Ecoterrorism Surges

Published August 1, 1999

“We are going to find your house and burn it down. We are going to kill your family,” Andy Hairston, general manager of Highland Enterprises, Inc., a builder of logging roads, told the House subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, when asked to describe threats made against him by Earth First! members.

“They are quite adamant about these things,” Hairston added in sworn testimony, “and they have gone to the extent that they know who we are. They call you by a first-name basis when you come out onto the projects.”

When asked by the subcommittee’s chairman, Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), what U.S. Forest Service enforcement agents do when such threats are brought to their attention, Hairston said, “…usually the response is, ‘Well, if we apprehend these people, then we will help you pursue prosecution.'”

But as subsequent testimony demonstrated, Forest Service agents show a great deal of reluctance to apprehend Earth First!ers, many of whom issue their threats and intimidation from camps high in tree tops. When Forest Service agents arrive on the scene, they generally take no action to remove them, even allowing other members of the group to take supplies to the tree-sitters.

When asked if he could recall any occasion when Forest Service law enforcement officials did take more aggressive action, Hairston recounted one example:

“We had several tree-sitters in the road right-of-way [last summer] and were having difficulty getting them to come out of the trees, and we had many, many law enforcement people there. Nothing was happening, though they were still being supplied by their cohorts; they were still getting food and water up their trees.

“What happened in this particular case,” Hairston continued, “was several Federal law enforcement officers were standing below a tree and one of the protestors urinated out of the tree onto the Federal officers, and I believe that enraged the officers so much they put a 24-hour vigil on that tree; would not let any support people come to the tree and supply the protestor with food and water until he was forced to rappel down out of the tree, and then he was promptly arrested and hauled to jail.”

At the same time, Hairston said, other nearby tree-sitters were allowed to be supplied and, eventually, officers allowed them to come down and leave without being arrested.

The Violence Escalates

When Hairston first encountered Earth First!ers, in the Nez Perce National Forest, he said, they were not particularly well-organized and didn’t represent a significant threat to his company’s employees or equipment.

Today, they vandalize road-building equipment, lock themselves to gates and trees, plug culverts, block roadways, and put spikes in trees and logs. The spikes can break chain saws moving at up to 13,000 rpm, putting loggers at considerable risk. In saw mills, the spikes can shatter huge rotary blades, turning them into deadly shrapnel. Earth First!’s sabotage activities continue on a daily basis, Hairston reported, reducing his company’s productivity and causing him to hire security personnel to defend his equipment when it’s not in use.

Forest Service Shirks its Duty

Problems with law enforcement in National Forests began to grow in the mid-1990s, when the Forest Service began to play a larger role, replacing local sheriffs and state police. Hairston and others have said local law enforcement was much more active, responding within an hour to calls that may take Forest Service officers over six hours. Hairston and others claimed the prosecution and conviction rate were also much higher for local law enforcement.

“… [Local law enforcement] keeps them incarcerated so they don’t return to the work site within hours,” Hairston said.

The Forest Service has been reluctant to cooperate with local law enforcement. Of its $66 million in law enforcement funds, according to the Service’s enforcement director, William Wasley, less than 10 percent is used to reimburse existing local law enforcement–and that small amount is divided among 530 local enforcement agencies with whom the Forest Service has “cooperative agreements.” Wasley admits that some local agencies receive only “a couple of hundred” dollars each year to assist with law enforcement in National Forests. The Forest Service spends roughly $100,000 for each of the officers it puts in the field.

Often, according to testimony, those Forest Service officers prove to be more hindrance than help. Describing one picture shown to the committee, Hairston said, “We are sitting here–behind the man in the orange jacket, there is probably 15 Highland employees. And, this is what we ran into a great deal. Once we got federal law enforcement on site, they would take hours to decide how to remove these protestors or what course of action they would take.”

And its Contractors Lose Money

Hairston detailed for the committee how a typical six-hour shutdown by Earth First!ers costs his company over $10,000. Shutdowns of some length, he reported, occur nearly every day. The Forest Service does not accept responsibility or reimburse its contractors for such costs, even while it makes little attempt to prevent delays caused by illegal protests on its own land.