Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

Rick Klein, recipient of EPIC’s 2012 Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement award, is one of EPIC’s founders. An internationally known environmental activist, he has worked to save unique habitats both in Humboldt County and in the temperate rainforests of Chile.

Klein arrived in Southern Humboldt in the mid-1960s, along with members of his hippie commune from Minnesota. They were on their way to Canada when they stopped in Garberville. "We stopped here for coffee and stayed for a couple of years," he said.

After camping out at Whitethorn Construction for a week or two, the commune members found jobs at the Holmgren Ranch near Salmon Creek and lived in a cabin on the property. "Mrs. Holmgren was organic before anyone invented the word," Klein recalled.

But after a while the commune split up, and everyone went back to Minnesota except Klein. While hitchhiking to San Francisco, he was picked up by some Chileans who told him that Chile has redwood trees like California.

"The last mention of Chile had passed by me in the sixth or seventh grade," Klein said. "It was that long skinny country in South America and that’s all I knew."

The Chileans quickly educated him, noting that Chile is the "mirror bioregion" of California, with much of it resembling the Pacific Northwest. Intrigued, Klein decided to go to Chile instead of Canada, and he spent the next several years working as a park ranger and hiking in the Andes, looking unsuccessfully for the elusive "alerce," one of the world’s oldest trees, which he had determined was the tree his new friends were calling "redwoods."

When he returned to SoHum in 1975, Klein went straight back to the Holmgren Ranch. As soon as he arrived, Mrs. Holmgren asked him to help her find out about 2,4-D herbicide, which Barnum Timber had been spraying over the area just the day before.

Mrs. Holmgren said their spring had been sprayed. "And all my goldfish were dead, belly-up, this morning," she said. By the time they realized what had happened, the Holmgrens had used the contaminated spring water in their morning coffee and brushed their teeth with it.

"Well, Mrs. Holmgren was 64 or 65 then and she was the picture of health," Klein continued. "A few days after this her jaw locked up, she couldn’t digest food, and within two weeks she was dead."

This episode inspired Klein to join Ruthanne Cecil, Robert "Woods" Sutherland, and others who were concerned about herbicide spraying by timber companies.

"We all marched on Barnum’s offices," Klein said. About 50 people, he estimated, first demonstrated at the county agricultural commissioner’s office and then proceeded to Barnum Timber headquarters in Eureka.

"There was quite a hullabaloo with everybody inside. There must have been 20 secretaries and registered professional foresters barricaded behind their desks, and they picked up chairs, slide rules, typewriters, ready to do battle with this hairball who was advancing through their front door.

"I remember this one little old lady - she walked through her colleagues and went toe-to-toe with protestors, and that drew Bob Barnum out of his office. He came down and said, ‘Now, Helen, Helen, it’s all right, it’s all right," and he put himself between her and us.

"Some people were yelling profanities and so forth, and I didn’t see that that was productive. So I stepped forward and said, ‘Hey, everybody, let’s calm down here... Maybe Mr. Barnum is operating on the wrong information that is incomplete and partial and prejudiced, from the chemical companies. So maybe we should all simmer down a bit, and get together and see what kind of information we have here.’

"And as a result of that Bob Barnum said, ‘Yes, that’s a wonderful idea. I will participate and in fact I will even invite my colleagues from Arcata Redwoods, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber, and the ag commissioner.’

"So we created a series of six monthly meetings where we all exchanged our views, findings, and information. Even before the six months was over, Barnum - and he persuaded the others - declared a moratorium: no more spraying until some clarity came out of all this. Barnum pretty much held to that for a decade or so.

"I remember that in that first week after the initial demonstration, Ruthanne said, ‘You know what? I just filed for a 501c3 [non-profit corporation under California law] and I called it the Environmental Protection Information Center, EPIC, what do you think of that?’... So that was the beginning of EPIC."

Klein acknowledged the many "heavy hitters" who worked together in the early days of EPIC. "I refer to myself as the third speed bump," he said. "You have your first protestor - Judi Bari, who lay down in front of the juggernaut, and your second speed bump would be Darryl [Cherney], and then there would be a whole bunch of us chickens fighting for third place, the third speed bumps... but everybody plays their part. The fourth and the fifth and the sixth speed bumps are really important, and so is the 42nd speed bump.

"Now you have EPIC engaging in two lawsuits against Caltrans, one of the largest agencies in the world, the Willits Bypass and Richardson Grove. They’ve gone toe-to-toe and won, innumerable times, with Hurwitz, with Arkley and his interests, with Caltrans, with Sierra Pacific Industries... "

Klein describes receiving the Sempervirens Award, which has been awarded to many "speed bumps" including Cherney, Richard Gienger, Cecelia Lanman, Lynn Ryan, Karen Pickett, and Patty Clary of California Alternatives to Toxins, as "amazing... humbling... I have to wonder, is this just a way of showing there’s humor in the environment, or is it that I’ve finally gotten old enough to win some sympathy votes?"

In 1987 a Chilean friend invited him to visit a new national park called Alerce Andino. During his previous stay in Chile, Klein determined that a tree called the "alerce," Fitrzroya cupressoides - believed to be a type of giant cypress - was the "redwood" he was looking for, although he had never actually seen one himself. In fact, he had been told the tree had been "extirpated, extinguished." He had visited a town called Alerce, where, "I found 10 thousand 15-foot-in-diameter stumps, and not one live alerce."

The alerce has been determined to be the second longest-lived tree after the Great Basin bristlecone pine. A 4,200-year-old alerce has been verified, but from his own research Klein believes some could be as old as 5,000 years, whereas the oldest verified coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, is 2,100 years old, and the oldest giant sequoia, Sequoia gigantea, is 3,600.

On his first stay in Chile, Klein had taken a job with the Chilean national park service in the high intermontane Patagonian valley between Chile and Argentina, home of the Pehuenche Indians and of the aracuaria pine, which is found only in the southern hemisphere. He was the "only-ever" foreign park ranger in Chile.

In the early ‘70s Salvador Allende, then president of Chile, had expropriated the high araucaria forest on the continental divide from a logging company and returned the land to the Pehuenches as a national park. Allende was overthrown by a military coup in 1973. When Augusto Pinochet became president, he returned the land to the timber company, "who proceeded to mistreat and even kill the Pehuenche activists," Klein said.

"When I returned 13 years later this very same land-rights issue began to heat up, soon becoming the first successful public protest in Chile since Allende. I joined the protests then and we won, after three years, under the new president, Patricio Aylwin. The government bought the land and gave it back to the rightful original owners, the Pehuenches."

On his return to Chile, friends pleaded with Klein to seek help in America to save the alerce forests outside the new national park. Asian pulp companies were coming to the area "snatching, clear cutting the best-quality forest in the world to turn into paper, cardboard, and chips," Klein said.

Klein persuaded SoHum activist and photographer Doug Fir to participate, and they joined one of the first groups to enter the high Andes to see the alerce. To drum up interest back in the states, they organized a slide show at the Garberville Theatre and signed up 34 people for a trip to Chile on the spot.

To give their efforts a specific goal, they focused on raising a million dollars to purchase a "magic fjord" on the coast of southern Chile. Ultimately they attracted some high-powered donors, including the clothing company Patagonia, Inc.; the Weeden Foundation in New York; Henry Paulsen, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush and chairman of Goldman Sachs; and Doug Tompkins, founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing companies.

Tompkins joined them on the third expedition into the high Andes and put in a total of over $12 million, which enabled the group, now organized as Ancient Forest International, to purchase not only the fjord at Santuario Cani, but the entire stretch of Chilean coast that is alerce habitat, the first private park in Chile.

Since then AFI has participated in the acquisition of other Andean parks, including Parque Pumalin, at 670,000 acres, the world’s largest non-governmental park, as well as protecting portions of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Now Klein and AFI are working to "persuade the landowners who own millions of hectares [a hectare is 2.5 acres] to turn their land over to the Chilean park service with an endowment so the park service can adequately manage it... to turn it back to the people so that [when the landowner dies] all this doesn’t just devolve back into an inheritance... fought over and litigated in probate... Anything can happen in estate planning, and with the heirs... but the park service will just go blundering on; it won’t dissipate, it won’t dissolve, it’ll still be there."

Closer to home, AFI raised $7.5 million and brought together a smorgasbord of federal, state, and private landowners to create the Redwoods to the Sea preserve, which stretches from Rockefeller Forest, which is part of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, across private land on and around Gilham Butte, down through the middle Mattole watershed, to the Kings Range National Conservation Area, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Of the many people who participated in creating the preserve, Klein thanked Dave Walsh, Tracy Katelman, Tim Metz, and others, as well as the Stansberry family who donated conservation easements for a biological corridor.

Among the groups that worked together, Klein cited Friends of Gilham Butte, the Gilham Butte Restoration Project, the Mattole Restoration Project, the Middle Mattole Conservancy, and particularly Save-The-Redwoods League, which had never partnered with a grassroots group before, Klein said.

"I’m living evidence that all a person has to do is to pick a cause with heart and run with it, and wonderful things will happen," Klein concluded. "As one of my favorite childhood heroes, Ted Williams, often said, ‘If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.’

"You don’t have to be a genius in any specific area - you just have to have enough love for your place, or any place on earth, actually - to strive for it and protect it.

"My philosophy has always been - and maybe that’s why I’m getting this award - is that today we only have two choices: be an activist at some level, or if you’re too busy, then support an activist, but everyone must do something. We have no other choice."

EPIC will celebrate Rick Klein’s achievements at their 35th Anniversary Fall Celebration at the Mateel Community Center this Friday, Nov. 2.

Tickets for the entire evening including dinner are $50. Tickets for dancing to the international music of Dublin 2 Delhi only, beginning at 9 p.m., are $25. Advance tickets are available at Redway Liquor, Wildberries Marketplace in Arcata, and online at EPIC’s website, www.wildcalifornia.org. For more information call EPIC at 822-7711.