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‘Unwelcome Mat’ Is Out for Earth Firsters in Some Idaho Towns : Environment: The negative mood is one of the legacies of a persistent campaign to keep saws and bulldozers out of a 6,000-acre timber sale area on national forest land.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A sign at the entrance to the Lodgepole Pine Inn restaurant reads: “We reserve the right to refuse service to all Earth Firsters and their associates.”

“We’re bitter,” said the inn’s operator, Judy, who wouldn’t give her last name. “They ruined our community and the image of Dixie.”

The unwelcome sign is one of the legacies of a three-summer campaign by radical environmentalists to keep saws and bulldozers out of a 6,000-acre timber sale area on nearby Nez Perce National Forest land wedged between two wilderness areas in north-central Idaho.

Dozens of protesters have been arrested and some still face trial for trespassing and setting up roadblocks. At least one lawsuit has been filed over damage caused by sabotage. The environmental unrest has cost the Forest Service $500,000 for law enforcement and other expenses.

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The cost to Dixie is harder to measure.

A bustling gold-mining town for a brief time around the turn of the century, today’s Dixie has about two dozen year-round residents, as well as summer cabins and hunting camps used mostly in the fall.

Across from the inn is a 98-year-old post office and the Dixie Store, where Sharon Kropf sells T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “Earth Firsters can kiss my AX!”

Emmett Smith, who runs Dixie Outfitters, said vandalism by activists last summer particularly strained relations between activists and locals, even locals who are critical of Forest Service practices.

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“Any time radicals cause monetary damage to a private company, that’s going too far,” Smith said.

Four miles away, deep in the woods, a ragtag band of environmental activists are living on a parcel of private land. They sleep in tents and old school buses without running water or electricity. A rusty trailer serves as headquarters. The site is littered with beer and soda cans and other garbage.

“We want to change the way we’re treating the Earth,” said coalition member Greg Thompson, 21, who moved to the Northwest from Florida.

Thompson and Bill Rodgers, 29, of Prescott, Ariz., are among a half-dozen campers. As many as 15 more activists join them from time to time. Others have moved south to organize protests at the Payette National Forest.

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In 1992 and 1993, many of the activists identified themselves as members of Earth First!, an in-your-face group of environmental monkey-wrenchers opposed to logging and road-building in the 77,484-acre Cove and Mallard drainages, an area of the Nez Perce repeatedly considered and rejected for wilderness designation.

The group is less confrontational these days. Now known as the Cove-Mallard Coalition, it runs a video-and-leaflet campaign and stresses grass-roots activism and education.

A new state law and a temporary halt in logging also reduced the confrontation level.

In 1993, despite protests from the American Civil Liberties Union, the state Legislature passed a law making it a felony “to solicit or conspire to halt or impede lawful forest practices.”

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And logging is at least temporarily barred in the Cove-Mallard area, in which nine timber sales totaling 81 million board feet with 140 miles of road were laid out in 1990 on 6,328 acres.

Last February, a federal judge in Boise blocked any activity in the sale area that might adversely affect salmon, wolf or grizzly bear habitat, pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the Idaho Sportsmen’s Coalition.

Two of the nine sale units had already been sold, to Shearer Lumber Products in nearby Elk City, a timber town that also displays anti-Earth First! signs in business windows. One of the two units has been logged.

“This is one of the worst projects,” said Rodgers, wearing a “Two Timber Sales Too Terrible To Ignore” T-shirt.

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“The Forest Service is driving a wedge between two large wilderness areas,” the Gospel-Hump to the west and the Frank Church-River of No Return to the east, Rodgers said.

A third wilderness area, the Selway-Bitterroot, lies to the north in this Paul Bunyan-scale country of deep canyons, pine, spruce and fir trees and clear, fast-running rivers.

The rivers are habitat for chinook salmon, steelhead and a several kinds of trout. The rare gray wolf may live here along with elk, moose, deer and bears.

If the Cove-Mallard corridor is logged, the two wildernesses would effectively become genetic islands for animal populations, Rodgers contends.

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In recent years, Congress has struggled with a variety of public lands issues, including mining laws, grazing fees, wilderness designation, endangered-species protection and timber management.

Cove-Mallard is a tiny part of that debate, said Mike King, supervisor of the Nez Perce National Forest.

“Cove-Mallard just reflects that the public lands debate is in transition. It is uncertain right now,” King said.

“Some people want the role of public lands to change faster. Others think it’s going too fast.”

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