Tree Spiker

by Mike Roselle with Josh Mahan
288 pages, St. Martin’s Press, 2009

In Review

In the 1970s, as the West continued to be logged, mined, and drilled, a new breed of environmental activists emerged. These conservationists voiced opposition to ecological devastation when the mainstream movement remained silent. They extended the promise of natural rights to the natural world, seeing intrinsic value in wild places and animals. The word “compromise” never entered their vernacular.

Tree Spiker: From Earth First! to Lowbagging: My Struggles in Radical Environmental Action tells the story of one of these activists, Mike Roselle, an unapologetic – and controversial – troublemaker who’s spent more than 30 years putting himself on the front lines of the American conservation movement.

Once a crewman on an oil rig in Wyoming, Roselle soon became a Buckaroo – conservationists in cowboy hats who organized over beers at the local bar. Roselle co-founded Earth First!, Rainforest Action Network, and The Ruckus Society. He eventually would become famous (or infamous), in part because he briefly advocated “spiking” ancient trees slated for destruction – that is, driving metal into the trunks so that a logging saw would break and cause whiplash.

Through the decades, Roselle and Earth Firsters worked to protect the temperate rainforests of Idaho, stop the importation of rainforest beef, and halt nuclear weapons testing. But forest conservation comprised the heart of the movement, as activists fought repeated efforts by the US Forest Service to open up unprotected wilderness on public lands to increased logging.

Inspired by the Civil Rights movement, these activists opted for nonviolent civil disobedience as a tactic for change. They picketed at retail outlets, invaded corporate boardrooms, set up blockades and lockdowns, and ran full-page ads in major newspapers to drum up support, knowing that the court of public opinion was ultimately the most important battle to win.

In his inspiring and engrossing book, Roselle condemns mainstream environmental groups that are paralyzed by fear of the “extremist” label, and thereby hesitant to engage in direct action and confrontation, especially since 9/11. Roselle explores how notions that might be condemned as radical at one time – no intrusion into roadless areas of national lands, an end to logging in old growth forests – later become conventional environmental wisdom.

– Sena Christian

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