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History Pub talk: “Spotted Owls Won’t Feed My Family: Loggers, Environmentalists, and the Battle for Oregon Timber Country”

Dr. Steve Beda,
Associate Professor of History, University of Oregon,
Tuesday, December 5, 6:00 pm,
Noble Estate Urban Tasting Room,
560 Commercial Street, Eugene, OR 97402.

In the late-twentieth century, Oregon timber country erupted in protest. Radical environmentalists spiked trees, destroyed logging roads, and sabotaged logging equipment in an effort to stop logging operations. Lawyers working for environmental organizations filed lawsuits and injunctions to stop timber sales. Oregon’s timber-working communities organized their own counter protests, regularly picketing the offices of the Department of Natural Resources in Salem and using logging trucks to blockade the entrances to their towns. The journalists who covered this story largely characterized it as a conflict about the Spotted Owl, and indeed, the owl was a focal point of conflict. But the Woods Wars, as the conflict came to be known, was about more than just an owl. It was about the state of the rural economy, Oregon’s growing urban-rural divide, and environmental politics and policy.

In this talk, Steven Beda examines the intertwined histories of work, politics, and environmentalism in rural Oregon to show how the Spotted Owl became a proxy for larger debates over the future of Oregon Timber Country. How did the environmentalists working to protect the forests propose to deal with job losses and the declining timber economy? Were timber workers and rural working-class communities indifferent to the toll that industrial logging had taken on the forest? Are workers and environmentalists simply destined to be locked in perpetual conflict? These questions are just as pertinent today as when they were first raised in the 1970s and 1980s, and in answering these questions, Dr. Beda proposes new ways of thinking about work, nature, and the rural economy that may help us avoid the vitriol of the Woods Wars in the future.