Six face charges in ecoterror attacks
SEATTLE ” Six people have been arrested in connection with ecoterrorism attacks in Oregon and Washington dating back to 1998, including a fire at an Oregon tree farm that was set at the same time as a devastating unsolved fire at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture.
The university fire ” one of the Northwest’s most notorious acts of ecoterrorism ” was set early on May 21, 2001. About 110 miles away in Clatskanie, Ore., fire ripped through buildings and vehicles at the Jefferson Poplar Farm, causing more than $1 million in damage.
The Earth Liberation Front, a shadowy collection of environmental activists, claimed responsibility for both fires, which caused no injuries.
ELF also claimed responsibility for the arson attack on Vail Mountain in October, 1998, which destroyed the Two Elk building and damaged several chairlifts. So far, no connection between the recent arrests and the Vail fire has been reported.
“We’re only aware of what’s been charged so far,” said Emilie Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Seattle. “With these ELF cases, there’s no membership list. They become members by taking these actions.”
Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said she couldn’t comment on what the arrests might mean for the investigation into the Two Elk fire, noting only that the investigation is still “very much open and active.”
The University of Washington horticulture center, which was rebuilt at a cost of several million dollars, had done work on fast-growing hybrid poplars in hopes of limiting the amount of natural forests that timber companies log.
The ELF said in a statement five days after the fire that the poplars pose “an ecological nightmare” for the diversity of native forests.
The arrests were made Wednesday in New York, Virginia, Oregon and Arizona, and each of the defendants has been indicted in Oregon or Washington, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Besides the tree farm fire, the attacks included three other arsons in Oregon, a $1.2 million fire at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Olympia, and the toppling of a Bonneville Power Administration transmission tower near Bend, Ore.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman declined to say Thursday how authorities developed information that led to the arrests after years of investigation.
The FBI estimates that ecoterrorist groups have committed more than 1,100 crimes in the United States since 1976, causing about $110 million in property damage. Repairs from the Vail fire were estimated to be about $12 million.
The two people charged in the poplar farm fire were Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, 28, and Daniel Gerard McGowan, 31. They are also charged with setting a Jan. 2, 2001, fire that caused more than $1 million in damage at the Superior Lumber Co. in Glendale, Ore.
They face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of several counts of arson and use of incendiary devices.
Meyerhoff was arrested in Charlottesville, Va., where he attended Piedmont Community College. McGowan was arrested in New York City.
Kevin M. Tubbs, 36, and William C. Rodgers, 40, face up to 20 years each if convicted of a June 21, 1998, arson at the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services facility in Olympia.
Tubbs was arrested in Springfield, Ore., and Rodgers was arrested in Prescott, Ariz.
Sarah Kendall Harvey, 28, an administrative assistant at Northern Arizona University, was arrested in Flagstaff after being charged in a Dec. 27, 1998, fire at U.S. Forest Industries in Medford, Ore. That fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage. She faces up to 20 years if convicted.
Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, 28, a Portland, Ore., woman with strong Eugene, Ore., ties, was charged with conspiring to destroy an energy facility and destruction of an energy facility in the Dec. 30, 1999, toppling of the transmission tower.
A not guilty plea was entered for her Thursday by a court-appointed attorney. She faces up to 25 years on the conspiracy charge, and also was accused by federal complaint of serving as a lookout during a 1999 arson that caused $1.2 million in damage at the Childers Meat Co. in Eugene.
This story from the Associated Press. Vail Daily editor Alex Miller contributed to this report.