Earth Watch July 25: Line 3 pipeline resistance grows stronger despite police repression + wildfire update + Building Soil

News from the epicenter of the Climate Justice Movement

Police raid the Red Lake Treaty Camp, attempt to block supplies from reaching Water Protectors fighting construction of Enbridge Line 3 pipeline

A Minnesota court granted a temporary restraining order Friday, ruling that the Hubbard County Sheriff cannot close Highway 32 in Northern Minnesota after the Police attempted to close the road necessary to reach Indigenous Water Protectors at the Red Lake Treaty Camp. The very same day, at least 20 water protectors were arrested as police invaded the camp, arresting one White Earth woman while she was peacefully engaging in a prayer ceremony. 

The Red Lake Treaty Camp has emerged as a unifying protest camp to resist the construction of Enbridge’s replacement Line 3 pipeline built to pump Canadian tar sands oil across Anishinaabe tribal land and the Mississippi River headwaters. Recently, Indigenous leaders have called on allies around the world who want to show solidarity in the fight for water, sovereignty and climate justice to join the camp if they are able.

The arrests came despite Ojibwe usufructuary rights (or ‘Use-rights,’) firmly established in the 1837 White Pine Treaty which gives the Ojibwe People, including the White Earth Nation, undeniable rights to use and protect the land. An online Honor the Earth pamphlet explains how  “.... an Ojibwe chief from Leech Lake known as Eshkibagikoonzhe (Flat Mouth) demanded that his people retain the right to ‘get their living from the lakes and rivers’ because ‘we cannot live, deprived of our lakes and rivers.’” 

These treaty rights have been reaffirmed on at least two other occasions in different US courts in addition to being protected by the US Constitution and affirmed by the US Supreme Court. Outside of these unambiguous treaty agreements and court decisions, the Water Protectors’ camp is further justified through their holding of a permit - invalidating any legal rationalization for the arrests of Water Protectors, including well-known farmer and author Winona Laduke, who was freed after getting arrested on Monday. 

Another military enforced cessation, infamously known as ‘Old Crossing Treaty’ and signed in 1863 establishes that the land at the camp belongs to the Red Lake Nation, as does much of the land that Enbridge plans to cross with their pipeline. This treaty was forcibly imposed upon the Ojibwe People, as the US signers showed up to the signing with 300 troops and a Gatling gun with a large presence of state and federal military in the area following the U.S.-Dakota War. 

The police intruded on the Red Lake Treaty Camp after water protectors had repeatedly blocked Enbridge from constructing the pipeline. On Friday morning, Enbridge was prevented from drilling underneath the Crow Ring River after water protectors chained themselves to equipment Enbridge needed to use. On Monday, water protectors met Enbridge and the police at the Shell River where seven people were arrested trying to stop Enbridge from proceeding. 


On July 14th, Indigenous and environmental groups appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court to ask them to overturn a lower court decision that ruled the permits for the Line 3 Pipeline are legal. At the same time, the Biden administration has chosen to defend the validity of the permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and allow the Line 3 pipeline to move forward, despite Biden’s rhetorical position that climate change is an existential threat. 

Branch Out reported last week on the fossil fuel industry’s close ties with the Biden administration, as the top domestic policy advisor to the White House Susan Rice was forced to divest $2.7 million in Enbridge stock that she owned at the time the Biden Justice Department decided to greenlight the company's pipeline. The conflicts of interest go all the way to the top, and they start with local police. The Intercept has recently reported on how local police departments in Northern Minnesota expect that increased tax revenue from the completion of Line 3 will directly benefit them by increasing the police budgets. Enbridge has also reportedly been footing the bill directly for policing efforts, like the raid on the Red Lake Treaty Camp, that are aimed at stopping resistance to the Line 3 pipeline project. 

Contribute to the Line 3 Legal Defense Fund:

Pipeline drilling fluid from Line 3 construction found in local rivers: Is it safe?

The increased police action comes after Enbridge spilled several hundred gallons of drilling fluid into the Shell River this week, according to the Indigenos Environmental Network (IEN). The IEN is reporting that the spill into the Shell River contained the product POLYSELECT POWEPACT-L, manufactured by Halliburton, which may create combustible dust, and is known to cause “eye, skin and respiratory irritation,” posing risks when mixed with water supplies.

While the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) determined Enbridge work crews have overseen 9 spills of drilling fluid so far. However, they claim that the spill at Willow River is the only one that has resulted in direct discharge of drilling fluid into waterways. 

While the MPCA investigation is ongoing, a local newspaper reported that MPCA is currently denying that there was a spill into the Shell River, characterizing this accusation as a form of “misinformation.”

Whatever the true contents of Enbridge’s secret fracking formula, the fact that Enbridge has overseen 9 spills already should in itself raise alarm, considering that this region contains the headwaters for the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes and Enbridge has a lengthy history of polluting waterways. 

In 1991, the original Enbridge Line 3 pipeline ruptured and 1.7 million gallons of crude oil gushed into the Prairie River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. This incident was the largest inland oil spill in United States history. It was not the only time that more than a million gallons of oil spilled from the old Line 3 pipeline; in 1976, 1.3 million gallons of crude oil leaked from the pipeline near Argyle, MN. 

Given the devastating history of Enbridge in the region, and the fact that even drilling to create the new Line 3 pipeline has already resulted in some water contamination, the pipeline’s opponents are urgently calling on President Biden to revoke the Line 3 permit like he did the Keystone XL Pipeline. They are also asking allies to show support by donating to the legal defense fund or joining the Red Lake Treaty Camp in person.


Tamarack fire in CA, NV the latest extreme wildland fire made worse by climate change

The Tamarack Fire crossed state lines this week into Nevada, having burned in rural Alpine County, California after a lightning strike sparked the blaze on July 4th. The fire has exploded to cover more than 65,000 acres southeast of Lake Tahoe on the ancestral land of the Washoe tribe. Luckily, due to the efforts of local fire departments and the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team, a unit specialized for fighting wildfires throughout the west, very few structures and no lives have been lost. 

The fire has still shaken the local community as entire towns have been evacuated, and homes are expected to be without power for several weeks while the local power company Liberty Utilities works to repair infrastructure that was damaged by the fire. 

Part of why this fire has been making national news is because of how the U.S. Forest Service responded in early July when the agency was aware of the fire, but decided not to devote any resources to fighting it. In a July 10th facebook post, the Forest Service posted an aerial video of smoke rising in the Sierra Nevada mountains and wrote, “Smoke might be visible to Pacific Crest Trail hikers but the .25 acre fire is surrounded by granite rocks, a small lake and sparse fuels. Fire poses no threat to the public, infrastructure or resource values.” 

Most of the Western U.S. is in the middle of the worst drought in more than 120 years with dry conditions fueling major fires across the region, so the Forest Service faces a great challenge in dealing with the immediate effects of global warming on the intensity and frequency of forest fires. The decision to not devote resources to a tiny fire in a remote region of California was made while many other larger fires were raging at the same time, including the Bootleg fire in Southern Oregon, which started July 6th and is now the largest in the U.S. at nearly 200,000 acres, and is 19% contained as of Saturday afternoon. 

However, the decision not to put out the Tamarack Fire early on reflects the short-sighted thinking that in many ways has led to the climate crisis. Instead of dealing with a problem when it is small and easy to manage, our society has a tendency to ignore small problems and then scramble to solve them when they become nearly insurmountable. Just like it would have been much easier to put out the Tamarack Fire when it was only .25 acre large, it would have been easier to begin to transition our economy away from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in the 1970s or ‘80s when politicians first became aware of the threat posed by climate change. 

As global warming has continued to accelerate and the region experiences extreme heatwaves, the urgency of climate change has never been more obvious. Yet the Forest Service clearly lacks the resources necessary to best mitigate the dangers of increasingly severe wildfire seasons. These fires also release massive amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing further to global warming, and making it ever-more likely that the next fire season could be even worse. 

Contribute to the Tamarack Fire Assistance Fund:

Branch Out’s vision for a permaculture future of climate resilience and symbiotic media

Branch Out has been working on the ground in Oregon with local partners to implement long-term solutions to the climate crisis. Our goal is to harness the combined power of permaculture, mutual aid, and journalism to nurture a symbiotic ecosystem. Our latest project centers around building fertile soils in the high desert to support fossil fuel free communities.

Building soil is an essential way to sequester carbon back down from the atmosphere. Although the desert is a challenging environment, it has a high potential for increased carbon storage. We quickly learned that we do not need to start with the dusty sand that has no organic content, for underneath the vast maze of sage lies a woody mulch which the sage & their fungal partners have already been building up. When composted with the local grassy mulch and our food scraps, this vast resource is starting to yield high-quality humus, which we are further enriching with rabbit droppings, biochar, and mycorrhizal fungi.

We have also begun building a mound of plentiful fungally decomposing branches harvested from the Sagebrush. When piled closely together and covered with a layer of fine organic content, this creates a fungal oven and mound which will turn into rich soil over the long run. In addition, the mound will serve as a sponge for water, create shade on its banks, and provide a source of thermal mass to help with frost resistance vs. the random spikes of cold which Christmas Valley's nights can bring. First called conucos by the Taino People of the Caribbean, this permaculture technique also known by its German name hugelkultur (hill culture) is ideally suited to building soil in the Sagebrush desert for all of the reasons listed above.


Our efforts at building soil reflect our commitment to organic gardening and permaculture as a framework for carbon storage. Rather than the industrial approach of clearing the native ecosystem and importing vast quantities of intensive (& often highly polluting) inputs to grow large monocultures, we are developing a symbiotic model of gardening in partnership with the Sage by maximizing our use of local inputs from the brush.

Despite the extreme climate and steep challenges facing gardeners and farmers in the Oregon High Desert, we believe this symbiotic approach is best suited to channeling these unlikely sources of abundance and for adapting our strategies to this ecosystem’s subtle strengths. Building soil is our starting place, and Branch Out will continue to provide updates as we combine climate journalism with regenerative carbon storage in the pursuit of climate justice.

Become a Patron of Branch Out:

Make a one-time donation through GoFundMe: