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Environmental activist camp

Camping, Canoeing, Splaying In The Street And Screaming
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<a href="http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/a/2003/06/26/state0400EDT7888.DTL">Camping, Canoeing, Splaying In The Street And Screaming</a>
<font=-1>At activist camp, it ain't exactly about learning archery and making cute leather wallets.</font>
(Associated Press)

DARBY, Mont. (AP) -- Deep in the Bitterroot Mountains, Don Muller is learning how to do battle against an opponent he says has tons of money, runs the court system and controls the police force.

The Sitka, Alaska resident wants to take on the federal government.

And he's not alone.

Brown is one of 70 environmental activists spending this week in Montana's Bitterroot National Forest at a boot camp for the civilly disobedient.

They are studying the basics of gumming up the work of logging public lands -- everything from how to safely tree-sit, thus stalling logging projects, to how to press court appeals that stymie federal agencies.

Greenpeace says the camp aims to arm the next generation of activists with tools to do battle against the Bush administration's Healthy Forests initiative, which they say will lead to unmitigated logging.

"You deal with radical situations in radical ways," said Muller. "The Bush administration has gone too far in so many ways."

Environmentalists say the forest plan also undercuts citizen input and hands millions of acres of timber over to the logging industry.

The administration says its goal is to speed the removal of trees and brush from 190 million acres of forests that have become overgrown and prone to major fires as result of a century of aggressive fire suppression.

The agency said it has no problem with the group using Forest Service land to map out strategy.

"It's why we live in America. We support people's rights to express their views in non-threatening and nonviolent activities," said Bitterroot forest spokeswoman Dixie Dies. "There have been a lot of sacrifices to have those freedoms."

She said the Forest Service has not had any trouble with the training camp, and doesn't expect it will.

"Most of the folks are here because they caught a glimpse of what Bush's Healthy Forests initiative does," said Mateo Williford, a Greenpeace worker from San Francisco.

Muller has learned the basics of using ropes and harnesses to climb trees and lock-in for extended periods of time to get in the way of timber sales. He is also learning how to blockade roads, help organize at the local level to influence U.S. Forest Service policy and record forest habitat conditions.

Participants also are learning how to cope with the fallout of being arrested and charged with federal crimes.

"Nonviolent civil disobedience is as American as apple pie and the flag," Muller said. "I can't say I'm not afraid, but I'm willing to put my body in the way."

Greenpeace and the National Forest Protection Alliance organized the "boot camp" for the forest activists. About 30 trainers and support staff, with help from groups like Earth First! and the Ruckus Society, are helping out.

"It's exciting being surrounded by 100-plus people that exude passion about wild lands," said Shoren Brown of Juneau, Alaska.
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The Bitterroot was chosen as a training ground because environmentalists say logging plans here threaten one of the nation's largest forests. But Greenpeace said it is using the exercise to help launch a late-summer campaign against logging plans in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

"The Tongass is going to be one of our center stages," said Scott Paul, a Greenpeace forest campaign coordinator based in Washington, D.C.

Paul emphasized the training focuses on getting involved or taking to the trees with nonviolent protest.

"I have heard zero people here advocating monkey-wrenching or property damage," he said.

But he said nearly all the participants are ready to "subject themselves to arrest for a higher cause."

The types of activities planned by the environmentalists can result in serious charges.

Dale Brandeberry, Forest Service law enforcement captain for southwest Montana, said a court recently handed down $10,000 fines to a pair of tree sitters who tried to block a timber sale.

He said the court also ordered them to pay restitution to a logging company and the Forest Service.

The environmentalists remain undaunted, and said they plan to roll out their newfound skills in the near future.

Paul predicted the Bush forest plan will prompt even "mild" environmental groups to take more drastic measures. He thinks tree-sitting and road blockades are going to become more common.

"You are going to see the radicalization of the environmental community over this," he said.

Muller thinks the strategy will work. More outspoken environmentalists, even those arrested, will lead to more support for the cause.

"I just can't help but think public pressure will sway the Bush administration to back off and leave the pristine areas alone," he said.
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