Megaloads Protester Turns to Forestry

Megaloads protester Jim Prall has started planting a small forest in a hay field on the edge of Moscow (The Lewiston Tribune/David Johnson photo).

Veteran activist Jim Prall begins ambitious tree-planting project at Moscow

Two months after being jailed for going into the street to protest passage of oil company megaloads through town, Jim Prall said he’s making amends by planting a forest.

“I’ve never felt so good about being patriotic as I have this spring, planting these baby trees,” said Prall, 67.  “I feel like, well, it makes up for the trouble I’ve caused with the megaloads.”

More importantly, Prall said while extracting a bit of his tongue from cheek, converting his five-acre hay field to an urban forest will be a lasting reminder that natural resource extraction must be countered by restoration.

“It’s really an honor to be making this place appropriate for the 21st century by planting trees on the edge of Moscow.”

Prall was among the last three of 11 protesters arrested here during months-long demonstrations against oversize oil company infrastructure loads being trucked through town en route to tar sand fields in Canada.

More than 30 demonstrations ranged in size from around 300 people in the beginning down to a couple of dozen toward the end.  Prall, who was among those protesting the Vietnam War in the 1960s, initially stayed away from the late-night megaload protests.

“It was past my bedtime,” he quipped.

But on one of the last nights, Prall said he took a nap, downed some coffee, and showed up on Washington Street.  Other protesters and police were about to engage in another encounter, as the megaloads passed through under heavy escort.

“I intended to get arrested, because I didn’t want to waste my time,” Prall recalled.  He harkened back 46 years to when he was among anti-war protesters, including singer Joan Baez, demonstrating in Oakland.

“In the ’60s, they didn’t take you to jail.  They just beat the crap out of you,” Prall said.  “They carried Joan Baez and delicately placed her in the paddy wagon.  And then they turned around and wailed the tar out of us.”

But times have changed, Prall said.  When he entered Washington Street to block the megaloads, “gentlemanly” police arrested him, made sure his handcuffs weren’t too tight, and took him off to jail.

“It’s no worse than an Amtrak berth,” he said about sleeping on a cot behind bars.  “It’s long and narrow.”

Charged at first with misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer, Prall eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace.

“You bet I was disturbing the peace.  I plead guilty to disturbing the peace.  I’m always disturbing the peace,” he said.  “The peace needs disturbing more often around here to get these young people woken up.”

Prall ended up paying a total of $340 in fines, court costs, and attorney fees – the exact same amount he paid to purchase the first shipment of seedlings for the megaload forest.  “Now isn’t that funny, $340 for the baby trees,” he said.  “Is this penance for distressing, not the mayor, but the city council?”

Prall credited Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney for acknowledging the megaload protests as an exercise in free speech, but blasted city councilors for taking a predictable pro-development stance.

“And so, for the first time ever, I’ve planted white pine, Idaho’s state tree.  I’ve planted 25 of them here,” Prall said of one species among many in the mini-forest.  “And I’m really taking good care of them.  I’m really groveling around in the soil.”

Gophers, he said, are one of the biggest threats to the seedlings.  But neighborhood dogs are helping keep the rodents at bay.  And the human neighbors, Prall said, are all in favor of his plantings, especially since he lets people use the area like a park.

“My wife, Carolyn (Berman) said, ‘You did it.  You’ve created an attractive nuisance.'”

When he’s done, Prall estimated he’ll have planted around 2,000 trees.  He acknowledged that he won’t be around to see them at full maturity, but he’s giving them a start, creating, in effect, carbon credits for the future.

“I’m out there on my hands and knees putting baby trees in the ground,” Prall said, “to mitigate the fact that we’re rushing headlong toward destruction and that enough people aren’t planting enough trees.”

(By David Johnson, The Lewiston Tribune)

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