In the 1980s and ’90s, loggers and environmental activists faced off over the future of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. In this episode, Reveal partners with the podcast series Timber Wars from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Reporter Aaron Scott explores that definitive moment in the history of the land – and the consequences that reverberate today.
We begin with an event that became known as the Easter Massacre, in which a stand of old-growth trees in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest was cut down despite protests that attracted national media attention.
The Easter Massacre helped galvanize the environmental movement. Protests intensified in the forests, but environmentalists kept losing in the courtroom because there aren’t many laws to protect ecosystems. There are, however, laws to protect animals.
We explore how a small team bet it all on the northern spotted owl in a high-stakes strategy that involved the science of fruit flies and secret meetings at lobster shacks. While environmentalists ultimately succeeded in locking down millions of acres of forests, that success turned what had been bipartisan environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act, into cultural wedges.
We end with how this conflict affected one timber town and how this fight that started decades ago continues to rage on. With the rise of climate change and the threat of intensifying wildfires, battles over the role of forests take on even greater significance.
Listen: Timber Wars podcast
Read: More of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s reporting on the Timber Wars, including an investigation into how the timber industry operates today.