Leaves You Hopeful: Stories About People Protecting Their Forests

This is a guest post by Aanahita Ervin, a 2023 Duke Stanback Climate Impacts Fellow.

Leaves You Hopeful is a short podcast series. It highlights stories about large institutions (government, private foundations, corporations) misusing forests against the wishes of the local community members. While misuse of forest land is often legal, it’s not ethical. These offending institutions are powerful. People often assume they can’t ask questions. Sometimes, they don’t have the resources to do so.

These stories illustrate the power individuals and communities have. Exploring their strategies gives us a better understanding of how to resist. They also remind us that we’re not alone in this work.

The stories focus on the Southeastern region of the United States between the 1990s and present day. I hope this podcast leaves you hopeful about protecting trees and leaves everywhere.

Episode 1: Land Between the Lakes
Episode 2: Mr.Charlie’s Trees
Episode 3: Resisting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline

hope sign in a forest

What motivated this project?

The events of 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia motivated this project. The Stop Cop City campaign arose to oppose Cop City, an 85 acre police training facility. Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation are building it in the heart of Atlanta. This project would cut down a public forest to build a training facility in a Black neighborhood. The construction of such a facility harms the community. It takes away their access to nature. It increases the probability and intensity of floods in an already flood prone zone. Not to mention, it also funds a state institution that disproportionately surveils and polices that community.

Stop Cop City forest protector activists camped in the forest. They resisted the police in various fashions everyday. Many were arrested and charged with terrorism. Terrorism is an outrageous charge for simply enacting their right to protest. Police murdered the activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran. Tortuguita was sitting crossed legged with their arms up when police shot them.

These events made an explicit link between forest protection and policing in two ways. A public forest was being cut down and privatized for a cop training facility that would increase police violence. Laws were passed that positioned protestors as terrorists. Lawmakers criminalized protest activities and brought the force of state-sanctioned violence upon peaceful protestors. This was the police violence and criminalization protestors were trying to stop from expanding.

I wanted to document other events in the recent past that showed the link between forest protection and policing. However, it was harder than I thought to find those stories. Instead, I broadened the scope of the project. The stories focused on any large institution misusing forests against public will.

Land Between the Lakes: Pisgah Bay Project – Kentucky/Tennessee 2014-2015 – Listen Now

Land Between the Lakes (LBL) national recreation area has a history of government mismanagement. The story begins in 1958 when Tennessee Valley Authority removed families to create LBL. The story then fast forwards to forest service mismanagement of lands in 2014. A broad coalition of people came together to stop the misuse of their forest. They opposed the destruction of a public good in favor of timber companies. This episode explores how the history of a land and people can play a pivotal role in events over 55 years later.

For more information: The forest service documented the public listening sessions. The 8600 Campaign created a stir to garner support. That included videos and a website. The Tennessee and Kentucky Heartwood organizations advocated for the protection of the forest. Local sources like Clarkville and WMKS also reported on it.

Listen to this episode on Spotify.

Mr. Charlie’s Trees – Georgia 2020 – Listen Now

Mr. Charlie’s life’s work culminated into 1000 acres of forest land that he created through 30 years of hard work. His last wish was to give that land perpetuity. He bequeathed his land to the University of Georgia Foundation (UGAF) in the hopes of achieving that. Unfortunately, his wishes were not fulfilled.

Beginning with Mr. Charlie, this episode follows his life journey and how it led him to plant a million trees. With Aliss Terrell, the episode explores the legality, but ethical opaqueness, of UGAF’s actions. The episode covers UGAF’s role in the story by exploring the power that university foundations have historically had. The episode ends with a brief look into how Aliss seems like she’s alone, but how she can act to fight for our forests in her own way.

Special thanks to Aliss Terrell for her dedication to her uncle’s story and legacy. Her research and thoroughness helped tremendously. Here is the trailer to the documentary about Mr. Charlie’s Trees, as well as the GoFundMe.

For more information: Visit Aliss Terrell’s Linktree. She updates folks on her journey of telling Mr. Charlie’s story.

Listen to this episode on Spotify.

Resisting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline – Louisiana 2018 – Listen Now

L’eau Est La Vie Camp is a group of Indigenous water protectors that formed in 2018. L’eau Est La Vie, along with a coalition of organizations, worked together to resist the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. It goes through the Atchafalaya basin, the largest river swamp in the United States.

Louisiana is an industry-heavy state that faces severe pollution. The pipeline risks the health of already vulnerable people, the local economy, and the environment. This story shows how state weaponized militarization, intimidation, and laws to suppress the rights of protestors. This episode follows the strong and strategic resistance the coalition staged against Energy Transfer.

Karen Savage is an independent, investigative journalist who covered the events on the ground. She explores the intimidation, physical assault, and the role state and local police played. The coalition created through this struggle broke down silos to support the community. As we move into a hotter and more policed future, their story leaves us with a hopeful message.

Special thanks to Karen Savage for the insight into the events described in this episode. Her work speaks truth at a time of dying local news and increasing disinformation.

For more information: DeSmog has a detailed series of reports from the beginning of the resistance. It includes reporting on the lawsuits, public hearings, protests, and more. Journalist Karen Savage provided on-the-ground coverage of events, including video footage. Lastly, there’s a documentary called L’eau Est La Vie: From Standing Rock to the Swamp available for free.

Listen to this episode on Spotify.

Where To Go From Here

Did this podcast mini-series leave you hopeful? Why not take the next step in your own activism journey?

TAKE ACTION: Hold Enviva accountable for the harms they’ve inflicted on community members across the South!

Aanahita Ervin is a 2023 Climate Impact Fellow at Dogwood Alliance. She’s pursuing her masters degree at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Aanahita received her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma. She’s interested in many issues like climate change, poverty, and criminal justice. At Dogwood, she’s exploring how the intersection of these systemic issues impacts marginalized Southern communities. She hopes to work in local government and use her skills to serve underserved and minoritized populations.

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