Welcome back (with a bang)

  After 21 days of leave with uncertain pay due to the federal budget impasse, Forest Service workers in Espaûola, N.M., returned to work Jan. 8 to find their office had been bombed. "What a welcome back," says Sam Mott, a spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest. "We'd feel better if we knew why. It's causing a lot of stress."

The FBI has no suspects yet, but plenty of leads and too many motives, an investigator told the Albuquerque Journal. Just days before the bombing, the Forest Service approved a controversial expansion at the Santa Fe Ski Area, and Mott says there's still a lot of locals angry over logging and firewood-gathering restrictions on nearby forests to protect the Mexican spotted owl (HCN, 12/25/95). He says the FBI is also looking at connections to other bombings on federal property, such as the explosion at a Carson City, Nev., Forest Service office last March.

Local Hispanic leaders and environmentalists discount the theory that the firewood controversy led to the violence; both sides say they're trying to work out their differences peacefully.

Mott says this is the third act of vandalism at a northern New Mexico Forest Service office since the 1960s. In all three cases, no one was hurt and police found no suspects. Keiran Suckling, a New Mexico environmentalist who recently relocated to Tucson, Ariz., also sees a trend: "Burning of buildings and houses is a virtual tradition in New Mexico. It's bizarrely common."

*Elizabeth Manning

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