tunnel occupation in UK history. Sentences ranged from 100 days in jail to one year. These sentences were understood to be exemplary. One of the evicted activists was the notorious Swampy (Dan Hooper) after spending 28 days underground. He was also detained in 2020 in a tree house. In 2021, as part of the campaign against HS2, his (then) 16-year-old son, Rory, was also locked with him in a tunnel under the park adjoining Euston station for 22 days of protest.
I met Swampy in Bristol where he lived for a while shortly after he became famous in the British media in 1996 for using this method in attempts to stop the widening of the A30 in Fairmile, Devon. At the time he spent a week underground. There was still no social media, only print newspapers, TV channels and the internet was in its infancy, but Swampy became what we now call «viral».
From a camp they also tried to save a large oak tree in Somerset. On 2 August it fell for the widening of an access road to the A303.
The Netherlands is also getting in
Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist Amaia Yoller tells us that in the Netherlands too, in Utrecht, there is a movement to preserve a forest, Amelisweerd, similar to the one we lost in Marrutxipi: Amelisweerd Niet Geasfalteerd (No to asphalt in Amelisweerd). It is about 60 hectares of forest and about 800 trees that would be cut down to widen the A27 motorway. «Just yesterday I was at a demonstration/formation. There is a specific collective that is organising the campaign», Yoller tells us. «They have support here from XR, Greenpeace, anarchist groups…. They do frequent direct action training to tie themselves to the trees for as long as possible so that others can climb the trees if the time comes for them to be cut down”.
As she explains, «the first resistance was 40 years ago, they have a track record». Yes, in 1982, the group Vrienden van Amelisweerd (Friends of Amelisweerd) was formed, which then also occupied the forest.
For the Dutch activists too, this fact «shows that the government does not take the climate crisis seriously». Something else that we share with them.
Thinking back in time
The defence of forests obviously goes back a long way. In the 1970s, women from the Chipko Movement in India surrounded trees in their community to prevent them from being cut down. They were aware that they depended on them. As we said, in the 1980s, encampments and resistance began in the Southwest of the United States. In this movement, direct action methods such as occupying forests, sitting in trees, etc. were put into practice, putting the logging industry in check. Judi Bari, later targeted by the secret services, and Julia Butterfly Hill, who sat in a tree for 738 days, were prominent in the movement.
These were the beginnings of Earth First! and of the direct action in defence of forests that would later also inspire the great anti-roads movement in the UK in the 1990s that I met and captured in GaztEgin: M15, Newbury, Preston, Pollock, Twyford Down, Sollsbury Hill… the struggle was replicated for each of the scheduled roads.
This movement in turn has been inspiring to this day, because as we say, today more than ever we need to resist forest destruction. In the Basque Country, the struggle for forests is associated with large projects, although in 1979 there was already resistance to industrial logging in Aezkoa (Nafarroa). In the struggle against the Leizaran highway, which among other things involved the defence of the forest (not only), there was a permanent encampment, and the struggle against the Itoiz reservoir is remembered for large-scale occupations and even sabotage. The latter struggle was not only limited to the forests of the Urrobi river valley, but affected three nature reserves5.
It inspired forms of resistance against the High Speed Train (HST) to resist the felling of trees by hanging from them in 2009 or then the chaining up in Itsasondo in 2010, not in tunnels but in a mine but with very similar characteristics (to name but a few)6.
In Catalonia, the camp against the Very High Voltage (MAT) line in the forest of Les Guilleries (Girona) between 2009 and 2010 is undoubtedly one of the most prominent. And in Europe, in France 11 ZADs (Zona A Defender) were replicated, the most famous being the one in Nantes against the airport project from 2009 onwards, or the camp against the TGV in the Susa Valley in Italy (this February a hut was also set on fire).
In other parts of the world we know that repression is more brutal, but there are also encampments and occupations. The Karura Forest in Nairobi (Kenya) is being progressively reduced by urban sprawl. In 1998, construction sites in the forest were invaded by protesters who destroyed bulldozers and other machinery used in logging worth more than $2 million.
Mapuche activists carry out experiences of community self-management such as those of Lof Kemkemtrew and Lof Las Huaytekas, which also aim to preserve the native forest from forestry plantations, and there is also direct action against logging companies, especially in Chile7. Other encampments take place against mining, such as the one in Choya in Argentina against the MARA project, or the one in La Puya in Guatemala against the Tambor project, and others.
On this page:
Matones atacan a activistas que ocupan el bosque primitivo en Masuria
Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine. https://ukranews.com/en/news/841471-russia-plans-massive-deforestation-of-ukrainian-forests
2 Communiqué in Hambi Bleibt «10 years occupation of the Hambach Forest».
3This territory was inhabited and cared for by the Monacan, Occaneechi, Saponi, Shawnee, Calicua, Moneton and Tutelo (Yesan) peoples.
4The Wendover Active Resistance Camp (WAR), the Jones Hill and Roald Dahl Woodlands Camp and the Bluebell Protective Camp.
5Two EU-recognised SPAs or Special Protection Areas for birds were modified to build it.
6Similar chaining in drums also took place against the TAV and Supersur in Barakaldo in 2019, against consumerism in Txingudi (Irun) in 2010 and against the climate crisis in Bilbo in 2020.
7And other camps against mining companies such as the one in Choya in Argentina, or La Puya in Guatemala, etc.