As the fight to protect old-growth timber reaches what some call a watershed moment in the nation's capital, the Portland group that bills itself as the last line of defense against the logging industry may be shutting down its operations for good.
Cascadia Forest Alliance, the high-profile enviro group whose lofty brand of civil disobedience made the term "tree-sitter" a part of the Portland lexicon, is shutting down its $400-a-month office at Southeast 16th Avenue and Clinton Street to conserve scarce funds.
Noah Kort of CFA would not say directly whether the informal collective is itself endangered, instead asking, "Is CFA struggling, or is [the rented space] just not worth it?"
Ivan Maluski, one of Cascadia's original members, agreed that rent was an issue but not the only one. "I think CFA is probably going to sleep for the winter," he says. "Things are up in the air."
CFA's retreat comes at a bad time for environmentalists. Activists say President Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" would allow clearcutting of rare old-growth trees, further threatening endangered species. The bill, some form of which is about to become law, would also limit citizens' ability to challenge questionable timber plans by using lawsuits.
CFA is one of the few pro-forest groups that does not rely on lawsuits to block timber sales. Instead, it organizes human roadblocks on forest roads and sends its members to live hundreds of feet up in the forest canopy for interminable sit-ins, employing sophisticated platforms and safety measures.
With members using names like Moss, Lichen, Granite and--most notably--Tre Arrow, CFA has captured the imagination of Portlanders and been a thorn in the timber industry's side since 1995.
The CFA actions have successfully defeated or delayed several high-profile of Northwest timber sales. The group's most famous protest was a four-year tree sit to block a flawed timber plan for a sensitive area of Mount Hood National Forest called Eagle Creek (see "Out on a Limb," WW, Sept. 1, 1999). U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden eventually stepped in, and the controversial cut was killed in 2002.
Wyden chief of staff Josh Kardon says Cascadia has "served a potent function for the environmental movement by framing the left side of every forestry debate."
But CFA's efforts have also spawned controversy. A 2001 arson of logging trucks during Eagle Creek protests in Estacada was linked to CFA activist Tre Arrow, earning Cascadia constant scrutiny from the FBI and undermining the group's nonviolent image.
Some say the Tre Arrow fiasco has created too much media baggage for the group. Others note that many of its most active members have left town or, like Maluski, jumped to more mainstream organizations. One CFA acquaintance claims the office has become little more than a crash pad for people passing through.
Maluski, who now works for the Sierra Club, does not go that far but says, "After years of serious effort, it's hard to maintain the momentum, especially with a changing group of people and few folks with institutional knowledge."
Currently, some CFA activists are seeking donations for a new radical collective--Cascadia Rising Infoshop--to take over payments on the office.
CFA's struggles come despite predictions that a Bush presidency would re-energize a faltering environmental movement, and Maluski says there are still major battles left to be fought. He is currently spreading the word about the proposed Biscuit timber sale in southwest Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest.
"It's a little premature to write CFA's obituary," says Maluski. "I feel confident that in scaling back over the winter, new groups will emerge and take on some of the work CFA has become known for. But to be clear, no decision has been made on 'what's next' for CFA."
But former CFA activist Donald Fontenot, who also left for the Sierra Club, argues that whatever happens with the group, tree-sitting will continue "as long as the Forest Service is cutting old-growth."
In what may be one of the CFA's last actions, a meeting to discuss the Biscuit timber sale will be held Thursday, Nov. 20, at It's a Beautiful Pizza, 3342 SE Belmont St. Call 233-5444 for time.