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Eco-terrorists destroyed years of work
in Wisconsin, Washington labs
By RYAN OLSON
The Daily Mining Gazette
November 8, 2001
HOUGHTON When two fire bombs were discovered
at Michigan Tech University Monday morning, all Glenn Mroz could
think about were people and research.
I was thinking that all you had worked on for
a long time was in harms way, said Mroz, the dean of
MTUs School of Forestry, which conducts the kind of genetic
research that might have been the target of Mondays attempted
attack on the U.J. Noblet Forestry Building and the U.S. Forest
Service Engineering Laboratory.
Its a place you grow to love, he
said. Its not just the school but all the people in
Researchers affected by eco-terrorism around the country
know precisely what he means.
(Keweenaw residents should) feel very fortunate
that whomever in Houghton spotted the incendiary devices did (spot
them) he deserves to be labeled a hero, said Thomas
Hinckley, the director of a University of Washington Seattle
research facility destroyed by eco-terrorists earlier this year.
Although no one is claiming responsibility for planting
the bombs at Tech, tree research conducted there is similar to research
targeted by extremist environmental groups in recent years.
The attacks include a 1999 arson at Michigan State
University where the fourth floor of the campus Agriculture
Hall was destroyed. The Earth Liberation Front, thought to be based
in the Pacific Northwest, took responsibility for the fire, although
the case remains under investigation by police.
On May 21, a device like the ones planted at Tech
detonated in Merrill Hall at the University of Washington
Seattle. The fire damaged the building extensively, forcing the
Center for Urban Horticulture to relocate, said Hinckley, the centers
Its been a disruption and to us a major
insult, Hinckley said.
The Earth Liberation Front took responsibility for
the fire and claimed to be targeting the work of a professor who
is studying the genetics of poplar trees. Similar research is being
done at MTU.
The ELF took credit for another fire set a nearby
tree farm that same night.
While the professors office was destroyed, Hinckley
said the researcher was able to restore his data from computer backups
and resume his research just two weeks after the fire. However,
the collateral damage was severe.
Hinckley said some of the universitys research
into the recovery of the Mt. St. Helens volcano area was destroyed,
as was the work of a researcher helping to double the population
of an endangered plant population.
They almost wiped a species off the face of
the earth, he said of the ELF.
An extension office, operated by the University of
Washington, Washington State University and King County, was destroyed
including materials for an urban gardening program.
Hinckley said the attack will cost the university
$5.6 million including $4.1 million to rebuild the hall.
Hinckley dismisses the ELFs claim that the local
fire department was responsible for letting the fire get out of
Once you squeeze the trigger or light a match,
whatever happens afterwards is your fault, he said.
In Rhinelander, Wis., vandals destroyed 500 trees
and vandalized vehicles at a US Department of Agriculture Forest
Service Research Station. The ELF took responsibility for the action
claiming it was targeting research of poplar and oak trees.
The Rhinelander facility is operated by the USDAs
North Central Research Station which oversees stations in seven
states, including MTUs.
It certainly was a setback, but were continuing
the research, said Deb Dietzman, the Rhinelander stations
Although none of the research data was damaged, the
actual experiment has been set back by about 10 to 15 years, she
said. For the experiment, scientists breed trees together to find
trees that can resist pests and grow faster. It takes several generations
of trees to determine results, Dietzman said.
The greatest loss was the economic and environmental
benefits these trees would have provided, she said.
Dietzman said the trees could be used to help convert
existing farm land into tree farms and to help halt erosion along
rivers. The trees likely would never be planted in existing forests,
The ELF has stated that it opposes the manipulation
of genetic material including modern gene techniques and
traditional breeding. Dietzman said the ELF was off the mark targeting
the Rhinelander facility.
Were really working hard to do science
that benefits people, she said. This is something new
for us that people would violently object to our work.
Hinckley said the researcher in Washington was also
using traditional plant hybridization techniques.
Despite the setbacks, the research at these facilities
is progressing. Dietzman said the USDA will continue to conduct
research on the trees, including using traditional plant breeding
Humans have been doing that for hundreds of
years, she said. Thats not something were
going to eliminate because of these attacks.
Hinckley said the university welcomes discussion on
research, but terrorist attacks damage the openness of a university
I dont deny the right to question and
query science and the risks that scientists take and there are appropriate
venues for that, but to place bombs is not a civilized approach,
Hinckley said it is possible that increased security
could take research out of the public and academic discussion. He
said the department has increased patrols of its facilities, has
people wear identification badges and wired the buildings with alarms.
Dietzman said the USDA also has taken steps to make
facilities more secure.
Hinckley said he can sympathize with the threat the
devices at Tech posed.
In both Rhinelander and Seattle, there have been no
arrests made. Hinckley said law enforcement officials are still
following leads and is offering a $15,000 reward.
Hinckley said the department is working to move beyond
the fire, focusing on plans to rebuild Merrill Hall and leaving
the investigation to law enforcement authorities. Still, the possibility
of future terrorist action looms.
Its now something that is now on your
radar screen that wasnt there before, Hinckley said.