An Idaho county jury recently assessed $1.15 million in damages against 12 Earth First! protesters, one of the largest civil awards ever levied against environmental rebels.
The Oct. 30 verdict was made in
connection with construction delays and $20,000 in damage to a D-8
Caterpillar tractor, a rubber-tired skidder and an excavator in the
Nez Perce National Forest in the summer of
The eight-woman, four-man jury awarded the
plaintiff, Highland Enterprises of Grangeville, a logging
road-building contractor, about $150,000 in compensatory damages
and $1 million in punitive damages. Highland had sought about $14
million in total damages.
Defense attorneys said
they were eager to file an appeal for retrial.
Bernard Zaleha, a Boise attorney who represented 11 of the 12
defendants, contends that the plaintiff never linked any of the
protesters to equipment damage. "There was an absolute failure to
connect the two," he said. "The rest was guilt by association."
Zaleha says his clients were liable only for
delays associated with three separate acts of civil disobedience in
which protesters buried themselves in a road, chained themselves to
a gate and sat atop wooden tripods.
Hemstreet, co-editor of the Earth First! Journal in Eugene, Ore.,
said the amount of the verdict was staggering. "The magnitude is so
huge I can't even conceive of it."
Most of the
defendants do not have jobs and will have trouble making payments,
she predicted. If the defendants lose on appeal, they will be
liable for damages for their lifetimes unless they file for
bankruptcy protection, Zaleha said. Three filed for bankruptcy
before the jury reached its verdict.
Earth First! have been protesting logging in the 78,000-acre
Cove-Mallard roadless area since 1992. The densely timbered area
lies adjacent to the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No
Return Wilderness and the Salmon River ecosystem. Attempts to halt
logging on environmental grounds have failed in federal court so
far, although one case is still
Meanwhile, contractors have proceeded
with building about 27 miles of dirt road and logging about 7
million board-feet of timber, roughly enough to build 700
The Idaho county lawsuit is one of a
number of similar cases elsewhere in the West in which timber
corporations or logging contractors have filed so-called "SLAPP"
suits in hopes of halting protests, says Earth First!'s Hemstreet.
SLAPP stands for Suit Litigation Against Public Participation. But
she said protests will continue as long as logging goes on in the
"This is the biggest roadless
area in the lower 48," says Karen Pickett, a defendant in the case.
"If you're concerned about wildlife habitat, this is one of the
most important areas in the country."
defendants and their total share of monetary damages in the case
are as follows:
* Billi Jo Barker, 30, Harmony,
* Jake Kreilick, 35, Missoula,
* Peggy Sue McRae, 44, Friday
Harbor, Wash., $100,000.
* Karen Pickett, 46,
Canyon, Calif., $100,000.
*Jennifer Prichard, 31,
Moscow, Idaho, $100,000.
* Erik Ryberg, 31,
Fruitvale, Idaho, $100,000.
* Robert Borden, 31,
Athens, Maine, $91,666.
* Beatrix Jenness, 26,
Montrose, W.Va., $91,666.
* Lawrence Juniper, 28,
Bolinas, Calif., $91,666.
* Peter Leusch, 30,
Driggs, Idaho, $91,666.
* Michael Vernon, 45,
Athens, Maine, $91,666.
* Dana Wright, 22,
Waldoboro, Maine, $91,666.
works in Boise, Idaho.