State Rep. Wayne Kreiger’s proposal to imprison protesters who hinder logging in state forests has flaws.
It’s too harsh and so vague it could trample on constitutional rights if imprudently applied. It creates a new crime — interference with state forest land management — when old ones such as trespassing, vandalism, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief will do.
But before dismissing House Bill 2595 as Draconian, we should reflect on Kreiger’s motives and frustration.
The bill introduced by the Gold Beach Republican, whose district includes a portion of coastal Douglas County, responds to protests in the Elliott State Forest in 2009 and 2011.
Protesters hindered logging with vandalism and by climbing trees and erecting barricades. Kreiger rightly fumes the protesters have no respect for the rights of others.
Infuriatingly, the protests seem like a merry time in the woods, a lark.
Protesters issue unrealistic demands and play hide-and-seek before the most-visible ones are plucked from trees and taken away. Their actions have generally resulted in small fines, community service and restitution that falls far short of adequately compensating logging companies or government agencies.
Kreiger proposes to raise the stakes, by a lot.
He would make obstructing logging in state forests a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison or a $6,250 fine or both.
Protesters who ignore warnings by law enforcement to stop the interference could be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or a $125,000 fine or both. Protesters guilty of the felony would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 13 months in prison.
A conviction for first-degree interference with state forest land management would be as serious as a conviction for first-degree theft, a third drunken driving offense or injury hit-and-run.
A protester convicted of such a crime would have something to brag about. That alone is probably enough to not create a new crime.
Better to charge the worst offenders with criminal mischief or disorderly conduct, inglorious crimes that can carry penalties as substantial as those proposed by Kreiger.
Most who risk jail for a cause in which they believe seek to align themselves with disobedient heroes, such as Henry David Thoreau, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Thoreau was protesting imperialism and slavery; Parks and King were opposing segregation.
Anti-logging activists have little reason to protest. Environmental groups already have nearly shut down logging in the Elliott with lawsuits. In the process, they’ve harmed the economy, deprived schools of revenue and made reasonable management of the state forest impossible.
Pay no heed to the protester in the tree. He — or she — is merely an annoying relic.