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Group Takes Blame for Vail Fire

October 22, 1998

DENVER (AP) _ The burning of a ski lodge and other buildings on Vail Mountain appears to mark a major escalation in eco-terrorism, going well beyond the graffiti-sprayings, tree-spikings and smaller arsons committed by radical environmentalists.

On Wednesday night, an underground organization called the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for Monday’s attacks in Vail, the most costly act of eco-terrorism in America, with damage estimated at least $12 million. No one has been arrested in the attacks.

``This was a surprise because it was so bold,″ said Ron Arnold, vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, an organization in Bellevue, Wash., that tracks crimes committed to save nature.

``They’ve stepped over a line they’ve never crossed before. Now they no longer care what the public thinks. They’re also getting more professional. That troubles me a lot.″

Seven fires broke out on Vail Mountain before dawn on Monday, destroying three buildings and damaging four chairlifts.

Investigators on Thursday officially blamed arsonists for the blazes. Acelerants were found on the mountain, where chemists and officers using specially trained dogs had been looking for clues.

``We’ve eliminated any and all accidental causes. We are classifying it as incendiary,″ said Tommy Wittman, regional director for the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

The fire came just days after Vail began clearing trees on an expansion project bitterly opposed by environmentalist groups. Last month, Vail won a major court battle against the groups, which say the expansion would interfere with plans to reintroduce the lynx to the region.

In a letter sent to news media outlets, the ELF said it carried out the Vail arson ``to stop the destruction of natural habitat and the exploitation of the environment.″ It said the expansion of the biggest and busiest ski resort in the United States would ``ruin the last, best lynx habitat in the state.″

``Putting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated. This action is just a warning. We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded areas,″ the communique said.

The ELF was founded in the Britain in 1992 by Earth First! members frustrated with the lack of progress in protecting nature. Last June it claimed responsibility for spraying red paint on the Mexican Consulate in Boston to protest the treatment of peasants in Chiapas, Mexico.

Since December, the ELF has taken at least partial responsibility for fires at U.S. Agriculture Department buildings in Olympia, Wash.; a fire at an Oregon corral used for wild horses and burros captured by the Bureau of Land Management; and the freeing of 310 animals from a Wisconsin fur farm.

``As long as it doesn’t harm human lives, we approve,″ said Craig Rosebraugh, an environmental activist in Portland, Ore., who sent out the communique for the ELF. ``I think it was a statement to corporations who continue to exploit and destroy the Earth. And I think it did just that.″

Katie Fedor, a spokeswoman for the Animal Liberation Front based in Osseo, Minn., said that her group has allied itself with the ELF and that the two organizations have declared war on companies that desecrate the Earth.

``It’s a war. It’s a nonviolent war. It’s a nonviolent revolution. Unfortunately, the traditional routes to societal change such as lobbying haven’t worked. Constituents are not being heard. We are forced to take nonviolent action,″ she said.

Fedor refused to identify those who carried out the Vail attack, but said: ``They assured that no one, human or animal, would be injured and they were successful. People should take comfort in the fact that this was a professional action.″

She said activists who carry out attacks have no formal training and get most of their information on building bombs and other devices from books or the Internet.

Arnold said attacks by radical environmentalists have increased steadily over the past two decades. One of the first organized groups was the Ecoraiders, a group of teen-agers who caused more than $2 million damage in the Santa Catalina mountains near Tucson, Ariz., more than two decades ago, destroying billboards and houses to stop developers.

Over the years, environmentalists have put also metal spikes in trees to discourage timber companies from cutting them down. Loggers and mill workers have reported serious injuries from cutting trees containing spikes. Environmental groups say they aren’t to blame for the injuries because they warn loggers to avoid the trees.

The attacks by environmental radicals also have increased in severity, to the point that Congress held hearings last June. In the past 20 years, more than 1,500 attacks have been reported.

Arnold, who testified at those hearings, said members of Earth First! upped the ante in 1988 with an attack on the Arizona Snowbowl using explosives to damage ski lifts.

The battle escalated further in March 1997 when the Animal Liberation Front used pipe bombs to blow up five feed trucks in an attack on a fur breeders cooperative in Sandy, Utah. The offices and computer system were destroyed; damage was put at $1 million.

The Unabomber Ted Kaczynski also took up eco-terrorism. Kaczynski, whose bombings left three people dead and 29 wounded, admitted that two of his victims were chosen based on Earth First! publications.

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