Protests of logging could be new crime in Oregon

Bills would create felony, allow loggers to file suit

By

Published:

 

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A tree farmer serving in the Legislature wants tougher penalties on people who chain themselves to equipment and block roads to stop logging on state forests.

"There's been a 30-year reign of terror by these people having no respect for the rights of others," Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, said Friday. "If they want to do civil disobedience, they can do that. It's part of the Oregon Constitution, and the federal. But when they go beyond that and start chaining themselves to trees, locking themselves to equipment, and laying down in the road, and in any way they impede access, then they have gone over the line."

His bill (HB 2995) would create a new felony charge of interference with state forestland management, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine. A companion bill (HB 2596) would allow loggers to sue protesters for lost income plus $10,000 up to six years after a protest.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, said HB 2995 won't pass out of committee until it is rewritten to not impair the right to protest. "There seem to be some pretty clear constitutional violations in it," he said. "I asked him to try to rework that to make some sense out of it."

Krieger, a former state trooper and former member of the Oregon Board of Forestry, cited protests against logging on the Elliott State Forest in 2011. Since the 2011 protests, a judge has blocked logging in some Elliott stands while a challenge from conservation groups moves through court.

Grace Pettygrove of Eugene, who was fined a couple hundred dollars on a misdemeanor charge of trespassing from the Elliott protests, said people would not be deterred by increased penalties.

"I don't think that is what the criminal justice system is for," she said. "… The fact that this is happening actually shows that these timber corporations are worried about the impact public awareness and public protest will have on their operations."

Jason Gonzales of Friends of Oregon's Forests said HB 2596 is redundant, that loggers already have the right to sue for damages, but such lawsuits had not had much success in court.