Vail, the “Earth Liberation Front” and the search for the missing lynx
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1998:
VAIL, Colorado––”On behalf of
the lynx,” the October 21 e-mail to KCFR-FM
Colorado Public Radio in Denver said, “five
buildings and four ski lifts at Vail were
reduced to ashes on the night of Sunday,
October 18. Vail Inc. is already the largest ski
operation in North America, and now wants to
expand even further. The 12 miles of roads
and 885 acres of clearcuts will ruin the last,
best lynx habitat in the state. Putting profits
ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated.
This action is just a warning.”
The e-mail was signed “Earth
The arson came exactly one month
after U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham
dismissed a lawsuit against the Vail expansion
based on the possible presence of lynx,
brought jointly by the Colorado Environmental
Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, the
Wilderness Society, Sinapu, the Sierra Club,
and the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project.
Lynx haven’t been seen in Colorado
since 1973, but the last one appeared in the
Vail Mountain area, and a track found there in
1991 was said to have been that of a lynx.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
on February 12, 1998 agreed to consider the
lynx for Endangered Species Act protection
throughout the Lower 48 states, almost one
year after U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler
of Washington D.C. ruled that the USFWS had
improperly refused to list lynx as threatened.
The total U.S. lynx population is
believed to be under 700––about 450 of them
in eastern Washington and western Montana.
Hearings on the listing proposal
began last summer. The listing is opposed by
loggers and trappers, the entire Idaho delegation
to Congress, and Representative Rick
Smith (R-Montana), whose honored guests at
a February 1997 fundraiser included Putting
People First founder Kathleen Marquardt and
her husband Bill Wewer. The Helena wise use
group now calls itself Putting Liberty First.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife
has proposed reintroducing as many as 200
captive-bred lynx to wild habitat around the
state in hopes of forestalling an endangered
species listing. University of Idaho biologist
Dennis Murray in September won permission
from the Idaho Fish and Game Department to
attempt a similar restoration within the
Clarwater National Forest this winter and next,
using 20 lynx each year, whom he hopes to
purchase from Canadian fur trappers.
The listing decision is due in 1999.
The ELF purports to be a spinoff of
Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front
––and is largely accepted as such by media,
despite Earth First! disclaimers and perplexity
from animal rights activists.
“We have been actively opposing
Vail Resorts’ expansion for over a year now
with honesty and integrity,” Earth First! member
Mike Lewinski, of Boulder, told Denver
P o s t staff writers Mark Eddy and Steve
Lipsher. “The ELF, if it is responsible for the
fires atop Vail mountain, is destroying all we
have worked for. I would rather see Vail
Resorts, through all their duplicity and greed,
destroy the Two Elk Roadless Area,” which is
involved in the expansion, “than have some
cowardly actions and threats erode the growing
opposition to Vail’s rapacious plans.”
Added Animal Defense League of
Arizona executive director Lisa Markula, to
M. Scot Skinner and Raina Wagner of the
Arizona Daily Star, “Ecotage tactics make it
more difficult for people to listen to us.
People who use these tactics appear to completely
discount the value of public opinion.”
ALF actions historically target facilities
with known current involvement in animal
use and abuse. The Vail expansion, however,
involves only theoretical lynx habitat.
But the ELF has claimed other
actions, often in alleged partnership with the
ALF, that backfired against animal protection.
How it spins
The ELF name surfaced in 1996,
according to John H. Cushman Jr. and Evelyn
Nieves of The New York Times, when it “was
spray-painted at the scene when someone damaged
trucks at a Forest Service ranger station;
a few days later another ranger station in the
area was set afire.”
The ELF apparently first linked
itself to the ALF in claiming a mink release at
Mount Angel, Oregon, on May 31, 1997.
The remains of many mink allegedly trampled
by the perpetrators were displayed on TV.
The ELF and ALF next claimed to
have jointly set a July 21, 1997 fire at the
Cavel West horse killing plant in Redmond,
Oregon. Since then, horses acquired by Cavel
West have been hauled an extra two days, to
be killed in Chicago.
The ELF also claimed a November
29, 1997 arson that razed Bureau of Land
Management horse corrals near Burns,
Oregon, with little effect on BLM operations.
In June 1998, wrote Associated
Press writer Michael Lovell, the ELF
“claimed responsiblity for spraying red paint
on the Mexican Consulate in Boston, in
protest of the treatment of peasants in Chiapas,
Mexico. In July the group claimed to have
‘rescued’ 310 animals at a research fur farm in
Wisconsin,” which produced anti-rabies vaccine
for use by mink and fox farmers.
On June 21, 1998, as a bill to slash
funding for USDA Wildlife Services (formerly
Animal Damage Control) was before the
House of Representatives, arsons claimed by
the ELF razed two Wildlife Services buildings
near Olympia, Washington. The House
approved the funding cut on the first vote, two
days later, but well-hyped backlash helped
reverse the cut the day after that.
On October 29, 1998, the North
American ALF said in a fax to Associated
Press that the ELF also claimed to have
released 5,000 mink from the Tom Pipkorn fur
farm in northern Michigan three nights earlier.
Pipkorn recovered about 4,000 of the mink.
But ALF spokesperson Kate Fedor,
of Oseo, Michigan, denied that the ALF was
involved in the Vail arsons.
An ANIMAL PEOPLE probe of
suspected wise-use covert activities recently
found that a person using the same Social
Security number as one of the subjects had
rented premises near Mount Angel, and near
highways to the sites of other ELF actions.
ANIMAL PEOPLE believes the
subject has multiple identities, a 20-year history
with the radical right, including foes of
listing lynx as endangered, and more than 10
years of association with animal rights groups,
under two different personas.