North Coast lumber company sues tree-sitters

The Olympian


EUREKA, Calif. -- A northern California timber company under constant pressure for logging coastal redwoods has sued more than 110 tree-sitters and other protesters for civil damages during the last two years.
"Obviously, our end goal is to take all legal actions available to us to discourage people who are breaking the law on our property," company spokesman Jim Branham told the Los Angeles Times.

The litigation is part of Scotia-based Pacific Lumber Co.'s aggressive response to the environmentalists who have used civil disobedience to disrupt its operations.

This year, the company also has forcibly removed tree-sitters and launched an advertising campaign attempting to link the usually pacifist protesters to an activist imprisoned for firebombing a Michigan university animal research lab in 1992.

About 40 of those sued this spring for trespassing and interfering with Pacific Lumber's business operations were protesting logging they said causes erosion that harms the Freshwater Creek watershed and damages downstream residents.

Some of the lawsuits seek hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

"They're trying to intimidate people to stop any type of public participation," said 28-year-old Jeny Card, who's being sued for $250,000 after spending nearly a year living in an ancient redwood before being arrested in March.

Jeanette Jungers, 50, a special education teacher from Eureka, was sued by Pacific Lumber for $335,000.

"From my perspective, it means a great deal," she said. "I have a home. I have children. I don't want them to attack my wages. I don't want to lose my home."

Jungers brought meals to tree-sitters trespassing on Pacific Lumber property, and once was arrested when she chained herself to a tree as the company was attempting to remove the tree-sitters.

In the late 1980s, Pacific Lumber similarly sued at least 17 people involved in protests over the Headwaters Forest, but the cases were settled before trial.

Similar logging company lawsuits have been common since the mid-1960s, said University of Colorado law professor George. Pring, who with Penelope Canan wrote the 1996 book "SLAPPs: Getting Sued for Speaking Out."

"They are not filed to win a judgment. This lumber company does not need a dime from these people in order to balance its budget sheet," he said. The lawsuits are "huge winners outside of the courtroom in terms of silencing people, muzzling protests -- which is why the lumber companies use them."

Pacific Lumber is most likely to aggressively pursue civil action against protesters it believes were not properly punished criminally, said spokesman Branham and company attorney Russ Gans.

Card, for instance, was fined $10, which Branham called "very discouraging." But others have been jailed for 10 days and one activist was fined $500.

"If all those avenues were being pursued on the public, criminal end," Gans said, "these civil cases probably wouldn't be necessary."

The company has sued over three protests the last two years besides the recent Freshwater suit. One case was dismissed, another is in settlement negotiations and the third is set for trial next month.


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