Northwestern Montana and Northern Idaho are renowned for the scenic drives that dissect wild landscape. So when leaving West Yellowstone to head for Moscow, Idaho, we were excited to travel the winding highways, passing through mountainous corridors, wild rivers, and densely-forested watersheds. Roads, even the scenic ones, are relatively few and far between in the region. In fact, the Northern Rockies serve as a refuge for the largest remaining tracts of roadless wilderness in the lower 48 states. So when Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Harvest Energy, and others decided to absorb this small road system into the infrastructure of fossil fuel extraction, this place became a main stage of resistance.
Megaloads, as they colloquially are called, are massive loads of equipment to be used in tar sands extraction or refinement. They can be longer than football fields and weigh around one million pounds. Hundreds of these megaloads have been hauled through the meandering highways of the Northern Rockies in occupied Nez Perce territories over the last several years, en route to the Athabasca Tar Sands. These pieces of equipment are usually modules of even more massive refinery or extraction machinery. These lands have become bottlenecks for the entire tar sands project and the megaloads serve as a lynchpin target for the fossil fuel industry.
Land defenders and activists have seized the moment. The campaign to stop the megaloads has been led by indigenous resisters Idle No More, Northern Rockies Rising Tide, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide. Recently, the campaign has also been taken up by the Umatilla and Wrm Springs tribes, Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide Seattle. Last year, a federal judge ruled to halt shipments of megaloads through the U.S. Highway 12 corridor, upholding the Treaty rights of the Nez Perce.While a definite victory in the campaign, it has forced companies to develop a new route and industrial corridor: North on U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow, Idaho.
When we rolled into town on Monday, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) had been working round the clock to respond to an Idaho Transportation Department announcement on Friday that Bigge Crane and Rigging Company would be hauling the largest megaload yet through the region. Within hours the Fight or Flight Tour joined Nez Perce land defenders and Wild Idaho Rising Tide in the streets of Moscow to protest the oncoming megaload, part of a hydrocracker involved in tripling tar sands production at the Montana Refining Company owned by Calumet Specialty Products Partners. This module alone measures 311 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 16 feet 8 inches high and weighs 926,000 pounds.
After joining the crowd in downtown, we were asked to scout the convoy and relay information on its position. We drove down the rural highway south out of Moscow. Within a few minutes we were driving alone in the dark, surrounded by still fields of wheat, dimly lit by moonlight. Then we saw the bright, beaming lights on the horizon, creeping towards us along the rolling hills. As the convoy approached, we could begin to sense something ominous. But only when it was directly upon us could we see its enormity. Surrounded by flaggers, pilot vehicles, Idaho State Police, push and pull trucks, and trailers, the shipment convoy seemed at least ¼ mile long. It sluggishly crept towards us and towards the protesters in Moscow. As we circled it to take pictures, the police wasted no time and detained us along the side of the road. We watched it pass, proceeding to Moscow.
In Moscow, the megaload was met by dozens of protesters, land defenders, and members of the Nez Perce tribe. The police swarmed the streets in huge numbers and stood along the side the roadway, declaring that no one could enter the streets. As the megaload passed, the police stood between it and us while the crowd chanted and shouted in resistance. As it left the streets of Moscow north, many protesters left to follow it towards its next stop. As of this writing, the protests continue…
The following day, Wild Idaho Rising Tide hosted our workshop at The Attic. Upon suggestion from our hosts, we decided to tailor this particular workshop for the very persistent and dedicated community in Moscow. We engaged attendees in a Strategic Direct Action training to discuss the basics of direct action, action planning and roles, soft blockades, technical blockades, and the legal system.
After the training, we discussed our future working relationship with Wild Idaho Rising Tide and networking in the Northwest. From the coast to the Northern Rockies, we can stop the megaload shipments. We can halt the equipment. We can stop the tar sands. We can put an end to fossil fuels infrastructure.