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Taking Back the Woods: Judi Bari Interviews Ernie Pardini

Judi Bari Interviews Ernie Pardini on KZYX FM in Philo, reprinted in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, July 29, 1992 and Timber Wars, © 1994 Common Courage Press.

Judi Bari: I want to start by you talking a little about who you are. What's your background, how long have you been in this county, how long you've been logging?

Ernie Pardini: Let's see--how old am I? I was born and raised here. My great-grandparents came here from Italy. They actually moved to Navarro during a logging boom, and built a hotel there in the days of the boom. But my family's been in the logging business in some capacity or another ever since, and I've been logging since I was 17. I'm 37 now, so that puts 20 years behind me. I am currently a licensed timber operator.

Judi Bari: And just so the listeners will know who they're listening to, everybody knows that the timber operator at the Albion cut is Pardini, so what relationship to you is the Pardini in Albion?

 Ernie Pardini: Well, that's my uncle. He just happened to be the unlucky guy who got the bid.

Judi Bari: And are you currently employed?

Ernie Pardini: I'm self employed right now. I'm starting a fledgling, struggling business. It's logging in a sense--I do some commercial logging. Probably by now it's clear that I won't do a job that's not in line with having timber in the future to log on that some piece of property. But I'm not against logging. Logging has to be done and should be done, I feel, but in a conscionable manner. And that's my complaint with the corporations, that they're not doing that.

Judi Bari: In your article in the Anderson Valley Advertiser a couple of weeks ago, you said you left the area for a while, and when you came back you saw things that opened your eyes. Could you describe that?

Ernie Pardini: Yes, I could. The business that I'm in now requires that I'm out and about a lot. I see a lot of country, a lot of the woods. And when I got back from New York--I was there for four and a half years--I found myself in areas that I had logged 10 years previously, when I worked for Masonite, on Masonite lands at the time, which are now L-P lands for the most part. And I saw areas that were logged when I was actively involved with Masonite that had been re-logged--and when I say re-logged I mean re-logged, there was nothing left but stumps and tan oak scrub--with entire new road systems cut in on steep ground, across the roads that we used when we were in there, which wasn't necessary as far as I could see. There's no logical reason for that, but it was done. This one job that sticks out in my mind looked like a checkerboard effect--it was skid roads this way and skid roads that way. And no trees. I thought, well maybe that's an isolated case, and then as I saw more and more of the corporate lands I saw more and more that it wasn't an isolated case--that there is very, very little timber out there on corporation lands.

Judi Bari: And yet you had never said anything for all this time, as have very few people who work for the timber industry, especially people whose families have been established here for a long time. Why were you silent? What were your feelings when you saw this?

Ernie Pardini: Probably much the same as most loggers feel right now. I had mixed emotions. I mean, logging was my life, it's a tradition. It had always been happening, and always before it looked like there was always going to be enough trees, and that it would be an ongoing thing with no concern on our part as far as having trees to log somewhere down the line.

Judi Bari: And why do you think this is happening?

Ernie Pardini: Well, I never really had any misconceptions about why it was happening. I feel it's happening because the corporations--L-P specifically--came in here with the intention of strong-arming Masonite out of the area and making a quick profit, and bailing out. That's what I felt when they moved in here. Most of the loggers that I know are going to do as good a job environmentally as they can with what they have to work with. But if L-P says, okay, this is a clearcut, cut every tree that's 12 inches at breast height and under, you're going to go in there and cut every tree that's 12 inches at breast height and under. Either that or you're not going to get the job.

Judi Bari: Well, when you're doing that kind of job--or when people are doing that kind of job, because I know you just said that you won't do that--do you think most of the loggers are aware that they're cutting themselves out of work?

Ernie Pardini: I think a lot are, but don't have any choice. Some maybe don't see it or don't want to see it but are in a position that dictates this kind of thinking to them. If they've got a million dollars invested in heavy equipment, they don't want to believe that in two years this equipment's going to be sitting in the yard with nothing to do.

Judi Bari: And what you're saying about not having any choice--yeah, I know. I used to build yuppie houses out of that old-growth redwood you cut down. And that was the best job I could get to support two kids with. So I don't think that's so much a point of contention. At any rate, you had some interesting things to say about the relationship of the environmentalists to L-P. Could you go into that a little bit?

Ernie Pardini: Yeah, I feel that the environmentalists--no offense intended--are playing right into L-P's hands.

Judi Bari: I think the loggers are.

Ernie Pardini: I think both are. I think the corporate timber industry is manipulating the entire struggle. They're ready to bail out of here. They've already laid off hundreds of people, and they're going to lay off hundreds more.

Judi Bari: They've actually laid off about 1,200 employees since 1989.

Ernie Pardini: Well, if it hadn't been for the environmental faction--they're going to run out of timber. They're going to cut logging back to the point where they can't operate their mills. When their mills can't operate any longer, they've got no logs left, they're going to have to leave. That makes them look like bad guys in the public eye. By having the environmental battle going, THPs are harder to get through, there's new rules coming out. It's those damn hippies, that's what they're telling the loggers. I know that's what they're receiving, and L-P is fueling that.

Judi Bari: And in L-P's case, not only are they destroying the timber, they're destroying people's livelihoods. That means people's ability to live in a rural lifestyle. And when they talk of things like retraining, basically what they're talking about is displacement, because there has to be something that people can do here.

Ernie Pardini: But there is. There is and there always will be. You know what people don't remember? They don't remember that when the clearcutting was done at the beginning of the century and in the '20s, they did create a lag for about 20 years. Through the Depression, actually until post-World War II, when the baby boom hit and all, the building was started again. But in those lapses they logged tan bark. My grandfather was a tan bark contractor. He had a mule train hauling tan bark out of the mountains to make tannic acid. So they found something to fill in.

Judi Bari: But this time, you know, these woods are trashed. We're going to have to hold some of this stuff in trust to prevent it from being turned into subdivisions. To me the problem is not whether people can survive in down periods of the economy. It's whether we're going to be allowed to survive. Or whether they're going to turn this into vineyards and subdivisions, because this timber gap is 50-year. Ninety percent of L-P's trees are less than 40 years old.

Ernie Pardini: What I don't think most of the loggers realize, yeah, we can wait out this lapse in the timber industry. We'll have to scale down, obviously, we'll have to get much more diversified in terms of the kinds of products we're going to be out there after. I think they're not seeing that it's not just waiting for this land to reproduce, it's making sure this land doesn't fall into developers' hands so that you'll never go back there to log it. I think pressure should be put on the county to pass some sort of law stating that what is now timberland must stay timberland. You know, it's easier to get a timberland conversion permit than it s to get a timber harvest plan through. That means it's easier to go in there and knock everything down and turn it into vineyard that it is to cut every other tree.

Judi Bari: That's a good point. And it does seem like a lot more people are beginning to see what's going on. But you know, at the FAC meeting I saw a lot of people waving yellow ribbons and cheering for their own demise. And I have to say that I thought, how long are the loggers going to let themselves be used as chumps for the corporations? How do you think this could be avoided? How can we stop being manipulated like this?

Ernie Pardini: Well, first with the timber workers--and this is understandable because they're up against the wall.but they're not organized. I've thought for years that there should be a timber workers union. It's hard because there's so many levels of employment. There's a guy out there working in the woods, there's a guy hauling logs to the mill, there's a lot involved. But without organization, well what good's it going to do me to quit when Joe Blow down the road is going to go ahead and take the job?

Judi Bari: Ernie, we have a caller.

FIRST Caller: I'm standing here looking out at the Noyo watershed and seeing a lot of clearcuts, and listening to Ernie talk about the workers not being able to organize, and thinking how the big strike of '47 was crushed by the company. And I wonder if Ernie's folks ever talked about that, and what kind of attitude towards the company makes people continue to cave in.

Ernie Pardini: I don't think that company ever tried that in Boonville! All kidding aside, L-P I'm sure would try to break a union. In those years, though, you're looking at immigrant crews, mostly. And I think it's a lot easier to scare someone who's afraid of having to go back to something worse.

Judi Bari: Do you know about the history of the Wobblies organizing the timber workers?

Ernie Pardini: No, I'm not familiar with it.

Judi Bari: Well, there actually was a union in the nineteen teens that succeeded in uniting all of those different factions of the loggers with different nationalities, different languages, and they actually did succeed in organizing the loggers. And they were crushed with a level of violence that's hard to even comprehend.

Ernie Pardini: That may be. But I don't think companies can really exert that kind of muscle these days with the media the way it is?

Judi Bari: Somebody bombed me Ernie.

Ernie Pardini: I know, Judi. I'm going to speak for most of the loggers I know, and I'm going to tell you that--they're not good at organizing labor unions, but if one of us got bombed and they thought that L-P was responsible, there wouldn't be a place big enough to hand the L-P sign over there in Ukiah at their plant. If it was you, if I knew who did it, If I had solid proof that L-P bombed you, I'd be going after them. We have to stand together as a community in that respect. You can't let corporate business crush the rights we've been given as Americans. If the loggers ever got backed against the wall to the point that they would try and organize, I don't think that would deter them in the least if individuals got picked out. It would give them more incentive, more purpose. It would create martyrs.

Judi Bari: And that's what it's done to us.

Ernie Pardini: You know, what I first started thinking about organizing timber workers is when my boss subletted me and my piece of equipment to a contractor to do some highway work. It was in the wintertime when logging was not going on. I was getting $8.50 an hour to run my piece of equipment, and there was an 18-year-old girl that was standing there holding the flag all day, and she was getting paid $22.50. And I thought to myself right then, I'm a trained professional--this is not something that you can just learn in an hour's time, so why am I getting $8.50 and she's getting $22.50? Ah! She's in the union!

Judi Bari: We have another caller. Go ahead.

Tony Pardini: This is Tony Pardini, Ernie's brother. I just got in from the woods, and I just want to say a couple of things real quick. Judi Bari, some of the things that you guys stand for I agree with, some of your tactics I disagree with.

Judi Bari: Which tactics do you disagree with? Because some of the tactics we're blamed for we don't do. For example, we've publicly renounced tree spiking, and we don't sab your equipment.

Tony Pardini: Okay, thank you. I'll give you one example. Turning a house trailer over in the middle of the truck road.

Judi Bari: Okay. That one I admit somebody did it.

Tony Pardini: Okay. Stopping men just like me from going to their jobs and earning a living to feed the babies. Earth First! stands for Earth first. I look at it as feed the babies first, because they're here on this Earth, and they're the ones that are going to be taking care of the Earth. Okay, now I got something to say to Ernie. Ernie, i think there's a lot of loggers that agree with a lot of things you say. But I don't think they have the guts to say it because of the repercussions. And I just want to say I'm proud of you, standing up and saying what you feel regardless of repercussions from other loggers, L-P, or whatever.

Ernie Pardini: You're not doing too bad yourself there, little brother.

Tony Pardini: Yeah, well, if you get too many repercussions, let me know. I'll give you a hand.

Ernie Pardini: Yeah, I figured I could count on that.

Tony Pardini: But Judi, you got some good points, and I don't want to see the trees disappear either.

Judi Bari: Great! And as far as feeding the babies, I've got kids too, and I agree with that too. But I feel that we're at a state where, if this keeps going there's none of us going to be able to feed our babies. And one quick response to the turned-over trailer and the many other things we've done in the past eight weeks out in Albion--because Ernie in his article says why aren't we organizing boycotts and stuff like that instead of stopping people from working? And the reason is because we feel like this is an emergency. I mean, L-P admits they've taken 90% of the trees. They're leaving anyway, and they're going to leave us with nothing. And once a 600-year-old tree is gone, it's gone. I'm really glad to see Ernie proposing alternatives because that's exactly what we would like to happen, that people can still work in the woods without destroying the woods. But we're taking drastic actions now because this is an emergency.

Tony Pardini: Yeah, well I've got friends that work for my uncle, and their feelings are the same as mine. Feed the babies first. And if you're going to turn a trailer upside down, turn it--now I'm going to say something that's going to cause repercussions for me. I'll never get a job on L-P land again for saying this, but I don't really care. I'm going to say what I feel, just like Ernie. Turn a trailer over in front of Harry Merlo's office, because I don't think Harry Merlo is concerned about his babies. I think he's concerned about his pocketbook, and that caseload of money that he's going to leave this county with.

Judi Bari: Thank you. You know we did do that. We actually went into his hot tub once at his secret Shangri-La at 3400 Scaggs Springs Road out near Healdsburg.

Tony Pardini: Yeah, Maybe I'll be there with you next time, because I'm not going to get a job on L-P land now anyway.

Judi Bari: Well, there aren't many more jobs on L-P land for anybody, and that's really the point. And I think we need to be aware about the people trying to make their livings too. So thanks a lot for calling in.

Tony Pardini: Thanks for listening to me. I'm proud of you, Ernie.

Judi Bari: Ernie, you didn't get a chance to answer, and I'd really like to hear your answer, what you think of the demonstrations in Albion, the issues and the tactics.

Ernie Pardini: Well, you're talking to a logger, so when you're stopping loggers from trying to make a living, I could never participate in something like that. I think that what you've done so far has been beneficial in the sense that it's gotten a lot of media attention. Now my suggestion is let's use this attention to start fingering L-P themselves, and stop picking on the little logger guys.

Judi Bari: Well our signs say L-P Out of Mendo County and our bumper-sticker says L-P equals Logger Poverty. But I think this is a dilemma too, because I don't want to protest against the people who are just earning a living out there. But I don't think that's what we're really saying. What we're saying is long-term versus short-term. If we're stopping a job today and today and keeping one last watershed of healthy trees for when L-P inevitably leaves, then maybe people can see it in a longer term, We have another caller. Go ahead.

THIRD Caller: Oh, hi. This is one of the protesters from out in Albion. I was there the morning when we dumped that travel trailer. You know it's really wishful thinking to think we really stopped the loggers. At most we stopped them for two or three hours at a time. And it's really been an issue with me to try and decide whether I could in good conscience even stop somebody for a few hours. But I know those timber fallers make a couple of hundred dollars a day, and it seems to me that if we stop them for an hour an hour, it wouldn't break them. But I would really like to figure out a way to organize the timber fallers, who seem to be the real key in this issue--if they would organize into a guild and only do what they in conscience could cut, I think we'd be a long way towards solving this whole thing.

Judi Bari: Real men don't cut pecker poles...

THIRD Caller: But on that Enchanted Meadow cut, most of the fallers, at least from my contact with them, all they could see was that one job. They couldn't see that what we were trying to do was stop a destruction that was going on over the whole watershed.

Ernie Pardini: Exactly. That's why there's a need for communication between both factions, and that's what we're working to do. I'm finding out things I was unaware of. I saw an aerial photo that Judi showed me the other day that blew me away, and I already know they're devastating their timberlands.

Judi Bari: That aerial photo, taken by Nick Wilson, showed 20 square miles of redwood clearcuts between Willits and Fort Bragg. And I have another one that's right next to it geographically that shows 16 miles of clearcuts. So I only showed you half of what I had to show. But there's another thing I want to say about the protesters. It's based in the area, people who live here. And many of the protesters live off the land in one way of another either as fishermen and women, homesteaders--one of the protesters owns a small mill. So there isn't really this conflict of whether we can use the woods or not. I think we agree on that, that these woods could support us if they weren't abused.

Ernie Pardini: That.s why there.s got to be communication. It.s not enough to say, not going to let you work today. got to tell them why. And I think when all is said and done, the two groups can come to terms.

Epilogue: Ernie Pardini joined the IWW shortly after this interview, and (in 1993) became the first logger to conduct an Earth First! tree-sit (in 1993).