Joan Norman was an activist cut from the cloth of the civil rights, anti-war, anti-nuke movement of the 60’s, and was 72 years old when she put her body in front of rolling timber trucks to stop the Biscuit post-fire salvage timber sale in the early Spring chill within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in 2005.

The Kalmiopsis was set alight by a series of lightning strikes from a summer storm that moved through the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon in July of 2002. With five initial separate fires burning, they merged into a single massive fire with a burn area of half a million acres that continued deep into October. US Forest Service Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy, seeing an opportunity to exploit the controversial Salvage Rider provision (which allowed logging in areas protected due to threatened and endangered species), initially hoped to cut a billion board feet in the protected Kalmiopsis wilderness areas the USFS called the Biscuit timber sale. This plan was eventually whittled down because of public outrage, multiple environmental lawsuits (two of which were filed by Lauren Regan and Marianne Dugan), and national coverage that introduced the United States to the question, what is the value of our rare roadless wilderness areas that remain after wildfires.

Joan Norman was arrested twice– on March 7 and March 14, 2002, with various charges stemming from putting her physical body between logging trucks and the pristine wilderness. Joan refused both fines and probation, instead preferring to go to jail and use her time there to inspire and teach other inmates with her life experience and knowledge of constitutional rights. Joan was part of a group of activists arrested during the Fiddler timber sale in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness who were represented by our own Lauren Regan. CLDC’s lone lawyer at the time defended over 70 cases in three counties as a result of dozens of different creative and daring protests. Lauren and this group of 70+ forest defenders also collectively challenged the constitutionality of the new Oregon statute, “interference with an agricultural operation.” This challenge was won by Lauren and the group she represented, with the charges dismissed, as well as striking that law from the books so that no other forest defender was ever charged again with that crime. This led to the dismissal of over 70 activists’ charges who were defended by Lauren and the CLDC. Joan spent over three weeks in jail for her defense of the wilderness and a planet she deeply loved.

Laurel Sutherlin, the current Senior Communications Strategist at the Rainforest Action Network, and deeply influential member of the earliest group of forest defenders to set up “shop” at The Green Bridge (a potent symbolic and strategic point of entry into the Kalmiopsis–see photos for reference) had this to say about Joan’s participation:

“Joan had shown up unbeknownst to us the night before and slept in her car because she had heard the call to action at the Green Bridge for a final stand to defend the Fiddler timber sale area within the larger Biscuit management area. She was like a lightning bolt into an exhausted campaign. She brought morale up inside the campaign and public approval skyrocketed outside the campaign. Joan spontaneously decided to walk out on the green bridge and sit down and refuse to move. There were people locked down and people ready to be arrested way up the mountain, but the cops weren’t letting the media pass the bridge. And right then, as the misty sunrise started to lighten the day, we grabbed a chair and gathered around her underneath a giant upside down American flag. Everyone started singing America the Beautiful. And after months of trying to gain the goodwill and trust of the somewhat conservative Illinois Valley community, all of a sudden we had a turning point.”

In an interview with Joan about coming to the Kalmiopsis to join the fight to save this pristine wilderness from a Bush administration corporate cash grab, Joan said “Tell them to get some fire in their bellies and come to this gate of paradise and help us defend it. Tell them to come. I will be here.”

Joan unfortunately passed away Summer of 2005 in a car accident on U.S. Route 199, the highway that happened to run right past the wilderness area she fought so hard to defend. Her impact on the young activists, the Biscuit Campaign, and the outcome of a hard fought battle will never be forgotten. Joan is truly a woman of history our movement should know and CLDC was honored to defend her, be inspired by her, and know her. Thank you Joan, we love you!

This is a short promotional video that was put together as a call to action to all forest defenders willing to come out and protect the Kalmiopsis Wilderness from old growth logging in the summer of 2005. This video heavily features Joan Norman including her arrest near the end. The voice over at the beginning and the end is Joan speaking.