A Forest Service ranger station in Oregon has become the latest target in the wave of violence directed at federal installations around the West.
Ranger Station, about an hour's drive southeast of Eugene, burst
into flames early on the morning of Oct. 30. By the time
firefighters had arrived, the 25,000-square-foot building had
burned to the ground.
Besides losing the $2
million building, agency officials and firefighters watched up to
$6 million in computer equipment, furniture, artifacts, files and
research materials go up in smoke.
items destroyed: aerial photos of the forest up to 80 years old,
photo points showing spotted owl locations, tapes and notes of
interviews with now-dead area residents who had worked in
Depression-era CCC camps and 20 to 30 years' worth of
"It's a real traumatic experience, almost
like losing someone in your family," said Ernie Ledbetter, a
fisheries technician who has worked at the ranger station for seven
years. "It's really hard to sit down and start over when you have a
pencil and paper, and that's all."
It wasn't the
only incident of vandalism in the area. That same morning,
authorities found a Molotov-cocktail-like device on the roof of a
ranger station in the neighboring town of
Two days earlier, vandals had set fire
to a Forest Service pickup truck and sprayed "Stop Raping the
Forest" and other graffiti on the Detroit ranger station's
As of mid-November, authorities had not
disclosed whether they had any suspects in the incidents, but they
believe the fire was deliberately set, since it began in several
wings of the six-section building at once. The fire's location,
near the highly controversial, recently quashed Warner Creek timber
sale (HCN, 9/2/96) prompted speculation that the blaze could have
been the work either of "eco-terrorists' or terrorists seeking to
pin the blame on environmentalists.
Club, Oregon Natural Resources Council and the nonprofit National
Forest Foundation in Washington, D.C., have put up rewards totaling
more than $30,000 for information leading to
A possible clue: Authorities recovered
hundreds of old nails from the station's parking lot the next day,
just as environmental activists found numerous nails at the Warner
Creek blockade site and the site of a wedding of two activists over
The latest incident, following
bombings in Nevada and New Mexico and a fire in an Arizona ranger
station in the past 18 months, evoked reactions of fear and anger
among Forest Service officials.
"Some people are
afraid to go out in the woods by themselves, but most of us are
just plain angry," said Tim Bailey, a Forest Service biologist who
has worked at the Oakridge station for 18
"Arson is kind of a chickenshit crime, and
it comes at such a tremendous cost to taxpayers. It's a pointless
thing to do."
The reporter works in