Two Elk fires harmed anti-expansion efforts
VAIL ” The 1998 Vail Mountain firebombing incinerated more than buildings and chair lifts, it also torched local efforts to block expansion of Blue Sky Basin, said local environmentalists who were seeking to preserve lynx habitat.
“It backfired tactically,” Rocky Smith of Colorado Wild said the arson attack. “A lot of people had sympathy for big bad Vail Resorts after that. It hurt the cause because prior to that, people in Vail and Eagle County were starting to question what was right for the valley. There was starting to be a good dialogue.”
A radical group called the the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the fires.
The firebombings helped raise awareness nationally, but stymied the local opposition to the Blue Sky expansion, said Sloan Shoemaker of Wilderness Workshop.
“As I recall, photos of that fire were in Time magazine,” Shoemaker said. “That event certainly brought the issue of ski-area expansion and wildlife habitat to a national audience.”
The fires galvanized the community because people on both sides of the issue felt attacked by an outside threat, Shoemaker said.
“The atmosphere shifted and became a much more hostile place to support opposition,” he said.
Though the Wilderness Workshop didn’t see a huge drop off in support following the fires, Shoemaker said there still were impacts when people misconstrued the goals of mainstream environmental groups.
“When people mistakenly lump all conservation groups into one pool and brand them all as ecoterrorists, to the extent that happens we all experience some ill will,” Shoemaker said.
The FBI wanted to question Smith for leading the opposition to the Blue Sky expansion, but Smith said he told them he didn’t know anything about the fires.
“We in the mainstream weren’t tarnished because people know we wouldn’t be involved,” he said.
In 1998 local environmental activist Caroline Bradford worked with the White River National Forest Association to gather and spread ideas about what should be done with the land in Blue Sky. Those ideas were later handed to forestry officials.
Like other environmentalists, Bradford said the fires thwarted local anti-expansion efforts.
“I think the ecoterrorists set back the environmental movement on the local and national scale by decades,” said Bradford, now with the Eagle River Watershed Council.
“In this community … where almost everyone who lives in the mountains considers themselves environmentalists ” when a group claiming to be environmentalists burn down a beautiful lodge to make a point, no one identifies with them.”
Like many mainstream environmentalists, Bradford said she distanced herself from the radical tactics of fringe groups.
“At the time I ran into some people who were very excited and who wanted to throw them a party and from that point on they were people I didn’t want to know or associate with anymore,” she said.
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or email@example.com.