For the environmental group Cascadia Forest Alliance, the unlikely and the unfortunate happened within days of each other.
Last week, the group received word from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that the U.S. Forest Service had canceled the sale of 28 million board feet of timber on 1,000 acres in Mount Hood's Eagle Creek watershed. But three days later, the optimism came crashing down with the death of tree-sitter Beth O'Brien.
O'Brien, a 22-year-old CFA volunteer, had neglected to tie into a safety harness, and plunged 150 feet from an old-growth Douglas fir. She and two other activists were maintaining their vigil until the group received written confirmation, although they had already heard from Wyden's office of a "handshake" agreement to cancel the sale.
CFA members stayed up in the trees because four years of fighting over Eagle Creek had given them "reason not to trust the Forest Service," according to volunteer Sarah Wald.
Forest Service spokesman Glen Sachet notes that "nothing has changed with the underlying management direction. We could still conceivably create a new timber sale on that area."
There would be one important difference, however: The original sale was auctioned under the "salvage rider," which short-circuited public comment. Under the Clinton-era Northwest Forest Plan, however, opponents will get a chance to raise objections to any future sales in Eagle Creek.
In addition, CFA can enjoy the comfort of having Wyden, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, on its side. Activists may need him: President Bush is now evaluating the Northwest Forest Plan to find out why chain saws have not been cutting the maximum board feet allowable.
Earlier this week, with official word that the contracts have been canceled, coupled with pressure from Wyden following O'Brien's death, activists are now starting the arduous task of removing their tree-sit platforms, as they regroup and mourn the only protester ever to die in a federal forest.