March, 2001





We are We are Family

Montana Log Haul Offers Chance to Show Solidarity 

By Barbara Coyner

Scorched hills near Eureka.

Mark May 16, 2001, on your calendar, locate Eureka, Montana on the Rand McNally and tune up the old pickup truck. Those are the orders from Ed Eggleston, a nature photographer from Libby, Montana, who thinks it's high time rural natural resource workers gather to show solidarity for an industry that's in dire straits. He also suspects that with the current energy crisis and last summer's devastating fires, the timber industry can help America, big time. "During the last two or three years, it's been hard to watch mills close and see people that I knew impacted so much," said Eggleston. "We lost one mill around here last year and that was a community minded small mill. 

Then we lost the mill at Seeley Lake last fall. When I read about Owens and Hurst closing the mill at Eureka, it really bothered me and I decided to do something. I had some timber on my dad's land, land he'd been managing all along, and it had the Douglas fir bark beetle, so I decided to cut the trees into eight foot lengths and get them to the mill. The idea just took off from there and kind of snowballed." The plan is to load pickups with eight-foot-long logs and head to the Owens and Hurst mill at Eureka on May 16. 

So far, the idea has taken off like last summer's wildfires in Montana's vast dead and dying lodgepole forests. Eggleston already has over 500 pickup trucks signed up for the convoy, with more calls rolling in everyday. Working with childhood friend and neighbor Bruce Vincent, and Communities for a Greater Northwest, Eggleston figures the log haul can keep Owens and Hurst running past its expected cutoff date of May 16 by stacking up an inventory of donated logs.

Aftermath of Last Summers Fires

Coincidentally the Society of American Foresters and the Montana Loggers Association plan a joint conference on May 17 in Libby, so Eggleston expects that might bump up attendance also. "There are mills going down all over the West and that's now starting to impact the pulp and paper mills because there are no chips. 

The impacts go all the way down the line because we are all connected and it’s only a matter of time till this gets to everyone on the planet. With the log haul, people can make a huge difference by participating. The way we set it up, anyone can get involved. People are frustrated and this is a way to do something. We need to show how loud we can scream.” Eggleston, a Native American, speaks a lot about “connectivity” and sees Northwest timber workers as problem solvers. As a nature photographer, he’s seen first hand the horrible impacts from last summer’s fires and he knows something has to be done to rehabilitate the scorched surroundings. “The fires burned lodgepole forests that were four feet deep and the ground is now absolutely ceramic. How long will it take to heal? I love the forests too much to see this happen and I feel a deep sadness. Humans are just as connected to the community as they are to the forest. We can’t just stand by. Who’s going to remove that dying timber if not Owens and Hurst?” 

The mills and loggers should be allowed to clean up the mess after last summer’s blazes, but that’s only half the equation. Eggleston thinks the accumulated bio-mass cluttering the forest floor can also power a co-generation plant, thus easing the effects of the Northwest energy crisis. “Again, this is about connectivity. In order to bring the forest back, we need to go out and get that dead and dying wood. It’s no good for anything except fuel so it’s a win-win situation. It generates power for people and cleans up the woods for safety. If the lofty ideas are to take place, somebody has to pay for them and do them. 

Ed Eggleston

We have the best loggers in the world and the best methods. Why not give them a chance? The way it is now, it’s like the local high school football team going up against an NFL team. They need a level playing field.” Eggleston envisions the log haul not only accomplishing the goal of delivering an extension to the Owens and Hurst mill, but delivering some fun to the participants as well. That means food — and music. The people of Eureka will feed the masses. And the music, well, it promises variety. 

Velveeta and the Spam Tones will rock everyone with 50’s tunes, Iris Butler will bring in her Portland sound, and Angel Heart will also do honors. In return, Eggleston hopes that the pickup trucks and even some vans and autos will deliver donated food and clothing to restock the Eureka food and clothing banks. The closing of a mill means community storehouses dwindle, so Eggleston wants the extended rural family to pick up the slack. 

He expects the novel log haul to bring hundreds ready to recommit to some political goals, as well. “For the short term, we want to provide Owens and Hurst with wood, but we also think of this as a media dog and pony show that can give us some overdue positive press,” says Eggleston. “We want people to ask the Forest Service, if there is burnt timber on the ground, why is Owens and Hurst going out of business? We want to push the exclusion that this timber is out of grizzly territory. We’re not talking an environmental issue, we’re talking a red tape issue. We need a categorical exclusion.” Over the long term, we want a fair and honest free trade agreement. 

During the last eight years, there’s been insanity in forest management, and in the Forest Service, there are many that are demoralized. We need to get some sanity back in forest management. We’re not just talking about saving Owens and Hurst. We’re talking about the whole forest management issue.” Beyond the economic concerns, both Eggleston and Vincent see the log haul as an escape valve for all rural resource workers — miners, ranchers, farmers and timber workers — straining under the heavy hand of regulations, unfair trade and radical activist attacks. Eggleston, because of his Native American roots, knows that when the experts claim the West “is in transition,” it’s really another way of saying “we intend to decommission your culture.” 

He feels people need to find a focal point such as the log haul to talk, stand together and defend the rural heritage. Ironically, the country is really in denial, he notes, because people are still using the products that come from rural labors. “We have received so many blessings and now it’s time to give back. The culture here has as much right to exist as any other,” says Eggleston. “It is wrong that our country spends millions to save some culture in South America and then spends millions to destroy cultures here. It’s a larger culture than just here in Montana. The homogenization of America is wrong.” 

To maximize the log haul’s ability to get the media’s and the country’s attention, Eggleston needs area coordinators, PR and contact people, volunteer haulers, fallers, skidders and loaders, convoy organizers and other helpers. If you can pitch in, phone him at (406) 293-8539, or contact Bruce Vincent at (406) 293-8844. 

Barbara Coyner has covered forestry issues and the timber industry for various magazines and newspapers for over 15 years. Aftermath of last summers fires.


This page was last updated on Monday, November 10, 2003