February 29, 2024

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From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Hoedads reunion: Jerry Rust takes a look back at their impact

5 min read
Hoedads founder Jerry Rust tells KEPW's Rob Tobias one of the worst, dirtiest secrets about Oregon: "We're not so green, you know."

DJ Suss D: It’s the 50-year reunion of the Hoedads. Rob Tobias spoke to founder Jerry Rust. He barely knew what a co-op was, but he knew he needed to get people planting trees, and he didn’t need a hierarchy to do it.

Jerry Rust: So it was a really heady, yeasty, times-they-are-a-changin’ time, when people like me didn’t want to work for ‘The Man.’ We wanted to do something else and that’s what kind of led us naturally to this dirty little profession of planting trees.

[00:00:34] Rob Tobias: And so you started as a co-op? What did you know about co-ops?

[00:00:40] Jerry Rust: Well, I just figured that we wanted to, we figured that we were getting paid $3.25 an hour while some contractor was raking off thousands of dollars. And why shouldn’t we just all get together, form a little—

[00:00:56] Yeah, you’re right. We didn’t know what a co-op was except that it was going to be a democratically-controlled group of people that, you know, stood for the right thing and went out and planted the trees and shared the money, based on merit or whatever logic we applied to it.

[00:01:14] Rob Tobias: Let’s talk a little bit more about the early days and the kind of people you attracted. We were talking about the ‘60s and the early ’70s was this kind of back-to-the-land movement. And there were, you know, the hippie thing was still happening, although it was changing a little bit. And, the Hoedads turned out to be an opportunity to make some money.

[00:01:39] Jerry Rust: Yeah, really significant. We did attract a lot of people from the East Coast, from California. There were some native, local people like myself. A lot of them had advanced college degrees. But, as I said, didn’t really want to work for, quote, ‘The Man.’

I saw people come on these jobs that had never done a lick of work in their life, and it just thrilled me to see them take to it. I went over and sat in the pickup with the two Forest Service inspectors, and their eyeballs were just coming out of their head. They could not get enough of looking at these guys and girls walking across, trying, you know, one suspender down, one shoe on, a bowl of granola, trying to get ready, beards and long hair and scruffy and, my God, all dressed differently.

[00:02:47] And they’d never seen anything like it and I was getting a kick out of just watching them watching us. But we were different and we made a big impact.

[00:02:58] DJ Suss D: They spoke about the conditions at the tree plants.

[00:03:02] Jerry Rust: Full of vine maple maybe. Or the coast was notorious for being just tough stuff with Devil’s club. Oh my god! And crawling underneath the vine maple and the canopy of the berries and stuff, and going through there.

[00:03:22] So we had one guy, he called himself ‘Slash King,’ and he made a living out of going into the slash. He says, ‘I’ll do this slash, and you guys go do the gravy.’

[00:03:34] DJ Suss D: Hoedads were instrumental in crafting government policy.

[00:03:37] Jerry Rust: Planting trees in the middle of a devastated clearcut, again, one of the worst, dirtiest secrets about Oregon is that we’re not so green, you know. We’re mowing down trees now, 30-40 years old, and leaving a trail of mud behind. I remember planting up next to old-growth forests where you had these stumps that were six feet across.

[00:04:02] You could lie down on one and the duff, which is the debris that’s left over where all this carbon storage is, half of it is laying there and you’d look into the old growth forest and the water coming out of there was absolutely clear even during a heavy rain. But when it hit that clearcut, it just turned to mud.

[00:04:29] And when it went out of that clearcut, it was pulling out all that duff in the mud. And even to this day, if you look at our rivers, the reason they turned brown in the winter is because of the clearcuts. If we didn’t have clearcuts like that, our rivers would stay clear all, even during the winter, during a flood.

[00:04:50] Except for, you know, some natural landslides and whatnot. But we are really still (can I say it?) raping this land.

[00:04:59] Rob Tobias: Forest Service is also doing things with herbicide and pesticide and that was affecting people. And some of the Hoedads got active and resisted that, right?

[00:05:11] Jerry Rust: Yeah. Well, there was one thing, they had a thing called Thiram that they sprayed on the seedlings to keep the elk from eating it or the deer. And was a remedy for alcoholism.

[00:05:27] But anyway, we had people drinking beer and getting sick. We got them to stop that. Later, we helped, I talked to people over in Five Rivers, the terrible use of Agent Orange and the 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T that had the dioxin in it and we got involved in that. I carried that into the Lane County Commissioner office.

[00:05:58] We stopped spraying malathion for mosquitoes. We stopped the very first meeting that I participated in, we stopped herbicide spray on all county roads and parks. Bang! Just like that. And that ban stood for many years. And they’ve loosened it a bit, but not much. So that’s a direct result of Hoedad activism.

[00:06:23] Rob Tobias: And I, and would you say those issues around spraying is what motivated you to get it to run for office?

[00:06:31] Jerry Rust: Oh, that was one of the big ones. And, you know, there was Senate Bill 100, land use planning, there were a cluster of issues that motivated me, but definitely poisoning our ecosystem was a big one.

[00:06:49] And then, you know, later it was the gypsy moth. They wanted to spray, I don’t know, 5,000 acres in Central Lane County with dimilin and other poisons. And we got them to do Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is an organic substance that isn’t persisting in the environment, you know.

[00:07:12] Rob Tobias: Talking with Jerry Rust, founder of Hoedads.

[00:07:16] Jerry Rust: There are some solutions, it will take a lot, but you know, if Oregon wanted to make a contribution to global warming, we would grow those big trees as fast as we could, and the public could buy out those forests and restore them, and we could make our contribution to the planet, which is urgently needed. If you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a crisis…

[00:07:43] And there are ways to do it because now there’s a carbon market and we could buy the land legally by, you know, eminent domain. The public declares that this land is needed for the wealth and health and welfare of the public and therefore we’re going to take it, we’re going to manage it for its carbon sequestration, and we’re going to pay off the bonds that we used to buy those lands with the carbon credits, and that’s all doable.

[00:08:14] DJ Suss D: Rob Tobias can be heard on Train of Thought on KEPW.org. For more info on the Hoedad reunion, go to HoedadsOnline.com. For KEPW News, I’m DJ Suss D.

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