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Fires Seen As Attack On Tourism

Vail Mountain employees will begin cleaning up the site of several arson fires on Monday. Resort managers say Vail will open on time, Nov. 6, despite the $12 million in damage caused by the fires.

CBS News Correspondent Rick Salinger reports that the FBI in Boulder is combing the area, trying to get information about last week's fires and the Earth Liberation Front, the environmental group that has claimed responsibility for them.

So far, rewards and a high-profile investigation have failed to produce those responsible for the most expensive act of eco-terrorism in America.

The fires occurred a few months after an article on the expansion of the Vail resort appeared in the Earth First journal, a publication popular with environmental activists.

Earth First gained notoriety in the Northwest for its tactics of civil disobedience to protect trees. Earth Liberation Front, formed by dissident Earth First members, later claimed responsibility for a string of arsons and animal releases.

But the mining and logging industries that helped build the West, once favorite targets of environmental extremists, have given way to a new target - tourism.

Targeting so-called "industrial tourism," the Earth Liberation Front admitted setting the Vail fires. The goal was to stop another expansion of the resort because of fears it could harm a potential habitat for the lynx, a threatened species of mountain cat.

The mainstream environmental movement denounced the arson, but some are surprised such an attack didn't happen sooner.

"I know in my heart there has been an environmental time-bomb waiting to go off in Vail and other ski areas for a long time," said environmental writer J.D. Braselton.

Colorado voters blocked funding for a state tourism board. Roman Catholic church leaders have condemned the growing chasm between the haves and have-nots near resort towns.

"A classic story in Telluride is of two people who came here to build trophy homes. And they built them on mesas facing each other. Each then filed suit against the other because they didn't want to see another home," said Peter Spencer, a former mayor in Telluride, in southwest Colorado.

The next step is to buy a second home, often much bigger than their main residence, which ultimately leads to skyrocketing property values. That forces the working population to move to less desirable areas and commute many miles over snow-covered mountain passes.

"We lose employees on a regular basis to jobs down valley, where they live," said Bob McLaurin, Vail town manager.

He worries that someday there won't be anybody to answer police or fire calls, or serve tourists in restaurants.

Friends say Edward Abbey, author of the book The Monkey Wrench Gang, a fictionalized account of his guerrilla-style attacks on mining and dam-building, would turn over in his grave if he could see the effects of te tourism that replaced those industries.

"There will be more impact through industrial tourism than all the mining, logging, and ranching combined," said Ken Sleight, a Moab, Utah, outfitter who served as the model for the outfitter "Seldom Seen Smith" in Abbey's book. The novel was a major force in launching the environmental movement in the Southwest.

Dan Kitchen, an Aspen environmentalist once convicted of cutting down a fence a homeowner had built to keep wildlife out, calls ski areas "developmental terrorists" because they finance much of their operations through the sale of million-dollar monster homes.

Colorado traditionalists have another gripe. Tourism and other service jobs pay an average of $13,000 annually, compared with the $40,000 in wages miners or loggers might earn, says Greg Walcher, president of Club 20, a western Colorado trade promotion group.

They blame past efforts by environmentalists for helping drive away the higher paying jobs, and they now see the same pattern surfacing again.

"The environmental movement is at least partly responsible for a massive shift away from our traditional industries. Tourism is all some of these towns have left. An attack on the ski industry is an attack on the economy of western Colorado," Walcher said.

A recent economic study done for the U.S. Forest Service found that 65 to 75 percent of the jobs in the White River National Forest, site of more ski areas than any other national forest, are in tourism.

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