If a Tree Falls: a Story of the Earth Liberation Front Essay

On Thursday the 25th I attend the showing of a Documentary named “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”, directed by Marshal Curry. There as well were two guest speakers, Denny Jackman, from the board of the Central Valley Farmland Trust and of the Farmland Working Group and Brad Barker, Conservation Chair of the Yokuts Group of the Sierra Club. The film was a documentation of radical environmental activists group that had taken some very extreme measures aimed at environmental offenders in Oregon, Eugene and other locations during the late 1990’s.

The name of the group was referred to as ELF – the Earth Liberation Front. Most of the group had been arrested; sixteen in total had been brought down by a member named Jake Ferguson. Ferguson had given up all of his group members up to law enforcement in exchange for freedom. The group of protesters had been connected to many crimes which were all acts of arson and vandalism. ELF had pointed all their efforts towards any organization who they did not agree with in their concern for the environment.

The acts consisted of burning down the establishments of several Rangers stations in Oregon Eugene, Cavell West a government program, vandalism in the Seattle (peaceful) protest, act on the Swanson Lumber Jack Corporation, among a few. The film was well done in that it gave a fair depiction of most sides of the story. One of the accounts the film follows is of Daniel McGowan who was sentence to seven years in prison.

He received the controversial “terrorism enhancement” sentence which makes his sentence harsher than an average sentence. The film suggests that the public may fail to hear certain messages of environmental activists wish to spread. It raises serious questions about the best ways for those groups to be heard. This becomes controversial because of the direction ELF had taken. The documentary stated that it was important to place Elf’s actions in the context of police violence.

McGowan was fundamentally a peaceful occupy protest activist along with other ELF members. It was documented that awful police violence caused a chain of events. Police unleashed awful behavior towards nonviolent protestors by pepper spraying or rubbing chained protestors directly in their eyes. During the tree protest police where cutting men’s pants and pepper spraying them in sensitive areas. These were some of the example of unfair mistreatment activist had dealt with.

ELF’s argument and justification for their actions and philosophies where seeded by the brutality they had experienced, but in hind sight McGowan said that he regrets what had happen, but of Corse it is too late as he is serving his prison sentence. One of ELF’s arguments was aimed toward a logging company in Eugene Oregon. Extensive logging, aimed at extracting rare but valuable trees from the forest on large scales had prompted EFL to burn down their place of business.

Curry interviewed the owners of the business to reveal normal men running a family owned company. This logging practice is controversial in which most or all trees in a given area are uniformly cut down, in a deforestation manner. In the logging company defense there are six trees planted for every one that is cut down. To paraphrase one logging businessman, “no one likes the look of a fresh harvest”. With reason this logging company felt terrorized because of this anarchist belief system that did no respect the property right of this corporation.

Activist’s argument is that this practice causes negative effects on the environment, and the cutting down of these massive trees that have been growing for years are irreplaceable and of course it is wrong. This was an eye opening documentary that caused more questions than answers. Early in the film clearly Curry was in favor of the ELF’s member’s point of view. In fairness it does make sense that these actions could be rooted due to the response of brutality and invasion of personal rights the group endured due to law enforcement.

Did this reason give the group logical explanation to carry out their radical protesting activities, I don’t think so. As one of the speakers, Denny Jackman very strongly expressed, you don’t have to be radical to help the environment. Jackman mentioned that he helped initiate one of the first recycling stations in Modesto, is in necessary to display radicalism in order to help the environment, well not necessarily. Jackman also talked about loggers and how they are quite convincing. It is by law that they plant six trees for everyone that is logged.

But in reality the impact is negative as it causes loss of habitat for wildlife species, where many types of trees might of lived they will be replaced with one or two different types of trees overall it decrease the quality of the environment. I think that this organization was destructive and carless in relaying their message; they also contradicted themselves by the destruction they caused. I believe the arguments that Jackman made were ones with good reason. It doesn’t make sense to burn down company buildings on the account that you don’t agree with their ethics.

Like Jackman said, one does not have to be radical to get an important point across, recycle instead of causing destruction makes much more sense. ELF’s argument for caring out these actions was not valid by any means. Another valid point made by Jackman was that loggers are not doing well by the environment just because they plant six trees for everyone that they cut down. This was a great documentary and I thought that it was well done, I also liked that there were accredited guest speakers there to make the information even more relevant.