Environmental Activism On The Rise

The ragtag attacks by environmental activists to free animals and thwart developers are now a full-scale battle, and observers are worried someone will get hurt.

"[Eco-terrorism] has risen a tremendous amount in the last ten years," eco-terrorism expert Barry Clausen told CBS "This Morning." "In 1986, there were about 10 [such] terrorist attacks; in 1994, '96, they have increased. Now we're seeing more violence."

On Wednesday night, an underground organization called the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed responsibility for Monday's fires at Vail that caused $12 million in damage, the costliest act of eco-terrorism in America. No one has been arrested.

"They've stepped over a line they've never crossed before... They're also getting more professional," says Ron Arnold, vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, an organization that tracks crimes committed to protect nature.

Arnold says attacks by radical environmentalists have increased steadily over the 20 years since the Ecoraiders, a group of teen-agers, caused more than $2 million damage in the Santa Catalina mountains near Tucson, Ariz., destroying billboards and houses to stop developers.

Since then, more than 1,500 attacks by different groups have been reported.

Over the years, environmentalists have put 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.

In related news

  • Four members of the environmental group Greenpeace have been arrested after they chained themselves to a Canadian cargo ship in Long Beach, Calif., reports Sandra Mitchell of CBS Station KCBS-TV in Los Angeles. The group claimed the ship was loaded with newsprint made from old growth forests.
  • According to Arnold, who testified at congressional hearings on eco-terrorism in June, members of Earth First! risked death in 1988 with an attack on the Arizona Snowbowl, a ski area near Flagstaff, Ariz., using explosives to damage ski lifts.
  • In March 1997, 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, and damage was put at $1 million.
On Monday, environmentalists ratcheted up the pressure when seven fires were set on Vail Mountain, destroying three buildings and damaging four chairlifts.

The fire came only a few days after Vail began clearing trees on an expansion project bitterly opposed by environmentalist groups who say the expansion would interfere with plans to reintroduce the lynx to the region.

In a letter sent to ews media, 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."

"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 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 a number of other acts, including fires at federal facilities in the Northwest.

"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 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," she said. "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."