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[Webmaster's note: this was submitted to the Earth First! Journal and published in their Yule issue]

How AFR Got Burned

by Ben and Brian From Ancient Forest Rescue

The recent fires that burned atop Vail Mountain have forced many people to stop and think, especially those of us at Ancient Forest Rescue (AFR). We are a grassroots Colorado - based consensus group of forest activists. We consider ourselves part of the Earth First! movement and adhere to a strict code of nonviolence (verbal and physical) to persons or property. While we do road shows and workshops to educate the public and work within the system through monitoring and legal appeals, we are locally known for our nonviolent direct actions in defense of Colorado's biodiversity. We have had success in our community-based campaigns. Property damage has the potential to jeopardize the willingness of the larger community to shelter us and support our action campaigns. We strongly believe you cannot mix covert actions like monkeywrenching and overt actions such as lockdowns in a campaign.

People have responded differently to the events of October 19. Some have condemned the arson, claiming that it discredits the radical environmental movement. They say it gives the powers - that - be a reason to call us terrorists and an excuse to persecute us. Others believe that because there were no human casualties, this act of sabotage was a perfectly acceptable way to hit a monstrous corporation like Vail Associates (VA) where it hurts.

One glaring possibility is that the media stories linking the fires to environmental saboteurs are pure fabrication. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this is the work of someone with interest in discrediting the radical environmental movement. Although VA is now enjoying newfound public sympathy and the Two Elk roadless area is under the watchful eye of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), complete with public road closures, vocal opposition to VA's expansion will not be silenced.

The members of the AFR Vail campaign would like to discuss how an act of sabotage has affected months of work by forest activists in Colorado. AFR is the most radical voice in the coalition of groups that has been working to stop VA's ski area expansion for the past several years. This coalition has fought VA every step of the way, but eventually Forest Service corruption and corporate greed was victorious in all legal arenas. Most of the groups stopped actively attacking VA's expansion plans and relied solely on the legal appeal after VA received its last permit to begin construction from Eagle County in March. AFR, however, was determined to continue fighting in the media, in the public arena and with Civil Disobedience when the ground was broken. Many EF!ers have heard about this issue though various media sources, including the EF! Journal article by an AFR activist entitled, "Super Vail, Super Ugly," (May-June, 27). Unquestionably, the arson at Vail received intense media attention. VA and its greedy plans for expansion were brought under the scrutiny of the national spotlight. The fires that night brought this issue to the attention of the American public more than the coalition has managed through all its years of hard work. Unfortunately for AFR and the Two Elk roadless area, that seems to be where the positive results of the blazes cease.

Some say fires hit VA in the only place it would really feel it: in its pocket book. While the fire caused more than $12 million in damage, VA is fully insured for the loss, and the corporation makes about $1 million per day during the ski season.

Ever since VA proposed the expansion, the residents of the Vail Valley have overwhelmingly opposed it. People in these beautiful mountain towns are trying to hold onto their open space and sense of community. The expansion is the first step in VA's poorly veiled scheme to develop huge amounts of land while raking in millions if not billions of dollars from trophy home sales in nearby private land. This appalls many of our friends in Vail and the rural community of Minturn. They have stood beside us in opposing this expansion. But it's more complicated than that. Even though so many oppose VA's duplicitous expansion plans and what it's going to do to the Two Elk roadless area, the ski industry is the primary economy in the area and residents are all in some way dependent on it. If there is a reduction in visitors to the Vail ski area, it will be at the expense of the good people of Vail and Minturn.

What about the other costs? To your run-of-the-mill vacationer, "terrorism," (which is what the media has dubbed this action) is something to avoid. Insurance will not cover the lost revenue if many families with big money decide to take their skiing vacation somewhere besides Vail Mountain this year. Maybe instead they will ski at Keystone, Breckenridge, Arrowhead or Beaver Creek. All of these resorts are owned by VA and lie on public land. So even if the arson does cause revenue loss on Vail Mountain (although Vail Resorts stock price indicates otherwise) VA the corporate monster, continues to sit pretty.

On the weekend before the destruction was scheduled to begin, AFR activists from around Colorado gathered to do reconnaissance of the area. We had the local support; we had an intelligent and committed group; we had the absolute moral high ground. On Sunday night, we moved base camp to the bottom of Two Elk canyon.

Little did we know that others were executing different plans during the night. On that cold, frosty morning the word came: No sign of machinery, but the mountain was ablaze. As helicopters circled the skies and an intense investigation commenced, it appeared impossible to complete our work in the area.

Immediately our local supporters were silenced, and VA the corporate predator became VA the victim. The community felt under attack, and suddenly all environmentalists were terrorists. The working people of the Vail Valley felt screwed by people trying to save wilderness. Our group became paralyzed and morale fell apart.

The greatest casualty of the fires is the Two Elk roadless area. On the Wednesday following the arson, dozers rolled in and the destruction progressed at a break-neck pace. No activists were there to stop it. The efforts by environmentalists to work with the community to save the Two Elk roadless area and stop corporate excess were undermined by the arson. Perhaps there are times and places for sabotage, but in the opinion of AFR-Vail, this was not one of them. If we as an environmental movement are to succeed, then we must somehow coordinate our efforts. Whether one supports nonviolent civil disobedience or covert night action, we are all driven by the same passion. In order to be a movement, the various factions of environmentalism must avoid cutting one another off at the knees. When we do, the real losers are the wild places that we all love.

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