Death of David Chain

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David Nathan "Gypsy" Chain (June 17, 1974 – September 17, 1998) was an environmental activist. He was killed by a falling tree in suspicious circumstances during a protest in California Redwood Forests against the Pacific Lumber Company.[1]


Chain was a member of the Earth First! environmental advocacy group and was engaged on a campaign of tree sitting in order to stop what they considered was illegal logging, in breach of California Forest Practices Act,[2] in the Headwaters Forest, 350 miles north of San Francisco, near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. Headwaters was the largest private holding of old-growth forest in the world. Following a hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber Co., the Murphy family (the largest minority stock holders at the time) and countless previous stockholders, mostly company employees, were relieved of their stock by Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam, Inc. corporation of Texas.[3] Between a desire to turn a higher profit and the need to start paying off the debt incurred from acquiring the company, Hurwitz's Maxxam replaced the sustainable growth policy of the previous owner-managers with one of clearcutting.[4] The new practices led to the so-called Redwood Summer campaign by environmentalists, and ultimately forced the 140-year-old company to declare bankruptcy.[4]

Many residents of the area made their living through logging, despite its heavy toll on the environment. On the one hand, some members of the community in the nearby mill town of Fortuna strongly resented the presence of activists from other areas, as these were not aware of the potential economic impacts of logging stoppages. On the other hand, environmental activists like Chain believed that clearcutting was not sustainable and highlighted that the choice of jobs or the environment was a fallacy.[4]

Circumstances of his death[edit]

According to Humboldt County Sheriff Department, Chain was struck by a falling tree while trying to stop logging.[5] He was killed instantly and died of massive head trauma. In response to his death, a Pacific Lumber Co. spokesperson said their logging crew did not see anybody in the area and were unaware of Chain's presence.[6] Earth First! said that the loggers had been deliberately felling huge trees, in a perpendicular manner rather than downhill,[7] in the protesters' direction.[8] One of the protesters also noted that the tree fellers were fully aware that they were there, as the activists had been "yelling at them, walking towards them, telling them 'Don't fall this tree'".[7] On a videotape supplied by Earth First!, Arlington Earl Ammons, the 52-year-old logger responsible for falling the tree that caused Chain's death can be heard shouting expletives and threatening the protesters.[1][7][9]

Based on the local sheriff's probe, Humboldt County district attorney Terry Farmer decided not to press charges, concluding Ammons had not knowingly aimed a tree at any of the protesters.[1] Farmer concluded Chain's death was an accident, and went further to say that he had considered charging Earth First! with involuntary manslaughter charges instead.

Civil suit and settlement[edit]

Following the reticence of the district attorney to file criminal charges, Chain's mother started a civil suit against Ammons, Pacific Lumber and its parent company, Maxxam, alleging they were reckless and responsible for the death of her son.[1]

A wrongful death settlement was reached three days before trial was scheduled to commence. Its financial terms remain undisclosed but other parts were made public, as a reminder of the tragedy, the 135-foot tree that struck Chain will remain where it fell, and a 100-foot buffer zone \ prevented any nearby logging. A memorial was also erected.[10]


Soon after Chain's death, it was revealed that the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection had charged Pacific Lumber with at least 250 violations of the California Forest Practice Act between 1995 and 1997. These violations continued to accumulate in 1998, and in November of that year, Pacific Lumber became the first company ever to lose its logging license in California.[11]

As a condition of reinstating their license, Pacific Lumber agreed to the creation of the Headwaters Forest Reserve. It received $380 million of public funds in return for the purchase. A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) was also developed and approved to allow limited logging on the remaining 211,000 acres (850 km2) of Pacific Lumber Company timberland.[12][13]

In popular culture[edit]

Local Humboldt County based songwriters Karrie Jesse Manzanita Wallace & Juli Palmer wrote a song for him titled "A Chainsaw For A Gun (For Gypsy)" (c)1998

Singer-songwriter David Rovics dedicated a song to him, titled The Death of David Chain.

Seattle singer/songwriter Jim Page also wrote a song about David Chain entitled "Gypsy".

Writer John Burnside wrote a poem called "Earth" in memory of David Chain.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Seth Rosenfeld (March 14, 1999). "Death and anguish in the redwood wars". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Tim Reiterman (February 21, 2005). "A Titan of Logging Threatens to Topple". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  3. ^ "Denial Made On "Parking"". New York Times. October 6, 1987. Retrieved 4 July 2011. .
  4. ^ a b c Cobb, David (2008-06-12). "Maxxam's sordid history with Pacific Lumber". Times-Standard. MediaNews Group - Northern California Network. Retrieved 2010-11-16. 
  5. ^ The Associated Press (Sep 18, 1998). "Environmentalist hit, killed by falling tree". Ocala Star-Banner. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  6. ^ "Anti-logging activist killed by falling tree". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Sep 18, 1998. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Seth Hettena (Sep 19, 1998). "Earth First! accuses loggers of targeting activists before accident". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  8. ^ "Logging Protester Killed By Falling Redwood Tree". New York Times. Sep 19, 1998. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  9. ^ The Death of David Chain. Does this sound like an accidental killing to you?, EF! Media Center, retrieved 4 July 2011 
  10. ^ David Chain v. Goliath Maxxam, Earth First! Journal, archived from the original on 27 September 2011, retrieved 4 July 2011 
  11. ^ Setting the Record Straight: Maxxam/Pacific Lumber's Lawless Logging (PDF), Environmental Protection Information Center, retrieved 4 July 2011 
  12. ^ An LAO Report, Opportunities and Challenges for the State-The Headwaters Forest Legislative Analyst Office of the state of California.
  13. ^ Widick, Richard (January 2006). "Violence, Archive, and Memory in the Making of the Redwood Imaginary". All Academic Inc. p. 19. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 

External links[edit]