|The following article was first published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and is reproduced with permission of the author.
War in the Woods
By Bill Pickell, General Manager, Washington Contract Loggers Association
August 26, 2001
It's been bedlam on the West Coast in the past few months as ecoterrorist firebugs slithered out from underneath their darkened rocks and lit up the Western skies. From logging equipment to luxury homes to university buildings to tree farms, anything remotely involved with the use of - or access to - our natural resources has become fair game for the arsonists. In the "name of saving the environment," these criminals have caused fire damage exceeding $12 million in a short period of time.
In Western states alone, at least 100 major acts of arson, bombings and sabotage occurred from 1980 through September 1999, according to The Oregonian, with the total damage adding up to $42.5 million. That number increased by 28 percent through May 2001 to more than $55 million - just in the West. Arson activity, like uncontrolled wildfires, has now spread to the East Coast, the South and the Midwest. For that we are grateful, as now these criminals will get major-league attention.
The brunt of the arson damage and economic loss has been borne mostly by small businesses, like our loggers - mom and pop businesses that endure a $100,000 loss here or a $300,000 loss there. Soon we're talking big money. From 1988 through 1996, 27 cases of sabotage to the equipment of members of the Washington Contract Loggers Association totaled more than $2.5 million, or almost $100,000 per occurrence.
Ron Arnold, in his book Ecoterror, says, "The scarcity of multinational corporate targets is striking, given the radical environmentalists' rhetoric of shutting down the Exxons, Norandas and Mitsubishis of the world."
They must have read Arnold's book because they burned down a Boise Cascade facility in December 1999 for $1 million in damage. But it is still a rarity for big business to get targeted.
The Earth Liberation Front, which the FBI considers the country's leading terrorist organization, has instructions on its Web page on how to set fires with electrical timers, apparently similar to those used in recent fires.
The Web page of the organization, a radical offshoot of the still-radical Earth First group, states, "The ELF realizes the profit motive - caused and reinforced by the capitalist society - is destroying all life on this planet. The only way, at this point in time, to stop that continued destruction of life - is by any means necessary - to take the profit out of killing."
The ELF and its counterpart, the Animal Liberation Front, are kissing cousins; they're capable of the same destruction but supposedly for different causes.
The ELF reached its apex in notoriety when it burned down the $12 million ski facility in Vail, Colo. The arsonists may never be found, as Newsweek stated, because the FBI pulled all its agents off the case to run leads on the Columbine High School massacre.
Until Vail, the FBI has seemingly ignored this war in the West - or war against rural America. The FBI documented 30 acts of terrorism in the country from 1990 to 1998, which is significantly less than the listing by The Oregonian newspaper. However, after Vail, former FBI Director Louis Freeh finally said to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee (in February 1999) that "the most recognizable, single-issue terrorists at the present time are those involved in violent animal rights, anti-abortion and environmental protection movements." According to Freeh, these people are now on the FBI's radar screen.
Catching the self-styled Robin Hoods is no easy task, but it certainly could be more effective if federal agencies would enforce basic laws and stop being "politically correct." For instance, the burned log trucks featured on the cover of our association's Springboard magazine were to haul logs from the Eagle Creek watershed in Mount Hood National Forest. Normally 25 to 30, mostly young, student protesters are on the timber sale site daily; many live on or near the site in primitive conditions.
Do you know where your high school or college-aged children are spending the summer? Are they on the picket lines of groups such as the ELF? Environmental groups enlist young people to protest timber sales, logging operations and even university genetic research. Many are paid to protest, and they are literally playing with fire, as they get involved with vandalism, trespassing, tree sitting, road blockages, tree spiking and other malicious acts. This is the training ground for the ELF and the source for new activists willing to turn "hard core" to take on more risky, felonious activity, like the recent arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture.
These activists consistently trespass, commit acts of vandalism and harass forest workers - mainly during the daytime - all under the banner of "saving the environment." Rarely, if ever, does a sheriff or U.S. Forest Service agent arrest or charge any of the young activists, yet a small percentage of them are known to be "hard core" instigators who continue their damage into the night.
Arrests for trespassing, vandalism and malicious mischief would go a long way to help discourage this activity and build data on the activists. Reportedly, sympathetic bureaucrats within these agencies refuse to follow the law, for it may damage their image with the public. What image? Wimps?
Why is it no longer politically correct to protect honest, hard-working, law-abiding Americans who have purchased legally sold and environmentally acceptable timber?
One Eugene, Ore., man has been convicted of a small "first" fire at Romania Chevrolet and sentenced to 22 years in prison; the verdict is to be appealed. He could easily be the culprit in the second, million-dollar fire; however, there are no admitted suspects at this time. Eugene is the home of the anarchist movement in the Northwest; all of them are very "unfriendly" to business.
In response Oregon has passed an ecoterrorism bill that expands the racketeering statutes to include crimes against research, livestock and agricultural facilities. Legislators increased penalties to Class C felonies if damage is $2,500 or more.
The ELF responded by saying, "Pending legislation in Oregon and Washington further criminalizing direct action in defense of the wild will not stop us and only highlights the fragility of the ecocidal empire."
They are correct: We have enough laws on the books; all we need is the backbone to enforce them.
Forest sabotage is taking a deep toll on the economic viability of forest contractors. Activists know that if they can delay an operation, it may become economically unlivable; they are so right and are so successful. Only the business owner sees the hidden costs masked by the arsonist's smoke, such as increases in insurance rates for buildings, equipment and liability, the necessity for security services and lost income from lack of production.
As an example, one logger spent $10,000 for special security for one month to keep the anarchists at bay. Is that what it is coming to? Will mortgage lenders support your dream house if there's a history of arson in the area? Will the Forest Service put up timber sales knowing that the trees will be spiked and the roads picketed or closed?
The "war in the woods" is escalating, and it's only a matter of time before someone else is killed, intentionally or unintentionally. (One activist was killed when a tree fell on him, and a friend and colleague, Gil Murray, was blown to bits by the Unabomber.) You cannot describe the emotion when people find their businesses, homes or equipment have just gone up in smoke. Many times the owners' total investment and lifetime efforts have gone with it.
ELF members and their ilk, not unlike Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, thrive on publicity. They have to be challenged and punished, for our society cannot sustain the ecoterror that is in the woods, as well as our neighborhoods. Debate is great, but direct action by law enforcement is more appropriate in these instances.
This year's damage