Sunday, April 21, 2013

How Does One Apologize to the Trees?

Perhaps the great battles to save the Rainforests were fought and lost to corporate muscle years ago. Perhaps there are some still in progress that are winnable. I live in a part of the country that was once a Rainforest itself until logged out. And a battle to save the forest is again raging here, in my backyard, in the town of Willits in the Little Lake Valley. Caltrans is in the first phase of the process of devastating a vast area of extraordinary and irreplaceable forest, savannah, and 86 acres of wetlands in order to build 6 miles of superhighway that is neither needed nor desired. Caltrans calls this monster project the Willits Bypass, and it is ostensibly to alleviate a brief bottleneck that drivers experience when they drive through the town of Willits on their way roaring North on Highway 101; despite the fact that, according to sound environmental impact reports, this bottleneck will not be alleviated at all by the Willits Bypass.

Caltrans has fabricated a host of deficient explanations for the need for the bypass and how it will improve traffic flow. For instance, Caltrans claims there is a significant issue with congestion at the turn-off to Highway 20; however, the congestion they refer to was created about 20 years ago by Caltrans itself, when they ingeniously re-striped the northbound approach to a single lane, eliminating a critical right-turn lane. The congestion to which they refer started the minute they did this, creating the false perception that a bypass was needed to solve the problem, which was initiated by Caltrans’s own faulty traffic engineering in the first place.

The bypass will have enormous negative impacts to the community, economy, and ecology of the area. Businesses will fail, tax revenue will drop, and agricultural land will be lost. Ranchers have already been forced to sell their lands into something Caltrans calls a Migration Trust, with the assurance that they would be able to buy the lands back for grazing, and now Caltrans is backpedaling on the assurance and the ranchers are sadly realizing that they will never have access to the land again. End of ranching, end of livelihood. Caltrans promised to upgrade the city streets in Willits as part of the bypass project, including making sidewalks ADA compliant (with cut curbs), despite the fact that Caltrans was supposed to have done this a long time ago and never did. They act as if this is a benefit they are offering Willits as part of the bypass project, without acknowledging that it is actually the correction of a failure on their part to comply with ADA law.

The construction of the bypass will cause ancient trees to be felled, wetlands destroyed, forests lost, wildlife killed or driven out, and sacred Native lands desecrated (tribal burial sites and sacred areas fall within the area to be stripped and paved). The volume of CO2 emissions from the construction work will be astronomical. And with so many trees ripped out to make way for the bypass, how will the air be cleaned of that mess? Ever? The delicate chalk-green lichens that dangle from our oak trees in this region clean the air and help to make it fit to breathe. The project will eliminate these lichens.

Honestly, the people who live in Mendocino County, across the entire spectrum of political and spiritual belief, choose to live here in large part because we are people who wish to live close to nature. We live in a magnificent and wondrous forested area, near the ocean (where we can see the whales swimming offshore in season), with fresh air, marvelous birds and animal wildlife, fish and game, wetlands, splendid flowers and other miraculous vegetation, and ancient trees. We are farmers, growers, planters, gardeners, and good stewards of the earth. It breaks our hearts and disturbs the spirits of the Native ancestors sleeping beneath the veil of present everyday life to witness the desecration and destruction of this land by the felling of our ancient trees. Even if all other arguments against the bypass, such as the detrimental impacts on the economy and environment, were unfounded—and they are NOT unfounded—but even if they were, finally, the most compelling argument against this Caltrans catastrophe is that the bypass will cost us the trees. What numbskull ignorance causes people to lose sight of the deep importance of trees?

As construction moves relentlessly forward, even in the face of great resistance (demonstrations, nonviolent civil disobedience, tree-sitters, hunger strikes), rage, and grief in the community, I have come to wonder how to ever apologize to the trees for the violence inflicted upon them by my clueless fellow humans who are so intent on building this superhighway. Shame on you, Caltrans.

Here is a photo of a 500-year-old Valley Oak, felled to make way for the Willits Bypass.

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