Friday, 23 July 2010

Ecodefense: A field guide to Monkeywrenching

Rebels with a cause:Foreman
Drasdo and Abbey.


Freedom begins between the ears...Edward Abbey

The following review was written twenty years ago by Harold Drasdo- respected elder statesman of the UK climbing community as well as being a life long anarchist and environmentalist.He reviews a book which has never been out of print since its first publication in 1985. The book was written by Dave Foreman-uber eco warrior-and great friend of Edward Abbey. The US eco-anarchist whose rip roaring novel-The Monkey Wrench Gang- inspired an entire environmental movement into being.The radical Earth First! group. A movement which embraced a non hierarchical structure.A group without leaders or membership but which existed as a loose coalition of independent cells spread throughout the world and who initiated their own campaigns.
One of the main weapons in the Earth First! armory was 'monkeywrenching'. The action of ecotage or more precisely of carrying out non life threatening acts of sabotage against those corporate owned machines which would tear up the wilderness areas in pursuit of private profit or public utility.
Ned Ludd Books published the first two editions, with Abbzug Press publishing a third edition. The book was first published in 1985.

“Tentatively called Ecodefense: A Handbook on the Militant Defense of the Earth, the publication was to be a radical environmental version of William Powell's Anarchist Cookbook. In it's final form, brought out by Foreman's own Ned Ludd Books (suitably named after the nineteenth-century British worker who destroyed supposedly labor-saving machinery), Ecodefense: A Field Guide To Monkeywrenching gave practical , detailed instructions on how to decommission bulldozers, pull out survey stakes, spike trees, and generally harass and delay resource industry plans. It was an immediate success; dog eared copies of it could be found in the backpacks of young environmental militants literally throughout the world. This kind of popularity led Oregon's Williamette National Forest supervisor Michael Kerrick to denounce the book in a white paper presented at a congressional hearing, in which he peevishly threatened to 'close the entire [national forest logging] area to unauthorized entry' if the ecotage described in the book took place. As good as his word, Kerrick soon thereafter introduced the controversial and legally questionable policy of closing national forests to the public whenever environmental protests were expected. It is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that Ecodefense changed forever the way public lands policy was made in this country and perhaps even abroad. Ecotage was, as Getty learned, a new factor in making environmental policy.'

Somewhat appropriately in 2010,we have seen the established 'green' movements such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth coalesce with the state and its corporate masters into an amorphous technology worshipping entity. Witness the recent celebrations in the UK at Friends of the Earth headquarters and the Scottish chamber of commerce who jointly celebrated the Scottish government's granting of planning permission for a 150 mile super highway of pylons across Scotland which controversially passes through the Cairngorm National Park.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said that the decision was “precisely the kind of positive action the government must take to create the right environment for business to flourish and represented a huge step forward for investment in renewable energy resources.” whilst  Duncan McLaren Chief Executive of Scottish Friends of the Earth " .....Welcomed the decision " !!! The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which....Animal Farm: George Orwell.
Perhaps the message of Ecodefense has never been more apposite in the UK given the fact that its natural environment has never been more at risk from an energy policy born of government  PR spin and the desire to create huge profits for the energy corporations who appear to have have all the UK political parties in their pocket.. Oh....and the fact that in the UK and across Europe the lunatics really are running the asylum !!!


Monkeywrenching, for better or worse, is one of those Americanisms, like backpacking, destined to displace our older English words. It's tempting to define it tightly as the unauthorised decommissioning of vehicles and heavy equipment in the name of the natural environment. In fact, that only seizes on the more daring and spectacular of a wide range of field-tested operations. In Britain we'd say that they amount to throwing a very heavy spanner in the works. In this important book almost every tactic discussed is illegal and risks severe penalities. It's a saboteur's manual.

A word about its immediate antecedents. In the sixties Edward Abbey, sometime Park Ranger at Natural Arches, Utah, wrote his wilderness classic, Desert Solitaire. In it he boldly confessed to yielding to a couple of most unrangerlike impulses. Some years later his successful novel, The Monkeywrench Gang, took up the theme in earnest. In 1980 the militant Earth First! movement (always written with an exclamation mark) was co­founded by Foreman, Haywood and others and since then totally independent groups have formed throughout the United States. These groups vary somewhat in their styles and policies and may or may not include serious monkeywrenchers. Foreman has published Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal for a decade now and includes a column. `Dear Ned Ludd' sympathetic to monkeywrenching.
Ecodefense is into its second edition and fifth printing. Notwithstanding the fact that large numbers of copies must have been sold to policemen in false beards, to state agencies and to captains of industry, its obviously become a cult bestseller. Its updated every 12 to 18 months. Suggestions are welcomed but the editors don't want your name and address. They'll simply take note of your comments and then burn letter and envelope. Similarly, no record is kept of orders. In any case their security, they just happen to mention, is' looked after by two good friends, Messrs. Smith and Wesson.
Its not possible, here, to outline the history that's led the ecosaboteurs to take this extreme position. Say simply that conservationist legislation has proved ineffective in the face of money. Its been subverted, circumvented or overridden by business interests, industrial tourism and the off-the-road joyride of affluence. The last great roadless areas are shrinking like spring snows and the majestic animals and trees, grizzly and redwood, mountain lion and Ponderosa pine, seem doomed to take their final bow. As an appeasing gesture the world of finance may be prepared to set up a zoo or an arboretum. (It will raise the question of more economic admission charges at a later date.) The ecoteur says no to all that.
It may be helpful to describe very briefly the most widespread form of monkeywrenching, tree spiking, recommended as suitable for the whole family. Please don't misunderstand. It takes place in the remaining virgin forest, not in plantations. (Timber has to come from somewhere and surely not from Brazil.) The trees are spiked, usually with six inch nails, the heads being clipped off just before the final driving. It doesn't hurt the tree, it saves its life. To avoid the remote possibility of injury to foresters the nails aren't placed where they might cause kickback or a broken chain. They're intended for the expensive blades of the automated sawmill. Since the timber may be scanned with metal detectors and the very difficult task of extraction attempted, ceramic pegs are now being introduced though, in fact, helical nails are virtually irremovable. Communiques are issued sometime after the exercise which, if possible, is carried out years in advance of projected timber sales. The logging of wilderness areas is economically marginal anyway and the industry is hit where it hurts, in the pocket. The nailing of only a few trees has proved sufficient to deter some clearances. In massive operations in Meares Island, British Columbia, several thousand trees were spiked.
Ecodefense discusses a very wide range of strategies and I can only mention a few. How to discourage road construction in roadless areas. How to deal with the drivers of off-road vehicles. How to handle intrusive signs and advertising. How to free potentially dangerous wild creatures from traps. And there is one very interesting line of thought. If you ever read The Grapes of Wrath you may recall a dialogue between Tom Joad and a tractor driver who is helping evict his own countrymen because he is desperate to feed his wife and kids. That exchange can stand for many situations. The ecoteurs are now trying to find ways to shift the confrontation higher up the chain of command to the headquarters and homes of the invisible people who initiate the devastation of wild country.
Everything is examined in fine detail. For instance: 'The classic act of monkeywrenching is messing around with a bulldozer.' The editors concede that there's more than one way to skin a Cat. 'You can totally dismember it with a cutting torch. Or you can just cook it.' These approaches probably have a therapeutic value but they don't get the vote of the experts. The introduction of additives to fuel is dismissed; it only clogs filters. The beserker attack upon visible piping or tyres is derided as too obvious. To learn the preferred ingenious methods you will have to read the book.
The movement, as you might have feared, already has its martyrs but it's hard to see how it can finally be suppressed since it consists of very small and entirely autonomous groups which make no attempts to communicate with or even to identify each other. Soloing is sometimes practised though it's clearly more dangerous. Normally the ecosaboteur will operate only with a few very close friends of many years' standing. A full 60 pages deals with security considerations. Throughout, a rigorously ethical stance is maintained. Never deliberately endanger human life, including your own. So, for instance, work on vehicles must always ignore the braking and lighting systems. The movement declares itself non-revolutionary. It cares only about the protection of nature.
Blue remembered Hills:Cefn Croes in the Welsh Cambrian Mountains in 2000 and 2004.

The first response of a British reader might be of awe at the courage of the monkeywrencher who risks liberty and in some situations perhaps even his life. The second might be of amazement at the lengths and the expense he goes to in equipping himself, often seeming to violate his own cardinal principles of simplicity and security. But the third may be the dismayed impression that it's all a bit over the top. In that case he should immediately read the first two chapters again and suggest other options. Over here our extremists seem to be concentrated in animal liberation and hunt saboteur groups, all very British. And they're not even all non-violent. But in an undedicated and sporadic manner monkeywrenching has been going on here for a long time perhaps, as the publisher's imprint suggests, we invented it? and if we think hard enough many of us must admit to having succumbed to impulse or to passion on the odd occasion. It would be foolish to do so ever again without, as a matter of prudence, reading this book first.
If the American ecoteur were to land on these shores, what would he make of the scene here? Everything's kinda different. He'd see that a lot of energy is absorbed by access problems rather than by conservation issues and he'd notice that some of those wanting access aren't going to be a help to conservation. His interest would be excited by talk of the Northern corries and the Flow Country and he'd tell us exactly what to do. But I think he'd make suggestions for our rural and urban areas too. If developers willingly pay the derisory fines for ignoring Tree Preservation Orders, why don't we nail all protected trees? Is it even an offence? However, these lines of thought are premature in this review. What is needed is a full-scale debate. Is it true that widespread monkeywrenching is the only certain way to protect wild country?
One small difficulty. Ned Ludd Books has no British distributor. It is possible to buy Ecodefense here but you'll certainly have to search around and it may cost you about 10 pounds. Simpler and cheaper, if you have a friend visiting America this year, to ask him to bring one back. One way or another you're going to hear more about the subject. The Ecowarrior may be coming this way soon.

Harold Drasdo©
first published in HIGH-1990.