DEATH OF AN ECO WARRIOR

LEROY JACKSON TRANSFORMED HIMSELF FROM A PHOENIX STREET WINO INTO A CHARISMATIC NAVAJO ENVIRONMENTALIST. HIS FRIENDS THINK HE WAS MURDERED FOR HIS EFFORTS.

"We were upset," says Adella, "but we thought, 'Well, people are working.'" They had no idea of what the forest would look like afterward.

When they left the hogan for the winter, the trees had not yet been cut. When they returned the next spring, however, the area around their hogan looked like a war zone.

"It was denuded. It was horrible." Once the trees had been so thick that there was no view of the outside mountains. Now, the high, black palisades of Roof Butte stood starkly beyond a long, open vista of stumps and slash piles.

"This is not the way it should be done," Jackson told his wife, and so he went to Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, to ask some questions.

Jackson had attended meetings to protest strip mining at Black Mesa on the reservation, which, like the Chuskas, is a sacred site to many Navajos.

"The Chuskas are the male deity," Adella explains. "Black Mesa is the female deity and together, that's the Navajo culture. The female, they're strip mining, and you know what they're doing to the male."
Jackson thought the logging was excessive, and so he became involved in the coalition of grassroots organizations that called itself Din‚ C.A.R.E., "Din‚" being the name the Navajo call themselves, and "C.A.R.E." as an acronym for "Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment." He turned to outside environmental groups, most notably the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians, to educate himself on timber issues.

Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians has referred to Jackson as "an incrementalist," one who wanted to change things slowly and by degree. "What he wanted was so very moderate," Hitt says.

And Jackson's concern was as much religious and cultural as environmental. "He wanted to be the tongue of the elderly people because they couldn't read, and they didn't understand the language of commercial development," recalls Earl Tulley, who is now president of Din‚ C.A.R.E. "He could explain the concepts to them in a way they'd understand."

Jackson had told his brother Dave, "The old folks, they know what I'm saying."
His first major battle came in 1992, when Din‚ C.A.R.E. contested a timber sale called Whiskey Creek-Ugly Valley, northeast of Canyon de Chelly. Din‚ C.A.R.E. demanded that the Navajo timber company and the Navajo Nation--which owns both the company and the forests--prepare an environmental impact statement for the sale and that they comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and other federal regulations. The timber community countered with the usual tactics, claiming that environmental regulations would result in lost jobs. In July of 1992 at an antienvironmentalist rally on the reservation, Leroy Jackson was hanged in effigy. He started getting late-night phone calls threatening his life. And though he told some of his friends about them, he was always vague, and changed the subject when asked specifics.

Each side accused the other of bringing in white outsiders to Navajo affairs. Din‚ C.A.R.E. lambasted the timber barons from the Pacific Northwest who sit on the board of directors of Navajo Forest Products Industries and the BIA bureaucrats who hold Navajo resources in trust for the Indians.

The Navajo forest industry accused Din‚ C.A.R.E. of bringing in white environmental groups. Dexter Gill, a white man, recently resigned under pressure as head forester for the Navajo Nation. He refers to Forest Guardians as a "left-wing, pseudoenvironmental radical group." Leroy Jackson, he says, was "totally irrational. You could explain things to him, but he was typical of most of the environmental community today. They just use the name 'environmentalist' to get people's money. It's big business."

NFPI was a big business also, and losing money in big ways. Timber sales are carried out in a curious way on the reservation: Navajo government foresters mark the trees for sale, NFPI cuts them and then pays a fee back to the tribe, using the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a clearinghouse. NFPI is somewhere from $2.8 million to $7 million behind in stump fees--depending on whose figures you believe--and millions more behind in payments on other notes and loans. Jackson wanted to know what became of the money.

Clearly, some of the loss stems from the Navajo Nation's attempt to run NFPI as both a make-money and a make-work enterprise. Ed Richards, general manager of NFPI, claims that on several occasions he has asked the tribe to let him float stump fees so that he would not have to shut down the mill and lay off workers. "And they agree to it," he says.

Richards feels that the forest can sustain all the logging he needs to keep his saws buzzing. But other outside evaluators agreed with Jackson that the Navajos were overcutting. Dr. Jack State, a biologist from Northern Arizona University, found that the Navajo management plan "seemed to disregard any kind of concern for wildlife in that so much of the cover was being removed over broad areas." More so, he said, than in nearby national forests.

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