Putting teeth in eco-terrorist laws
SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, remembers all too well the eco-terrorist acts that burned Two Elk lodge on Vail Mountain to the ground in 1998.
McInnis, who chairs the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, has been investigating the role these extremists have played on the nation’s forests since mid-2001.
“Make no mistake, the violent methods used by these criminals are nothing short of acts of terror,” McInnis said. “These actions cannot go unpunished. It’s only a matter of time before human life is taken.”
A recent eco-terrorist arson fire in San Diego has prompted McInnis to assign his staff to craft legislation that states could adopt that would reclassify such acts as domestic terrorism.
Damage to the San Diego project, estimated at $50 million, is more than the dollar loss attributed to all ELF crimes over the past decade, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Damage to Two Elk lodge was $12 million. Three lift houses and a ski patrol hut at the top of the mountain also were destroyed.
Currently, however, most eco-terrorist acts are classified under vandalism, arson and property damage. It has yet to be determined if such crimes would fall under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security, said Blair Jones, press secretary for McInnis.
The model legislation would create penalties against those who encourage, finance, assist or engage in acts of animal and ecological terrorism. Specific punishments and fines in the bill are still being ironed out, but they are expected to be more severe than what is provided under current law.
The FBI is investigating an Aug. 1 arson fire that destroyed a five-story, 206-unit condominium project under construction in University City, Calif., near San Diego. The housing units were to be built next to a 165,000-square-foot research center. Members of the Earth Liberation Front, ELF – the same group that claimed responsibility for Vail’s Two Elk fire – claim they torched the San Diego project.
ELF representatives say they do what they do to “cause economic hardship to companies and individuals responsible for destroying the environment.” According to the ELF Web site, the arson incident at Two Elk was in retaliation for Vail’s terrain expansion into lynx habitat with the Blue Sky Basin project.
Citizens noted the irony that, while ELF torched the lodge in retaliation for Vail Resort’s “environmental destruction,” to rebuild the lodge Vail Resorts had to obtain more lumber from Canada – and they built a larger lodge. Working seven days a week throughout the past construction season, crews raised the $10 million, 29,000-square-foot Two Elk lodge in half the time it originally took to build 10 years earlier.
The arson, however, prompted Vail Resorts officials to beef up security on its four Colorado ski area mountains and work with local fire and police officials in an attempt to prevent other assaults against Vail Resorts’ properties.
Sue Froeschle, public information officer for the White River National Forest, said White River employees have become more vigilant about suspicious activities in the forest.
“We’re aware there are individuals who will target government property,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate no employees have had any mishaps.”
Resort officials and law enforcement also welcome the legislation.
“We support anything that can be done to bring eco-terrorists to justice,” said Kelly Ladyga, Vail Resorts corporate communications director.
“I imagine if you elevate the status of the crime, people will become more cognizant of the importance of reporting what they see and finding the people responsible (for eco-terrorist acts),” said Kim Andree, public information officer for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “We have a lot of laws that have no bite. We have so many crimes that are plea bargained away. The bite intended by the legislature never comes to fruition when it comes to their day in court.”
Crime or terrorism?
Such legislation, however, might not deter extremist groups such as ELF and ALF, the Animal Liberation Front, which claims responsibility for acts against animal research labs and farms. The ELF Web site says the organization doesn’t consider its actions to be terrorism because it doesn’t kill people in the process of being an advocate for the environment.
“Their actions really broke our hearts,” Andree said. “As a community, we felt it was a personal attack. We knew it was directed at the corporation, but the corporate people weren’t the ones putting out the fires. The corporate people weren’t the ones rebuilding, talking to the press. It hit them in the pocketbook, but they hit us in the heart.”
According to the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise Web site, the FBI defines terrorism as the “unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population … in furtherance of political or social objectives. Eco-terrorism is a crime committed to save nature.”
The growing incidences of animal and environmental motivated violence against individual homes, academic research labs, government buildings and businesses has reached the level that the FBI now recognizes it as one of America’s primary domestic terrorism threats, McInnis said.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or email@example.com.
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