27 Feb 2008, 12:24pm
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Blogger levels heated threat against Sierra Club

By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian [here]

Comment online To comment on this story, go to Western Montana 360.

KALISPELL - A string of red-hot wildfire seasons has claimed millions of Western forest acres and not a few homes and lives, and Mike Dubrasich reckons he’s figured out at least part of the solution for future summers:

“If you know a Sierra Club member, please feel free to set their home on fire.”

That’s the suggestion - “I’m suggesting it, but I’m not advocating it” - Dubrasich posted on his Web site last week.

“Personally,” said Bob Clark, “I thought that was a little over the top.”

Clark is a Sierra Club representative based out of Missoula, and he keeps a whole file of death threats in his office. Some have been forwarded to the FBI, some to the state attorney general, some to the Montana Human Rights Network.

He doesn’t place Dubrasich’s post in the “death threat category,” but it did catch his attention.

“You shouldn’t have to live in your community in fear of your neighbors,” Clark said. “We live in a civil society. There are other avenues besides burning someone’s house down.”

And on that, Dubrasich couldn’t agree more.

Dubrasich, of Lebanon, Ore., describes himself as a forester, a consultant and a blogger, among other things. His Web network - the Western Institute for Study of the Environment - includes 11 separate sites. Eight are what he calls “educational colloquia,” all about forests and fires and wildlife and paleobotany and rural culture. The others are a mix of news and commentary, clippings and first-person opinion pieces.

It was one of those opinions - posted Feb. 20 on the “SOS Forests” portion of his site - that caught Clark’s attention.

The post was in response to a news item about a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, arguing the government was breaking its own rules by not adequately assessing the environmental impacts of small timber harvests.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of the Sierra Club, saying the Forest Service could no longer use “categorical exclusions” to evade environmental analysis.

Although the injunction on categorical exclusion projects is not yet official, it could put a stop to many timber sales, particularly small sales designed to thin forests and protect homes from wildfire.

That ruling infuriated Dubrasich, whose response was titled “Ninth Court and the Sierra Club are slime ball arsonists.”

The way he sees it, such suits only increase the risk of people being burned out of their homes. And so he suggests fighting fire with fire.

“It seems the Sierra Club is up to their old sick tricks of burning down America’s forests and all the neighboring private property, too,” Dubrasich wrote. “The raging arsonist commies at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals share the slime pit. If you know a Sierra Club member, please feel free to set their home on fire.”

He calls the court “wacky commie judges hell-bent on destroying America,” and suggests “they should be spit upon whenever they go out in public.”

The Sierra Club is “an abomination and toxic to the environment,” he writes, adding that “if the fire devastates a forest, ruins a watershed, burns private homes, and kills people, then they applaud. That’s exactly the kind of fires they desire. Anarchy and Revolution courtesy of America-haters, and nature be damned.”

The judges also “yearn for” large “catastrophic holocausts that incinerate vast tracts,” Dubrasich writes. “The powdered wig set are twisted sickos, romping in chambers like French poodles.”

In previous posts, Dubrasich has accused Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell of advocating “holocaust and takeover, destruction of homes, farms, whole communities, and indeed our American culture and society.”

It’s strong language, intended to get a rise from readers, but it’s not the sort of thing that Clark worries much about. Until, that is, Dubrasich suggested torching the homes of Sierra Club members.

“I don’t think that this guy himself would be a threat to any of our members,” Clark said. “But what worries me are the people he might incite. Typically, the ones who say it the loudest aren’t the ones to do it. But who knows what some reader might do?”

The Sierra Club, with some 2,000 members in Montana, is a pretty big target for an angry arsonist, Clark said.

“So,” said Dubrasich, “how’s it feel? Right back at you.”

By which he means that environmentalist lawsuits have hampered efforts to thin forests, resulting in big hot fires that “escape from the federal estate” to ravage private property and, sometimes, lives.

“Nothing I’ve said ever hurt anybody,” Dubrasich said, “but their fires are actually killing people dead.”

And that, Clark said, is where Dubrasich has it all wrong, right from the beginning.

“He’s connecting dots that don’t exist,” Clark said. “He’s finding an easy culprit and making scapegoats, but he’s starting from a place of falsity. Show me the timber sale that was held up in litigation, and that later burned hotter because the forest was not treated. Show me the home that was lost to that kind of litigation. Show me the acres. It doesn’t exist.”

Clark points to big Montana fires - the Jocko Lakes and Chippy fires, as well as others - and says many of those acres had been cut heavily in the past. Neither area was targeted for thinning that was stalled in the courts.

“What we should be talking about are things like drought and climate change and the number of homes being built in the woods,” Clark said. “Instead, we’re talking about putting a match to my house.”

The problem, Clark said, began when the White House authorized changes to the categorical exclusion rule. Those changes, he said, increased the number of acres that could be cut without full environmental review to 1,000, and also removed wording that said even categorical exclusion sales needed to take into account the cumulative effects of nearby projects.

The result: some forests were cobbling together eight or nine “excluded” sales in a single drainage, avoiding environmental review that would otherwise be required of a single large project.

“They were abusing the rule,” Clark said. “So who’s the culprit? Is it the entity that’s making the illegal rule change, or the entity that’s abusing the rules, or the people who call them on it?”

In the end, however, Clark is far less concerned with the apparent disagreement over how and why the categorical exclusion rule was successfully challenged than he is about the hostile turn the rhetoric has taken.

“I’ve been threatened before,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s just part of the deal.”

Clark’s had death threats over the phone, and through the mail, and his office has been vandalized. At one point, his 7-year-old son picked up the phone to hear a man screaming that he would blow his father’s head off with a shotgun.

Up in the Flathead, a radio host has called environmentalists Nazis, and has burned green swastikas in protest. Conservationists there, too, have endured threats and vandalism.

And not too long ago, Clark said, a woman spoke in favor of wilderness at a Bitterroot National Forest meeting, prompting one man there to suggest someone ought to “put a bullet in her head.”

Forest officials there quickly changed their public meeting process, and began taking comments one-on-one inside federal offices.

“We in the environmental community are constantly painted as the so-called terrorists,” Clark said. “But take a look. Look where all the rhetoric of terror is coming from. It’s just sad and unfortunate that people can’t feel free to advocate for the future of their country without fearing for their lives.”

Clark admits radical environmentalists have been responsible for similarly provocative comments and actions, but he remains convinced “the solutions will come from people seeking common ground, not from the extremists on either side.”

But that, of course, comes straight from a man Dubrasich would call an extremist. Dubrasich believes nothing he has to say is as excessive as what the Sierra Club does, or what the mainstream media reports, for that matter.

And although both men claim to have the same intent - to facilitate the orderly thinning of forest lands near homes - they are going about it in very different ways.

“We don’t have a bunch of attorneys,” Dubrasich said. “We don’t have anything but our free speech. That’s all we’ve got, and we’re using it.”

Hopefully, Clark said, that’s all they’ll use. Because he, for one, sometimes wonders, late at night, whether the match might finally come.

“Look,” Dubrasich said, “you advocate burning my forest, I say feel free to burn your house.”

But he’s certainly never burned anyone out, he said, and is only “taking it to the level where someone finally pays attention.”



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