Sunday, September 04, 2016

No compromise in saving the Earth

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Second Wave Southwest Michigan
August 25, 2016

Andy won’t tell you his last name. He prefers anonymity. The focus, he says, should be on Earth First. Earth, always, first. 

“You know, I’m a pretty normal guy,” Andy says. “I work a day job. I’ve always been a nature lover—I grew up around the Kalamazoo River. When an oil spill happened—that was my wake-up call.”

Andy is referring to the oil spill in 2010, when an oil pipeline operated by Enbridge burst, resulting in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Thirty-five miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed for a clean-up that lasted years. About 300 acres of wetlands alongside the river were destroyed, much of it during the clean-up process, Andy says. 

By 2014, Andy was ready to do his part. He founded Fen Valley Earth First!, or FVEF!, a local group branching from the international movement, Earth First!

The Earth First! movement grew as a grassroots effort from the point where most environmental groups leave off—not shying away from protest and civil disobedience when the occasion arises. 

The Fen in Fen Valley Earth First! refers to the prairie fens, or wetlands, of southern Michigan.

“The wetlands are a crucial part of Michigan ecology,” Andy says. “Our wetlands are one of the most damaged ecological systems by agriculture. When people talk about loving nature, they tend to think of tree huggers, but we are based in the Kalamazoo River Valley, and the focus of FVEF! is on the Kalamazoo River watershed.”

Andy likens the wetlands to kidneys, filtering and cleaning the water systems of the Earth, recharging groundwater aquifers. Because so much of Michigan area is covered by wetlands, they tend to be more protected in this state than in others. Michigan wetlands are home to nearly 1,200 native plant species.

“About three-quarters of Michigan wetlands have been destroyed since European settlement,” Andy says. “That’s a decline of roughly 11 million acres down to 3 million.”

As Andy tells it, he was sitting around with a group of friends, kindred spirits in their love for the Earth, talking about what they could do. They wanted to do more. Fen Valley Earth First! was born from a desire to make a difference in eco-defense, beginning with efforts to do something about industrial projects that cause serious damage to the ecology of Michigan. 

“Membership depends on participation,” he says. “We’re a small group, eight to 12, maybe more during events. When we feel it is necessary to take action, we use every tool in the toolbox. Petitions, blocking construction, whatever is most effective without intentionally doing harm to any living species.”

Fen Valley Earth First! offers two-hour workshops prior to making protests, discussing what one might expect. 

“We discuss legal issues, how to interact with the media, define our goals and strategies and tactics,” Andy says. “We want people to understand the risks. Prepare bail money in case you get arrested. Earth First! is not afraid of controversy.”

A recent protest took the shape of ...


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