Arson Attacks on Research Center, Tree Farm

ByABC News

May 22, 2001 -- If vandals who ignited fires at a University of Washington research center and a Clatskanie, Ore., tree farm thought they were targeting enemies of the environment, they were mistaken, according to law enforcement officials.

Officials at the University of Washington estimate that damage at the Center for Urban Horticulture could reach $2 million by the time it is determined how many rare manuscripts were destroyed and how much research data was lost.

"Someone wants to terrorize good ecosystem research, good biology?" center director Tom Hinckley said. "That's pretty crazy."

At the Jefferson Poplar Farms in Oregon, two buildings and 18 vehicles were destroyed when explosives ignited a fire early Monday. Several unexploded incendiary devices were also found near the site.

Law enforcement officials say both fires were reported at around 3 a.m. on Monday, a connection that has led to speculation the two incidents might be linked.

Though no one has claimed responsibility for either fire, vandals painted "ELF" and "You cannot control what is wild!" on the side of one of the buildings at the tree farm.

The Earth Liberation Front, which since 1996 has claimed responsibility for arson attacks on lumber companies, developers, scientific research institutes and ski resorts that have caused nearly $50 million worth of damage, often leaves such signatures on its handiwork.

No Injuries, an ELF Signature

Police are not ready to blame environmentalists for the fires. "At this point in time, there's nothing new to say that any environmental eco-terrorist groups are responsible for this," Oregon State Police spokesman Greg Hastings said.

No one was injured in either incident, which has also become a signature of ELF. No one has been hurt in any of their attacks, and the group has repeatedly said through its spokesman in Portland, Craig Rosebraugh, that it is opposed to any violence against living things.

The group, described by the FBI as one of the most dangerous domestic terrorist organizations, is perhaps best known for its destruction of an expansion project at a Vail, Colo., ski resort that it said threatened the lynx, but has recently made news across the country targeting what it calls "trophy home" construction sites.

Many of these arson attacks were signed with the motto, "If you build it, we will burn it."

In the Northwest, ELF has often targeted sites where work was done on genetic engineering, but officials at the Center for Urban Horticulture and the Clatskanie tree farm said no such work was being done at either location.

The tree farm had previously been owned by a company that was doing research on genetic engineering at other sites, but the trees being grown there were a fast growing poplar hybrid to be used in paper production.

Jeff Nuss, the president of Greenwood resources, which manages the 10,000-acre farm, said there is no genetic research done there.

Boom, It's Gone

The University of Washington facility operates a master gardener's program and houses research programs such as a study of revegetation of the area affected by the Mount St. Helens volcano eruption in 1980.

"There's young grad students and faculty really starting out their careers," Hinckley said. "This is the first major thing that they've worked on and boom, it's gone."

The collection of rare botany books in the Elizabeth C. Miller Library at the center also suffered smoke and water damage.

"I'm very worried about these books because a lot of them are irreplaceable," said Valerie Easton, another director at the center. "There are not copies in existence other than these and maybe one or two others in horticultural libraries around the world."

ABCNEWS's Neal Penland, KOMO and KATU contributed to this report.

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