Tree spiking refers to a kind of ecological terrorism, involving trouncing of a metal rod or any other suitable material into a trunk of a tree, with an aim of dampening the act of tree logging through inflicting ‘bodily harm’ to the destructors (Davis, 1991). Two basic practices of tree spiking exist; spiking the tree at the bottom of the tree trunk, and spiking the tree way above the trunk, as high as one can reach. Both practices are meant to make it difficult for the sawyers to penetrate through during sawing.
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This act is oftenly used by conservation activists to lessen the economic value of the wood in the long run, thus discourage the loggers. As Abbey says, “you won’t hurt the trees; they’ll be grateful for the protection; and you may save the forest” (22); the spiking is not aimed at destroying the trees. This essay analyzes the moral implications of tree spiking and its relevance to the larger society.
Tree spiking is believed to have been instigated in late 19th century, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and gained fame in the 1980’s as a debatable tactic amongst environmentalist. Dave Foreman, a cofounder of Earth First, advocated for the act of tree spiking avidly in ‘Eco-Defense’.
A first injury from tree spiking was witnessed in 1987 by a millworker from California, leading to many activists denouncing the practice. As a historical artefact, most people argue that Ecodefense poses as the most contentious ecological book ever published. Over the years, the act of tree spiking has continued to encounter strong criticism and generally considered a serious felony by most governments of the places where the act has picked pace .
A deep split exists between conservationists and people who want to fell the trees for cash, without much caring over obliteration of the rich and diverse resource base. One then ponders; what measures are to be adapted to save the wilderness? Desperate times call for desperate measures-one would conclude so in support of tree spiking activity.
According to Abbey, one of the renowned crusaders of the natural resources, the mighty in society have largely contributed to the destruction of natural resources through their acts of support to mining, tree logging, and beef industries activities, from where they drain a lot of financial support.
This circle mostly constitutes of politicians, corporate sector, unscrupulous government agencies, and a number of institutions, who only care about the perceived short term benefits that accompany the disheartening acts (Nash, 1989). Their large interest and alleged loyalty lies with the few in society who apparently finance their selfish self-centred deeds, rather than the majority. She states:
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 leave 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. (Hellenbach 45)
Thus, is tree spiking a morally legitimate act to the society eye? Are there alternative ways of addressing the issue instead of this kind of eco-terrorism? It’s no doubt that many conservationists have tried other friendly measures before coming up with such drastic measures as tree spiking, but more often than not, they have been unsuccessful. When Abbey endorsed the publication of the book ‘Eco-Defense’, he encouraged the whole society to come out in defence of what belongs to the public as a whole.
He has completely lost faith in societal leaders! He even goes ahead to campaign to everyone to poses the book and carry it around. He encourages people to go into the woods with the book, a hammer, and some sixty penny nails precisely to undertake tree spiking. He says “It’s good for the trees, it’s good for the woods, it’s good for the earth, and it’s good for the human soul. Spread the word-and carry on!”(Abbey 22).
What really has resulted to the new twist where the public opt for direct action towards advocacy for the environment? It’s pretty clear that institutions have failed in achieving their legal obligation of protecting the natural resources. It’s difficult for the public not to react against the persisted mass destruction of the environment and this explains why the initiator of tree spiking brought up this spirited fight. As Foreman states, there was a time when the world was rich with ecological heritage, every natural resource in plenty:
East of the Mississippi, giant Tulip Poplars, American Chestnuts, oaks, hickories, and other trees formed the most diverse temperate deciduous forest in the world. In New England, White Pines grew to heights rivalling the Brobdingnagian Conifers of the far West. On the Pacific Coast, redwood, hemlock, Douglas fir, spruce, cedar, fir, and pine formed the grandest forest on Earth (25).
According to Hellenbach, tree spiking is a pretty efficient method of discouraging timber sales, since mill operators barely accept contaminated timber (45). Contaminated timber can bring operations of a miller to a screeching stop during the process of sawing.
It’s a highly discouraged activity by forest services who deliberately fail to publicize it in fear of its spreading. Somebody may ask, “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?”.
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In response to this question, it would be considered true if indeed the expected results were for a short-term basis. In this case, though, the expected results are for a long-term deterrent measure. It’s believed that if a substantial number of trees are to be spiked in an area, it would discourage both sellers and buyers of timber due to reduced profit margins.
In conclusion, it’s generally true to say that tree spiking can substantially contribute to saving our wilderness. Being a long-term measure aimed at discouraging the tree fellers, it ultimately translates to the general good of the society. It’s however an uphill task and the decision to take up this task is purely an individual’s, thus the question of its reliability and sustainability.
A question to pose is what about those people destroying the wilderness for purposes of land grabbing? Will they be discouraged by tree spiking? The practice is not universally acceptable to the entire society, with opponents giving varied reasons in this respect. But as Abbey puts it, “self defense against attack is one of the basic laws, not only of human life but of life” (20). He urges everyone to jealously guard the wilderness with all the strength, for it’s the home to all creatures, humans, animals and birds.
Moreover, if indeed it’s true that the wilderness is home to all creatures, and if it’s endangered by encroachment, pillage and obliteration as it unquestionably is, then its every human’s right and obligation to guard and preserve it by whatsoever means, as we would to our own private homes.
Lest for a few opponents, the practice would not be termed as a social immorality because of its common good. It would add much value if everyone undertook an individual responsibility to come up with more universally acceptable and productive ways of protecting our wilderness; our nature, and the environment as a whole.
Abbey, Edward. “Forward”. Ecodefense: A field guide to monkeywrenching. Ed. Foreman, Dave and Bill Haywood. 3 Edn. California: Abbzug Press, 1993. 20-22. Print.
Davis, John. The earth first! Reader: Ten years of radical environmentalism. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1991. Print.
Foreman, Dave. “Strategic monkewrenching.” Ecodefense: A field guide to monkeywrenching. Ed. Foreman, Dave and Bill Haywood. 3 Edn. California: Abbzug Press, 1993. 23-33. Print.
Hellenbach.T.O. “Tree spiking.” Ecodefense: A field guide to monkeywrenching. Ed. Foreman, Dave and Bill Haywood. 3 Edn. California: Abbzug Press, 1993. 45- 55. Print.
Nash, Roderick. The rights of nature: A history of environmental ethics. Madison: Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Print.