Craig Beneville’s passion for life took him high into the canopies of nature’s grandest and most spectacular forests: doing surveys for an obscure critter called a “red tree vole.” While doing contract work this week for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in an ancient forest tract in Oregon, he fell to his death. Oregon tree voles are one of the most specialized tree-dwelling organisms on earth: they indicate the health of these exquisite forest ecosystems that once dominated the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Beneville knew this, he knew that these animals are a “keystone” in a complex forest machinery, as forests are slashed into patchwork islands, malfunctions occur in these forests: and voles disappear. Harshly clear cut forests, fragmented and replaced with monocultures of trees, enhance disease and fire and serve as a pathetic substitute for naturally occurring old growth forests.
Craig Beneville’s work took him to the East Fork Coquille Timber sale, a forest of ancient 400 –500 year old trees, where large acreage may fall to the chainsaw of clear cut logging. These forests hold endangered animals, purify rainwater, and store medicinal secrets and now: carry the aura of one, very caring and gentle man. It doesn’t matter if you live in the Pacific Northwest or in New York City, unscrupulous and vicious despoliation of forests is a crime against humanity. How we react to the protection of or butchering of this green emerald forest will shed light on the citizens’ concern for our children’s ecosystems and the government’ s adherence to the wishes of those absentee landlords that ultimately give the BLM their marching orders.
How in the year 2003, with all our growing knowledge of the utter need for living native forests to be left alone, it is staggering that the government would continue to pillage forests on public lands. Yet, the guardians of the forests, large environmental organizations, have weakened forest protection with their indiscriminate use of a “Sophie’ Choice philosophy.” They have given up the strident and needed fight to educate the public and protect biological treasures in the name of political expediency and reasoned strategies.
Pragmatism and political compromise cannot undue hundreds of acres of clear cuts, nor can it battle against the unflinching character of multinational timber corporations desire to win at any cost. The science that Beneville used to study the forests is unambiguous and crystal clear: stop the harvest of native forests now. This data is not based on extremism or wishful ecological spiritualism: it is commonsense survival skills 101. With this knowledge in hand, maybe it is time for all of us, from all walks of life to exercise our democratic duty as citizens: write letters, voice our wishes and stand defiantly and proudly in the shadow of those who taught us civil disobedience: Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Christ.
The life of Craig Beneville not his death will reverberate through the forests of the Pacific Northwest and sound out a clarion call nationwide. The daily talk of terrorism that fills our television screens should expose the domestic terrorism of carving our country’s essential forest ecosystems into tatters. The life of this good American and true patriot should teach us all about the responsibility that all of us have to the future. There are no pragmatic win-win situations on public lands that concede big trees to the despicable timber profiteers that manipulate science and dangle so many politicians as obsequious puppets. A line in the public forests must be drawn that clearly and unambiguously says “not one more tree.”
The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (www.Kswild.org) has important data on how to contact the BLM. We need a groundswell of voices about the timber sale Craig worked on as well as others across the nation. I did not know Mr. Beneville but I will “hear” his presence every time I enter the glorious forests of this nation. I invite you to do the same.
John F. Borowski is a marine and environmental science teacher and education advisor to the Native Forest Council. His pieces have appeared in the NY Times, Utne Reader, Z Magazine, CommonDreams.org, Liberal Slant, PR Watch and numerous other sites. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org