In the growing twilight, two dozen plump deer are grazing at the far edge of a meadow. Suddenly they look up, alert. Two humans are sneaking along the edge of the forest pretending to stalk the deer, playing a game of predator and prey.
Welcome to Wild Earth. What started as a one-week campout on Vancouver Island in 1999 has grown to include more than 800 people and 75 workshops on tree-sitting techniques, blockade tactics, indigenous rights and campaigns, herbal first aid, green anarchy, and more. Operating on a shoestring budget -- in some years, no budget at all -- a few volunteers put on an event that participants call “amazing.”
The Wild Earth Rendezvous, set for the first week of June, is similar to activist training camps hosted by the Ruckus Society and Rainforest Action Network, but with a do-it-yourself flavor. The gathering is close to endangered old-growth forests but far from the nearest paved road, in a low-impact wilderness camp. (Folks bring their own tents.) Volunteers prepare vegetarian meals for everyone to share. All kinds of people swap stories at night around the campfire: native and non-native environmentalists, anarchists, liberals, grizzled old campaigners and eager young newcomers. Everyone gets the chance to plot the next forest defense action, which is typically just a short drive up the road.
Wild Earth 2006 was held at Newcastle Island Provincial Park, which is managed by the Snuneymuxw First Nation. It’s not a wilderness site, although most of the island is old-growth forest. Wild Earthlings met with the staff ahead of time and reserved a large group campsite and the barn-like pavilion for the rendezvous and the BC Environmental Network’s annual members meeting. The Snuneymuxw folks were happy to meet with us and pleased we’d chosen the park for the action training.
The government, however, was not pleased at all. The local Ministry of the Environment office got a tip from an anti-environmental informer about the upcoming rendezvous. The bureaucrat in charge laid into us with a series of harsh emails and stern phone calls. He threatened to evict the group from the park if we climbed a single tree or picked one edible plant. A huge diplomatic effort was required to convince him the gathering was non-commercial and wouldn’t harm the environment. (It was hard keeping a straight face during some of these discussions, since the same Ministry presides over clearcuts, mining, and all kinds of commercial mayhem.)
The climbing trainers from Oregon faced a tougher adversary: Canadian border guards. It seems the customs service has a problem with activists coming to visit, and the Oregonians’ attempts to negotiate their way in failed. The crew was forced to turn back. Fortunately, Canadian climbers came to the rescue and filled in for the missing Americans. The tree climbing training went ahead as scheduled.
This summer’s gathering is June 1st through 7th, somewhere in BC. Twenty grassroots environmentalists have already signed on, and leading the pack is Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle. Mike agreed to give a special presentation about direct action -- but he also faces the hurdle of the Canadian border. Mike’s been arrested more times than he can count, and the immigration lawyer he hired says getting into Canada may be impossible. The Wild Earthlings haven’t given up on him though, and the legal maneuverings continue.
Chief Qwatsinas (Ed Moody), a hereditary leader of the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola, will deliver a special report on the Great Bear Rainforest and indigenous rights. Qwatsinas and the House of Smayusta, Nuxalk traditionalists, have led blockades and actions to press for rainforest protection since 1997, but they do not support last year’s Great Bear Rainforest agreement. “It’s talk and log,” says Qwatsinas.
Those of us living in BC are blessed with magnificence: old-growth cedars dipping curved limbs into the ocean, mammoth Douglas firs big as cathedrals, grey whales basking in the warm shallows. We also get to watch it all go down. Clearcuts, mudslides, floods, drought, wildfires, rising seas -- it’s all here. The government and major enviro groups say “the war in the woods” is over, thanks to compromise deals in the Great Bear Rainforest and Clayoquot Sound. But their press releases don’t mention that chainsaws are rapidly leveling the forests that were left out of the protection zones. Indigenous land rights are disregarded as the province plays legal games with land transfers, development, and mining at the expense of wildlife and fish habitat.
The Wild Earthlings know that grassroots direct action levels the playing field. People working together can stop business as usual on stolen land. Forest defense consists of dozens of different tactics and strategies in tandem, and we’re here to make sure folks can use every tool in the box.
For one week a year, Wild Earth creates an activist community based on unity and solidarity where eco-defenders can make connections and alliances for the future.
Zoe Blunt is an Earth First! contact in western Canada. She also writes for Guerrilla News Network and Lowbagger.
Workshops for Wild Earth
Plus a special event:
Volunteer presenters needed
Volunteers also needed
A sliding-scale donation is encouraged for the week-long camp. Travel scholarships may be available for presenters. Suggestions, ideas and questions are welcome -- email firstname.lastname@example.org. More info, history and photos are on the Wild Earth blog.