Tree Spiking (Ecodefense)

The following is part of a series of posts converting to html the monkeywrenching tactics in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching(3rd edition). See also the PDF of the book.


Clearcuts springing up in every nook and cranny of the National Forests; high-voltage power lines marching arrogantly across desert valleys and Midwest farms; seismograph crews scarring roadless areas with their bulldozers, thumper trucks, and explosives; survey stakes and their Day-Glo orange flagging warning of who-knows-what awful scheme; and the ubiquitous signs of overgrazing on public lands are the hallmarks of the industrial siege on the wild and open space areas of America. As Ed Abbey said, it looks like an invasion, an invasion from Mars.

As good patriots, lovers of our native land, it is our duty to resist invasion and to defend our planet. The following chapter describes some of the tools for that defense. A hammer and nails to save the forests, a pair of gloves to pull up survey stakes, a socket wrench for power towers … and so on.

The assault on wild nature is on marginal financial ground. By making it cost even more, a few monkeywrenchers can stop the destruction in many places and slow it in others. As evidence of how effective even a few actions can be, look at the hue and cry being raised by the timber industry, their flunkies in the Forest Service, and their hired politicians over a small number of tree-spiking operations. If they multiply their efforts, wilderness defenders can save significant blocks of wild country.

Tree Spiking

Tree spiking can be an extremely effective method of deterring timber sales, and seems to be growing more and more popular. Mill operators are quite wary of accepting timber that may be contaminated with hidden metal objects, — saws are expensive, and a “spiked” log can literally bring operations to a screeching halt, at least until a new blade can be put into service. The Forest Service and timber industry are very nervous about spiking — when they or the media raise the subject of monkeywrenching, this is the form most commonly discussed. Agency and industry officials are loath, however, to raise the subject. Indeed, the Forest Service (FS) often fails to publicize incidents of spiking, on the theory that the less the practice is publicized, the less likely it is to spread. When the Freddies (FS officials) do publicly acknowledge that a spiking has occurred, they often make a considerable effort to find the perpetrators, even to the point of offering substantial cash rewards. (No modern-day tree spiker has been caught, however.)

There are two basic philosophies of tree-spiking. Some people like to spike the base of each tree, so that the sawyer, in felling the tree, will almost certainly encounter one of the spikes with the chain saw. This would at the very least require the sawyer to stop and sharpen the saw, and might require the replacement of the chain. If this happens with enough trees, the amount of “down time” caused to the sawyers would pose a serious hindrance to operations. In this type of spiking, the spiker drives several nails (or non-metallic spikes, about which more later) at a downward angle into the first two or three feet above ground of each tree. The nails are spaced so that a sawyer, in felling the tree, is likely to hit at least one of them.

There is an objection to this type of spiking — the possibility, however remote, that the sawyer might be injured, either by the kickback of the saw striking the nail, or by the chain, should it break when striking the spike. A friend of ours who worked for many years as a logger in Colorado says that in numerous incidents of striking metal objects with his saw — including one time when the impact was great enough to cause him to swallow his chaw of tobacco — he never once had a broken chain or was otherwise hurt. Yet the possibility is there. Because of this possibility, we do not recommend this type of spiking.

The second philosophy of tree spiking is to place the spikes in the trees well above the area where the fellers will operate — as many feet up the trunk as one can conveniently work. The object of the spiking in this case is to destroy the blades in the sawmill. Since in large mills the blades are either operated from a control booth some distance from the actual cutting, or are protected by a Plexiglas shield, this method is unlikely to cause anyone physical injury even should a blade shatter upon striking a spike, which is unlikely. It is true that in small, “backyard” sawmills the operator might be standing close to the blade, but we assume that anyone contemplating spiking would never consider doing it on other than large timber sales where the trees are destined for a corporate, rather than a small, family-operated mill. Locally owned and operated sawmills are seldom a major threat to wilderness. The major threats come from the big, multinational corporations whose “cut-and-run” philosophy devastates the land and leaves the local economy in shambles when all the big trees are cut and the main office decides to pull out and move to greener pastures.

I anticipate an objection at this point. “Wait a minute,” someone says, “if the purpose of spiking trees is to save them from being cut, then what good does it do if the tree wrecks a blade in the mill? It’s too late to save the tree, isn’t it?” The answer is that the value of spiking is as a long-term deterrent. If enough trees in roadless areas are spiked, eventually the corporate thugs in the timber company boardrooms, along with their corrupt lackeys who wear the uniform of the Forest Service, will realize that timber sales in our few remaining wild areas will be prohibitively expensive. And since profits are the goal, they will begin to think twice before violating the wilderness.

In many cases, people have spiked timber in a threatened area, and then have sent (anonymous!) warning to the authorities. If this is done before the timber has actually been sold, the effect on competitive bidding can be considerable. (The Forest Service plans timber sales years in advance, but actual sale of the timber to a logging company is one of the last steps in the process.) In fact the sale may be quietly dropped. In cases where the timber has already been sold prior to spiking, the Freddies (upon receiving a warning) have sent crews into the woods to locate and remove the spikes — at substantial expense in overtime to the agency. If this happens often enough, it can not fail to reduce the total number of timber sales substantially, particularly in this era of federal budget deficits.

We will describe here several methods of spiking trees, go into the “when” and the “where” of spiking, and deal with the sensitive matter of when and how to announce a spiking. First, though, we stress some basic security considerations.

Spiking trees is potentially dangerous. The Forest Service has increased its law-enforcement budget considerably in the last few years, and one reason has been the increased incidence of monkeywrenching. Another reason for increased law enforcement has been the stepped-up campaign by the Feds to eliminate marijuana growing from the public lands, but it should be obvious that a cop in the woods looking for dope will arrest any monkeywrenchers he or she might encounter by chance as well.

The Freddies (and other Federal land-use agencies as well) are becoming increasingly sophisticated in law enforcement, and it is foolish to underestimate them. According to a 1986 column by Jack Anderson, these agencies employ such tactics as surveillance (of suspicious persons), and mail interception (presumably again involving those who have for some reason attracted their suspicions). They may have agents in the woods in plain clothes, posing as hikers, campers, or fishers; and it is even possible that agents might be in the woods at night on stakeouts, equipped with night-vision devices.

If a monkeywrencher is contemplating spiking trees in a remote roadless area long in advance of a timber sale, the chances of encountering cops are relatively slim. Conversely, if a highly controversial timber sale is involved, especially one in which monkeywrenching already has been committed or at least threatened, the danger to the monkeywrencher is very real. For this reason alone it is preferable to spike trees preventively, rather than as a last-ditch effort to save a seemingly doomed grove.

Most veteran tree spikers agree that tree spiking should never be done alone. In addition to the person or persons who are doing the actual spiking, at least one person should have the sole duty of acting as lookout. Some experienced tree spikers recommend three lookouts for both spiking and silent pinning. At the first sign of any other people in the vicinity, spiking should cease and the team should quietly withdraw. The team should use the drop-off and pick-up method of access, and should follow all recommended precautions as to clothing, footwear, and tools (see the Security chapter).

Some experienced tree spikers, however, argue that it is best to always monkeywrench alone, even with tree spiking, so that you never have to worry about the reliability of your partner. They argue that careful reconnaissance of the area to be spiked, a planned and scouted escape route, and frequent stopping to listen make solitary tree spiking safe.

Spiking is much easier done in daylight than in the dark. A team can work much faster in full light, and in darkness it is all too easy to be sloppy and fail to cover up the signs of your activities. If a team is spiking in a remote roadless area and takes full security precautions, they can operate securely in daytime. In daylight one is more likely to encounter other humans in the woods, but almost any activity in the woods at night, if detected, will be deemed suspicious and investigated.

Assuming that spikers are working in a remote roadless area, and are not working during the hunting season (a dangerous time to be out in the woods, since on much of the public lands the highest period of use occurs at this time), the greatest danger will be from casual encounters with Forest Service field personnel — timber markers, survey crews, and the like — who might be working in or near your area. Try to know where these crews are working at all times. If you have a source within the agency, fine, but you can more safely get this information from continued observation and from knowing your area well. Crews tend to work in the same area for weeks at a time, and often live in temporary field quarters (trailers or even tents) rather than commute every day from the District Ranger Station or Supervisor’s Office. Another type of people you might encounter in the woods, especially if you are working in the area of a timber sale which has already been announced for public bidding, are representatives of logging companies who might be checking out the timber before deciding their bids. Needless to say, you do not want to fall into the hands of these people.

When to Spike Trees

A general rule on when to spike might be, “the earlier the better.” If one waits until just before the timber is sold, security problems are greater, and it will be easier for the authorities to locate the spikes. If one spikes several years in advance of a sale, nature has time to disguise the work by growing completely over the spikes. Of course, if the Freddies have already marked the boundaries of the sale area (or even the individual trees to be cut), the spiker knows exactly where to work without any guessing. Nevertheless, with proper intelligence monkeywrenchers can have a good idea of where future timber sales will be long before the marking stage.

The Forest Service earmarks specific timber sales five years in advance. Moreover, in their 50-year Forest Plans, the Freddies conveniently identify all of the concentrations of “commercial” timber in each National Forest — and all too often, they openly acknowledge that they intend to cut almost all of it, sooner or later. (See “Target Selection” in the Basic Security section in the Security chapter for secure means of keeping posted on what an agency is up to.) Study the data and identify areas of critical interest to you that appear to be threatened. With plenty of advance warning, you can act deliberately and precisely.

Since activists may be unable to attend to all timber sales well in advance, much monkeywrenching will occur at the last possible minute; so it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of timber marking practices. Unfortunately, there is no uniform system, and practices may change from time to time. Timber markers generally use spray paint, although sometimes flagging (or flagging and paint) is used to mark the boundaries of the area (the “unit”) within which cutting will take place. One color will be used to mark the perimeter, while another color will be used to mark individual trees to be cut within the unit. In a clearcut, only the perimeter is marked, since everything within is to be removed. A given timber sale will usually have several units within it, and they may be widely scattered or close together. You may see numbers painted on some of the trees — these are the unit numbers. At the present time in the Northern Rockies — the region with the most roadless areas threatened by the FS — the Freddies are using red or orange paint to mark unit boundaries, and yellow or blue paint to mark the trees within the units which are to be cut. Trees to be cut are sometimes marked with an “X,” although sometimes only a horizontal slash of paint is used. But beware — in timber sales in which most but not all of the trees are to be cut, the trees which are to be left may be painted. Because of the many differences in marking practices, you should know the system being used in your area.

National Forests list timber sales years in advance. Some even indicate if they are in roadless areas and which roadless areas. The safest and most effective tree spiking is done in proposed timber sales years in advance. Spiking ideally should occur before any road building or even surveying is under way. Such advance spiking should be announced to prospective timber buyers and the Forest Service, but not the media. The presence of spiked trees in timber sale areas will reduce the commercial value of such sales and turn off potential bidders. The cost of identifying and removing spikes may make the sale so expensive that even the Forest Service — which habitually sells timber at a loss to US taxpayers — will drop it.

Spiking trees many years ahead of their scheduled sale has several advantages. Little money has been invested in surveying, road building, preparing environmental assessments, and the like; so the authorities have less incentive to go ahead with a timber sale. It’s more difficult for the Freddies to locate spiked trees years after spiking, and without easy road access they are less likely to search for spikes. Timber buyers have not committed resources to the area and it may be easier for them to simply not bid on a risky, possibly expensive proposition. Also the monkeywrencher’s chances of being encountered are slim. The advantage of advising only the agency and prospective timber buyers and not the general media, is that there will be no public loss of face if the sale is quietly dropped or left without a bid because of the spiking. In some cases, spiked timber has been sold and cut at a considerable financial loss to both the Forest Service and the logging company so that they do not to appear to be intimidated by a widely publicized tree spiking.

Basic Spiking Techniques

Basic spiking requires a large hammer and large nails. It is difficult to drive large nails into a tree with an ordinary carpenter’s hammer. The best type of hammer to use is one of the “single-jack” variety (a one-handed sledgehammer) with a head weighing 2-1/2 or 3 pounds. Nails should be large, but not extremely large; the larger the nails, the more time and energy are required to drive them. A 60 penny (60d) nail is a good size. This is about 6-1/4 inches long and is the largest “common” nail readily available in most building supply stores. Larger nails (called spikes) are sold by their size in inches. Spikes should not be needed in most cases, although they are useful for extremely large trees.

Another tool should probably be added to the basic spiking kit: a small pair of bolt cutters, powerful enough to cut the heads off the nails. The reason to add this tool is that in several cases, the Freddies have sent crews into the woods to locate (with metal detectors) and remove (with crowbars) as many spikes as possible. Cutting the heads off the nails (after driving them nearly all the way into the tree) should make the Freddies’ task all the more fun. Drive the nail almost all the way into the tree. Cut the head off with the bolt cutters. Then, drive the now headless nail the remainder of the way into the tree. Remember, the more time and money the Freddies expend removing spikes, the fewer trees will be cut and the more wilderness saved. We cannot overestimate the value of removing the heads from the nails. We have heard of at least one case in which the Forest Service has located trees with spikes so treated — and has been unable to remove the nails. Although the Freddies publicly announced that they had removed all the spikes, the sale was quietly scuttled.

Since the more trees spiked, the greater the deterrent factor, one nail per tree ought to suffice. To deter a major timber sale, the spiking of several hundred trees might be a worthy goal, but even a few dozen spiked trees will be of some deterrent value. It might be noted that on Meares Island in British Columbia, opponents of logging, working systematically and in teams, have spiked literally thousands of trees to great effect. But spiking does not have to be on this scale to be effective.

Trees should be spiked at various heights above the ground. While it is acceptable to drive some of the nails in at the height of a standing person — the most convenient place — an effort ought to be made to place them higher. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, nails placed above head height will be more difficult for investigators to spot, and second, if all the nails are driven in at the same height, the searchers’ task will be easier. There are a number of ways to place nails high. Climbing spikes (metal spurs which attach to boots, used in conjunction with a waist belt) work well. Climbing spikes are fairly expensive when purchased from forestry supply houses, but it may be possible to locate an old pair (they are used by smoke jumpers and others in forestry work) or to improvise a pair. Or, a spiker can fabricate a light, portable ladder which can be carried from tree to tree. Another method would be for the spiker to stand on a partner’s shoulders while driving the nails. Climbing tree stands, used by archery hunters, are easily carried, quiet, and allow you to climb a tree fairly quickly. The good ones will not harm the tree or leave marks. (Practice first! Inexperienced users have been injured when their tree stands collapsed under them.) In regions that get considerable snowfall, a good solution would be to spike in the winter, using skis or snowshoes when several feet of snow cover the ground.

Some effort should be made to cover the signs of the work in a spiking operation. Again, the ideal spiking would take place several years before a timber sale, giving nature a chance to hide the evidence by growing over the nails.

However, in many cases a spiker will not be able to do the job far enough in advance for bark to grow over the nails. In such cases, after driving the nail in flush, the head of the nail should be covered so as to camouflage all signs of the work. A piece of bark fixed with glue, liquid wood, or cement over the nail is best, but pitch might be used, or in a pinch, paint the color of the bark. A brown felt marker can also be used to disguise the shiny head of the nail after it is driven into the tree.

— Bill Haywood

Field Notes

  • For large old-growth trees, “bridge timber spikes” (about one foot long) can be particularly effective. These spikes cost about 70 cents each and require a stout arm to drive. A heavy hammer (small sledge) that can be gripped with both hands may be the best tool. Building supply stores sometimes have these large spikes in bins with the rest of the nails.
  • A hand-operated bit and brace can be used to drill holes into trees for insertion of “super spikes.” After drilling the hole, a section of sharpened rebar can be driven into the tree. Be sure to cover the hole with bark (liquid wood or some other adhesive can be used to secure the bark). This method of spiking is very labor-intensive, but it shouldn’t take many such spikes to deter cutting.
  • Field experience in using 60d spikes in pine, fir, and spruce shows that they can be de-headed prior to driving them. This eliminates the necessity of carrying bolt cutters in the field. Always bring a punch to drive the de-headed nails below the surface of the tree. This makes removal nearly impossible
  • To avoid leaving telltale nail heads around a spiking site, glue a plastic magnet on the top jaw of your bolt cutters. This way, the heads can be collected when cutting off the heads of nails in trees.
  • The distinctive marks left by your particular bolt cutters will be destroyed by pounding in the spikes. The marks on the jaws of the bolt cutters can be removed by simply filing the jaws. Such distinctive marks could constitute evidence if you were charged with the crime.
  • When using bolt cutters to de-head spikes, always wear goggles or other eye protection. The heads of the nails can really fly.
  • Most large (8” to 12”) spikes are either 5/16 or 3/8-inch in diameter. Choose bolt cutters with a slightly larger capacity than your spikes, i.e., one-half-inch or larger. (Spike metal falls into the “soft” or “medium” category on the “capacity chart,” which is a small metal tag affixed to each set of bolt cutters.) Cutters with greater capacity cut easier and faster and last longer.
  • The type of tree may dictate the size of your spikes and whether or not you de-head them before driving. Pines and cedars are relatively soft, allowing even de-headed 60d nails to be driven in without bending (a de-headed 60d nail would likely bend in harder wood). Douglas-fir is a bit harder; spikes smaller than 5/16-inch diameter should not be de-headed prior to driving. Old-growth hemlock is extremely hard. Experiment with the various tree species in your area.
  • Some field reports indicate that with large spikes (60d or larger) it is possible to employ the following method: (1) Drive the spike half-way into the tree. (2) Cut off the portion of the spike protruding from the tree, using bolt cutters or a hacksaw. (3) Using the loose portion of the nail as if it were a center punch, drive the imbedded part of the nail as far into the tree as it will go. (4) Remove your “center punch,” caulk the hole, and disguise it.
  • Avoid imported (Korean, Taiwanese, etc.) spikes; buy US or Canadian brands. Cheap imports may be softer and bend easier when driving.
  • In spiking a large timber sale, concentrate on the part of the sale closest to the main road as this will tend to dissuade the contractor from cutting the rest of the sale. (The Forest Service has allowed some logging firms to cancel the timber sale contract after encountering spiked trees.)
  • For extra effect, combine large and small nails. Use only one large spike per tree, but pound in several smaller nails as well. This is a good job for a partner who cannot drive in large spikes, and it further protects the tree. The metal detector can’t tell the difference between large and small spikes.
  • A military surplus green canvas ammo bag is perfect for transporting spikes in the woods.
  • You can use a fanny pack to carry your spikes. The weight is easier to carry on the hips than on the back. During the actual spiking, put the fanny pack in front to use like a carpenter’s apron.
  • For a major spiking operation, you may wish to stash a box of spikes in the woods in the summer (when access is easier), and then ski in during the winter and do the spiking. Be sure to hide the spikes where you can find them even if they are buried under several feet of snow.
  • Do not lubricate spikes for easy driving. Most lubricants are petroleum derivatives, all of which are poisonous to trees. Vegetable oils are nearly as toxic. They have the added disadvantage of attracting decomposers (bugs and fungi) as they go rancid. The bottom line is that nothing belongs in a tree except wood.
  • Some concerned folks have recommended that spikes be sterilized in rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. But medical advisers argue that rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide would be more harmful to the tree than anything on relatively clean spikes.
  • In addition to the security reasons for wearing gloves, they will protect your hands. A hard day of pounding spikes can blister the hands of the toughest. Besides being painful, blisters might be considered evidence against someone suspected of spiking.
  • Some experienced tree spikers suggest that notification of spiking is best done by issuing a blanket warning after marking a few trees for demonstration purposes (with a spray painted white “S”), and spiking every tree in the potential logging area.
  • Tree spiking is noisy. Some spikers suggest drilling a hole to accommodate the spike — thus reducing the amount of noisy hammering. The problem with this is that it severely limits the number of trees that can be spiked in a given amount of time.

Here in the Northwest, security is a major concern. What I’ve found to work well is spiking in the rain. (You get soaked, but you don’t leave tracks!) Rain drastically reduces the noise produced by hammering. Rain also seems to keep the Freddies indoors.

I also write my communiqués in the winter, after the snows have come. It annoys the hell out of the loggers when they know they can’t look for your work until late spring.

One last suggestion: Since metal detectors are the rage of late, I also pound in scores of small standard-type nails. They may not stop a saw blade but they will frustrate the piss out of the guy or gal with the detector. It also helps to camouflage where I put the real spikes.

— Banana Slug

An amusing sidelight on tree spiking is that the Inyo National Forest has spiked snags with 14 to 16 penny nails to “armor” them against wood cutters. The Forest Service is protecting the snags for wildlife habitat.

Advanced Tree Spiking Techniques

Helix (spiral) nails are the ultimate in metal spikes — these are the type of nails that were used in large quantities on Meares Island. The spiral makes the nail extremely difficult to remove, and removal is virtually impossible when the head of the nail is clipped off. These nails come in three sizes suitable for tree spiking: 8”, 10”, and 12” long. While the 8” size is adequate for most jobs, the 10” and 12” sizes can be driven even when the head has been removed in advance — a great advantage. Driving these spikes is not easy. You will need to be in shape. You may want to use a heavier hammer. A flat-faced, 3 pound sledge with a long handle (18”) is ideal for driving large helix spikes.

You may have to look around to find helix spikes; not all building supply stores carry them. They are expensive, but much less so if bought by the box. Call around (use a pay phone) to check on availability and price (prices may vary widely). If you need an excuse for buying them, say you are building a bridge to a piece of remote property owned by your uncle. Use the same pre-cautions to protect your identity in buying helix nails that you would use with any unusual item — never buy such nails in your own community (unless it is a large city), never go back to the same store twice, and never leave such things lying around your house or car.

Good quality, US-made 20”-24” bolt cutters (cost about $80) are adequate for 60d spikes or helix spikes 8” and smaller. You can easily carry this size bolt cutters in the woods to de-head your spikes after you drive them most of the way into the tree. You can then drive them in the rest of the way without their heads.

For 10” and larger helix spikes, 30”-36” bolt cutters are necessary. De-head these spikes at home (large bolt-cutters are cumbersome and heavy to carry in the woods). These larger spikes can be easily driven in without their heads. You may prefer to rent one of these larger bolt cutters for a day or two and de-head an entire box of spikes at home. If you do rent one (to save the cost of purchase), do not leave your ID as security. Instead, leave a cash deposit ($150 generally required) which will be refunded when you return the bolt cutters.

— Jeanne Carr

Field Notes

  • Various exotic methods have been suggested for putting spikes into trees, ranging from crossbows to muzzle-loaders to shotguns to spear guns. None of these seem to be worth the trouble, according to serious tree spikers who have tried them. Stick to the basics. Similarly, suggestions have been made that shooting bullets into trees would have the same effect as spiking. We discourage this for several reasons: the hydrostatic shock to the surrounding tissue in the tree from a bullet; the possibility of poisoning the tree if copper-jacketed ammo is used; the unlikelihood of bullets in trees being effective saw-dulling agents; the increased legal risk that comes from using firearms; and the security problem of noise from firearms. Previous suggestions for using nail guns (“power-actuated fastening systems”) are also now rejected due to noise, ineffectiveness, and greater complexity.
  • Resistance to logging should not be restricted to tree spiking. Many of the other techniques described in Ecodefense can be effective against logging. One other tactic is to cut the cable used in skidding logs through steep terrain. At night the cables are slack. Tape the cable before hacksawing and use cable clamps to secure the cut end to a nearby tree.
  • Keep in mind that metal detectors are not very reliable. After the extensive and intensive spiking of old-growth cedar on Meares Island in British Columbia, MacMillan Bloedel timber company had poor success in locating tree spikes.
  • Most experienced tree spikers argue for keeping tree spiking simple: good old-fashioned plain steel 6 inch spiral spikes driven in with a regular hammer and countersunk one inch below the bark with an industrial punch. More elabo-rate techniques involve heavier equipment, greater expense, more time. Simple spiking is easier and faster.
  • “Traditional” spiking, as described above, is relatively simple and quite effective. However, the serious eco-raider might do well to consider some of the alternative methods described by T. O. Hellenbach later in this chapter. These methods require more specialized equipment, and are therefore more costly to the spiker, but they offer distinct advantages, both in security and effectiveness.

Spiking Security

  • Watch for maintenance crews working at night.
  • Resist the temptation to use your spiking nails around the house. Examination of spikes can determine their manufacturer, and it’s best not to have similar nails where you live.
  • In places where spiking is rampant, the authorities may go so far as to “dust” trees with dyes in powder form. These powders are almost invisible to the naked eye, but will show up under an ultraviolet or “black” light. To avoid exposing oneself in such a situation, minimize contact with the tree (you need not hug it!), put your gloves in a plastic bag when you are done (if you’re not disposing of them immediately), and launder your clothes after you get home. You might also purchase an ultraviolet light (available from scientific supply houses, novelty and “head” shops). In this age of budgetary restraints, however, the Freddies are not likely to go to this extreme except in special cases.
  • Be cautious when buying large quantities of nails. Although nails are common items and their possession (in the absence of other evidence) would constitute only the barest of circumstantial evidence, it would be wise never to buy them where you are known or might be remembered.
  • Be careful about leaving fingerprints on spikes. After purchasing them, carefully wipe them clean and place them in a cloth bag or wrap them up to be carried in your pack for field use. Wear gloves while spiking trees (see below) and do not touch the spikes unless your hands are gloved.

Federal Anti-Spiking Legislation

The so-called “Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988” (Public Law 100–690, 100th Congress) became law in November 1988, amid great media hoopla. This document is well worth perusing despite its 350 pages. In addition to containing a number of provisions which seem to sacrifice some of the most basic civil liberties for the “war on drugs,” PL 100–690 also contains clauses, added as “riders” to the original legislation, that haven’t the remotest connection with fighting drugs.

One of these added provisions is of interest to monkeywrenchers, for it specifically targets tree spikers who operate on the public lands. This subsection is entitled “Hazardous or Injurious Devices on Federal Lands,” and amends existing law (Chapter 91 of Title 18, US Code). Rather than attempt to paraphrase the wording of this section, I’ll quote verbatim from some of the most interesting passages:

Whoever — (1) with the intent to violate the Controlled Substances Act, (2) with the intent to obstruct or harass the harvesting of timber, or (3) with reckless disregard to the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury … uses a hazardous or injurious device on Federal land, or on an Indian Reservation … shall be punished under subsection (b).

Subsection (b) spells out the penalties:

(1) If death of an individual results, [the person convicted] shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both; (2) if serious bodily injury to any individual results, be fined … or imprisoned for not more than twenty years, or both; (3) if bodily injury to any individual results, be fined … or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; (4) if damage exceeding $10, 000 to the property of any individual results, be fined … or imprisoned for not more than ten years, or both; and (5) in any other case, be fined … or imprisoned for not more than one year.

The law goes on to specify that if anyone is convicted under this subsection a second time, the minimum penalty shall be imprisonment for up to ten years, regardless of the magnitude of the offense. The law also spells out the difference between “serious bodily injury” and “bodily injury”; the latter can be as simple as “a cut, abrasion, bruise. ..” There are detailed descriptions of what constitutes a “hazardous or injurious” device. After describing the usual “guns attached to trip wires” and “explosive devices” that we’ve all read about in Reader’s Digest “drug menace” articles, the law gets into some specifics obviously aimed at monkeywrenchers rather than pot growers: singled out are “sharpened stakes,” “nails placed so that the sharpened ends are positioned in an upright manner,” and “tree spiking devices including spikes, nails, or other objects hammered, driven, fastened, or otherwise placed into or on any timber, whether or not severed from the stump.

The well-read monkeywrencher will notice that the “hazardous or injurious devices” described in this law could describe road spiking devices as well as tree spikes.

Some other provisions of this law are also of interest to monkeywrenchers. Both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service (NPS) are getting funds to beef up their law enforcement presence (to combat drugs, of course) and the Forest Service is to double the number of their new drug cops, from 500 to 1000! These drug cops have already been employed to counter protesting conservationists in the woods (including those practicing non-violent civil disobedience), and they can be expected to continue doing this. Anyone contemplating any variety of monkeywrenching should be aware of this increased law enforcement presence on the public lands. The “Anti-Drug Act” also gives Forest Service law enforcement officers authority to conduct investigations on non-government lands, assuming that those investigations are of crimes that took place on Federal lands. This opens the door to the possibility that Freddie cops might conduct surveillance or investigate suspected monkeywrenchers in or around the activists’ homes or places of employment, or anywhere else for that matter.

The swift passage of anti-spiking legislation is an indication of how effective spiking has become in deterring timber sales. After several years of the Freddies and their friends in the timber industry dismissing spiking as a trivial matter, we have seen in some parts of the country a media blitz during the last couple of years portraying a veritable epidemic of spiking. Since even before the passage of the recent law adequate legislation (albeit not as specific) existed under which anyone caught spiking could have been (and certainly would have been) prosecuted, one might say that the current legislative effort to single out spiking is at least in part propaganda to assure the media and timber industry that the government is acting vigilantly to counter the growing wave of monkeywrenching.

This is not to trivialize the import of the new law. The Forest Service in particular has begun to feel the pressure caused by monkeywrenchers, and they see that if current trends continue, their “business as usual” policy won’t be tenable much longer. They no doubt see the new law as a tool with which to turn back the clock to those happy days of a decade ago when almost no one seriously challenged their policies. In order to turn back that clock, they will try hard to catch wrenchers in the act, and to impose the maximum penalty on them. Unfortunately for the Forest Service, it is too late to go back to the days when there was no organized dissent. Too many people realize that the Forest Service’s lip service to “public input in the forest planning process” and all their pious words about “working within the system” are just that — words. Some of those people are so angry after “working within the system” for years without seeing that system budge, meanwhile watching the plunder of the planet continue unchecked, that they are ready to break the law, even at the risk of their lives and liberty, to try to stop that plunder.

A case in point is this: In October 1987, the State of California passed two laws (Senate Bill 1176 and Assembly Bill 952) aimed at deterring tree spikers, even though a law on the books since the 1870s already made spiking a felony. The first of these laws provides graduated penalties for anyone convicted of tree spiking. For “simple spiking” the penalty is up to three years imprisonment. For a spiking that results in bodily injury to someone, the penalty is up to six years in prison. For a spiking causing “great bodily injury” to someone, the penalty is up to nine years imprisonment. The second law makes it a misdemeanor “to possess a spike with the intent to spike a tree.” The passage of these laws was widely reported in the California press at the time. Yet if newspaper articles are any indication, several spikings occurred in the state during 1988, despite the new legislation.

In part, the California laws were passed due to widespread publicity following the incident earlier in 1987 at the Cloverdale, California, sawmill in which a sawyer was seriously injured when a saw in the mill came into contact with a log containing a metal spike. That spiking was apparently not environmentally motivated, but no matter. Radical environmentalists were widely blamed for causing the injury to the millworker. This underscores something repeatedly stressed in both Ecodefense and in the old Ned Ludd column of the Earth First! Journal in the 1980s, namely, that monkeywrenching should be aimed at machines, not people, and that the purpose of spiking is to save trees. Every time a tree goes to a mill — spiked or not — that tree has been lost. Anyone spiking trees has a moral obligation to notify the “proper authorities” that a particular area contains spiked trees and that it would be hazardous to cut those trees. This should be done with all due concern for the monkeywrencher’s security, but it should be done before those trees are scheduled to be cut.

If the government does succeed in slowing down the wave of spiking (and this is dubious, given the method’s obvious effectiveness) it will succeed only because monkeywrenchers have switched to other tactics, equally damaging to the industrial state but perhaps not as widely anticipated as spiking. Right now, the Forest Service is watching especially for spikers; a major arrest would boost the morale in the corporate boardrooms of LP, MAXXAM, and their ilk. This means that spikers should be extremely vigilant, but it also might provide the opportunity for monkeywrenchers to strike other, more vulnerable targets as well. Going after logging equipment, for instance, causes more immediate financial losses to the industry than spiking. The monkeywrencher should be aware, however, that with all those extra Freddie cops in the woods, seemingly unguarded equipment just might be staked out. Still, there are loads of other possibilities and some of them do not require any incriminating specialized equipment. Systematic plugging of culverts, to cite one example, hasn’t been employed nearly as much as it deserves to be. Done on a large enough scale, it could do millions of dollars damage to the bloated system of logging roads in the National Forests.

We should take heart from the passage of draconian laws; this means we are actually having some effect on the industrial state. We should also be flexible, and able to adapt to changing circumstances. It is almost a cliché that generals are forever fighting wars using the tactics of the previous war. Generals can afford to do this, since it is the common soldier, not the general, who pays the penalty. Monkeywrenchers are in the front ranks, and can’t afford to get careless. Keep on fighting, but be careful!

— Smokey Bear

Field Note

British Columbia recently established tree spiking as a major crime. Penalties are six months and $2,000 for spiking; three years and $10,000 fine if physical injury or property damage occurs for spiking any tree, whether living, dead, standing, fallen, limbed, bucked, or peeled. It is also an offense to aid, abet, or counsel another to spike timber; to carry spikes or other potentially hazardous objects with the intent to spike timber: six months and $2,000. (Of course, no one involved with the publication or distribution of Ecodefense abets, aids, or counsels anyone to spike timber.)

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