Editor’s Note: In honor of those that Labor Day honors – in my mind those who gets their hands dirty every – we present a speech given 25 years ago this past week at the Silver Fire Roundup in Grants Pass, Oregon. The speaker is Bruce Vincent, then a logger from Libby, Montana. Vincent, who is a director of the Evergreen Foundation, has been the spiritual leader of America’s rural grass roots movement for a quarter-century. He is also the founder of Provider Pals, a cultural exchange program that links rural teens with teens living in our nation’s cities.
The Silver Fire Roundup was a massive public protest against obstructionist attempts to prevent the salvage of timber killed in the 1987 Silver Fire, a 200,000 acre stand replacing wildfire that burned on the Siskiyou National Forest. The rally was staged in response to untrue claims that “logging fire killed timber was like mugging a burn victim.” It drew 10,000 salvage supporters and 1,226 logging trucks from five states to the Josephine County Fairgrounds in Grants Pass. American Trucker Magazine later reported that the trucks made up the largest peacetime convoy in U.S. history.
So many people wanted copies of electrifying Vincent’s speech – which he delivered extemporaneously after a gust of wind blew his hand-written notes off the podium – that we reprinted it in the September 1988 edition of Evergreen Magazine. Below, we reprint it again in the belief that it is as timely today as it was on August 27, 1989.
On the way to Grants Pass, the Montana convoy was met in Spokane and again in Portland by members of the press. The question of their minds was “Why.” Why were we driving 1,000 miles to be in a convoy to Grants Pass, Oregon?
Why? Because we, too, have been victims of small radical bunches of preservationists and obstructionists. Our communities, too, are tired of terrorists using misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, outright lies and violence in their unending effort to seize public lands. Our forests, too, are burning and our men are fighting those blazes. Many of our fires are in areas that have been ravaged by lodgepole pine beetles. Because of systematic appeals and litigation we have been unable to salvage the dead and dying timber.
Why? Because I am a fourth-generation logger. My grandfather hauled logs in Josephine County in the 1930s. I was born in Roseburg. I am now a logger in Montana. I have four children that I want to be able to live in the culture that is the timber industry. I am proud of my family’s heritage and want to be able to pass it on to my children.
I know you are all just as frustrated and just as concerned as I am, and I know you share my feeling that we are not always treated fairly and with dignity by government agencies and the news media. That’s why I want you to take this message to heart and remember it well. Folks, it’s okay to be a logger. It’s okay to be a logger. It’s okay to be a logger.
Out at the front gate there are some friends of ours from Earth First. We overheard them talking with the press. Their message to the press was that this is the last gasp of a dying industry. Folks, these are the first breaths of a healthy and invigorated industry!
The messages we bring to you from Montana are simple ones.
First, do not be radical. We have truth on our side. We can maintain a reasonable and rational approach to solutions and win. Leave the radical business to those out at the gate.
When referring to those out at the gate, always remember to use the correct terminology. Those people are not environmentalists. They are preservationists, obstructionists and terrorists.
Do not call someone an environmentalist and then beat him with a stick, because then you cannot be an environmentalist.
Do not call someone a conservationist and then beat him with a stick, because then you cannot be a conservationist.
We are the true environmentalists, the true conservationists. We live in, work in and play in the forest and have a vested interest in their healthy continuation.
Second, we will not win unless we are committed. Each and every one of you in the audience had best leave here with a seed of commitment in the pit of your guts that will grow with time and remind you that it is you who must make the difference.
Don’t read a letter to the editor and then complain to your wife or your crew about how bad the letter was. Write your own letter to the editor.
Don’t complain about what the schools are teaching your children. Go to school and teach the young yourself.
Don’t sit back and complain about the decisions your lawmakers and making. Write them letters and help remove them from office if they won’t see the light of truth.
This rally is not the end. It is the beginning – the beginning of the kind of personal and community commitment that we need to keep our jobs, our way of life and our heritage. We alone hold the key to our future.
We must remember that the same hand that can drive a log truck can hang a poster! The same hand that can drive a wedge into a tree can shake hands with a United States Senator! The same hand that can rev a chainsaw can pull a voting lever! It is up to us to keep our mills running.
Mills don’t run, men don’t work and families don’t eat when the forest plans fail to properly recognize the importance of our logging communities.
Mills don’t run, men don’t work and families don’t eat when a handful of preservationists sabotage our equipment!
Mills don’t run, men don’t work and families don’t eat when our political leaders designate still more wilderness, even though the use of wilderness is declining.
That is the message we want to send today. We are proud of what we do, we are proud of our communities and we are tired of being falsely accused of destroying the landscape. Nothing we do destroys the landscape in the same way wildfire destroys landscapes.
Thank God for loggers. Thank God for communities like the ones represented here today. And thank God for the opportunity to let people know how we feel!
Before I go, I would like everyone to stand up and hold hands. While holding your hands and your neighbor’s hands over your heads I want you to answer this question: If we take a reasonable and rational stand together in trying to find a solution to wise use management can we control our destiny?
Now, in a voice that can be heard in Georgia, North Carolina, New York and Washington, D.C. repeat after me: We can! We must! We will?
Postscript: Vincent spoke at about 2 p.m. After his speech, with the rally just beginning, the four Montana log truck drivers and their families got back in their trucks to begin the 1,000 journey back to Libby. They needed to be home in time to be in the woods at daylight Monday morning. The last log truck passed the reviewing stands at 7:30 that evening. Satellite trucks parked at the fairgrounds beamed portions of the rally to NBC, CBS and ABC newsrooms in New York City. Jim Petersen, Editor.