Giant redwoods are American icons, paragons of grandeur, exceptionalism, and endurance. They are also symbols of conflict and negotiation, remnants of environmental battles over the limits of industrialization, profiteering, and globalization.
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, logging operations have eaten away at the redwood forest, particularly areas covered by ancient giant redwoods. Today, such trees occupy a mere 120,000 acres. Their existence is testimony to the efforts of activists to rescue some of these giants from destruction. Very few conservation battles have endured longer or with more violence than on the North Coast of California, behind what locals call the Redwood Curtain.
Defending Giants explores the long history of the Redwood Wars, focusing on the ways rural Americans fought for control over both North Coast society and its forests. Activists defended these trees not only because the redwood forest had dwindled in size, but also because, by the late twentieth century, the local economy was increasingly dominated by multinational corporations. The resulting conflict – the Redwood Wars – pitted workers and environmental activists against the rising tide of globalization and industrial logging in a complex war over endangered species, sustainable forestry, and, of course, the fate of the last ancient redwoods. Activists perched in trees and filed lawsuits, while the timber industry, led by Pacific Lumber, fought the lawsuits and used their power to halt reform efforts. Ultimately, the Clinton Administration sidestepped Congress and the courts to negotiate an innovative compromise. In the process, the Redwood Wars transformed American environmental politics by shifting the balance of power away from Congress and into the hands of the Executive Branch.
"Defending Giants offers a compelling analysis of the Redwood Wars. It fills an important gap in the literature on American environmental politics, activism, and forest policy."
– James Morton Turner, author of The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964
"We need more histories of important examples of nonviolent resistance and creative campaigning and Defending Giants is a much-needed model of careful and serious reporting and analysis that fills this void. It also brings back to life the story of some of the most committed and capable environmentalists I've ever known, people who worked on a scale as epic as the forests they fought for."
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"Defending Giants is a complicated story elegantly told, one full of fascinating characters with nuanced political positions that sometimes got lost in the heat of battle. More than that, it is a book that demonstrates how our easy resort to caricature has obscured the substance of what happened behind the North Coast's Redwood Curtain in the late twentieth century. Darren Speece has given us a history of environmental activism that simultaneously demonstrates the power of direct action protest to bring stakeholders to the table and ponders the importance of mediated compromise. At a moment when our environmental politics are deeply polarized, that might be the most useful contribution of all."
– Paul Sutter, from the Foreword
"Darren Speece's important new book on the battles to save the northern California redwoods in the 1980s and 1990s is a significant contribution to our understanding of environmentalism [...] It is also the finest book written on the history of American environmentalism in the last five years [...] Speece paints a complex picture of a grassroots movement with a useful attention to both detail and clear writing that should spawn conversations among both historians and activist communities on the lessons to be learned from the redwoods [...] Defending Giants is an outstanding contribution to the historiography of environmentalism."
– Erik Loomis, H-Environment
"Eloquent, inspiring, eminently readable nonfiction with precious lessons for those fighting the ever-greater environmental destruction wrought by corporate greed [...] A tale fully relevant to here and now."
– Robert James Parsons, Truthout
"Speece's work on this local battle is an excellent contribution to the larger historiography of the environmental movement."
– James G. Lewis, Western Historical Quarterly
Foreword / Paul S. Sutter
1. Deep Roots
2. The War Begins
4. Bursting Out
5. The Transformation
Epilogue Continuity and Vanguard
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Darren Frederick Speece is a history teacher and assistant dean of students at Sidwell Friends School.