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Booby-Trapped Tree Was Felled in Area Known for Bizarre Protests

May 16, 1987|Special to The Times

UKIAH, Calif. — The booby-trapped tree that injured a Cloverdale mill worker last week was harvested in an area plagued by bizarre logging protests, including animal mutilations, Mendocino County Sheriff Tim Shea said Friday.

Such incidents, including the draping of beheaded or skinned animals atop bulldozers and other heavy equipment, could indicate that the booby-trapped trees were the responsibility of an unbalanced individual rather than Earth First or any other environmental group.

Shea said several mutilations have been reported to his office, the most recent one being phoned in April 18 by an employee of Louisiana-Pacific Corp., which owns the Cloverdale mill.

A 23-year-old millworker was severely injured May 8 when a large band saw struck an 11-inch spike driven into a tree. The saw blade shattered, shooting jagged metal shards into the worker's face, knocking out several of his teeth and tearing away part of his cheek and jaw.

This was the first case in which a deliberate spiking caused such serious injury. Tree spiking has been used by some radical environmentalist groups to protest logging, but the groups usually warned authorities that the trees had been tampered with--both to prevent injury and discourage the cutting of the trees in the first place.

"Those saws are made of a very brittle, very high-tensile steel, and when they hit a piece of iron, they just blow up," said Ron Lewis, federal timber sale administrator in Oregon and Washington. "Everyone in the place knows to duck, no matter how far away they are."

Some lumber mills, he said, have tried using metal detectors on logs--not only to spot "eco-tage," or ecologial sabotage, but also to find spikes and other metals used to install fences, tents or private utility lines. However, that slow, costly, labor-intensive process has proven impractical.

Other forms of ecological sabotage, have included dumping sand or other abrasives into the engines or gas tanks of heavy equipment left overnight at logging camps.

History's largest spiking occurred in October, 1984, when a group called the Hardesty Avengers spiked hundreds of trees in the Hardesty Mountain portion of the Willamette National Forest, said Mike Kerrick, U.S. Forest Service manager in Oregon. Despite a $9,000 reward, no one was arrested for that crime.

A $20,000 reward is offered for information on the Mendocino County spiking.

Although Louisiana-Pacific Corp. is a frequent verbal target of established environmentalists, the lack of warnings about the spiking and the coincidental mutilation of sheep, dogs, deer and pigs in the area had led police to believe the latest incident may be the work of an individual or small renegade group.

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