Friday, March 03, 2000

Environmentalists gather in Oregon
Boulder residents prominent among speakers at national conference

Colorado Daily Staff Writer

EUGENE, ORE. -- The U.S. and global economies are booming. Consumer choices are seemingly limitless. Technology has radically redefined the realms of agriculture and medicine. And thanks, in part, to these phenomenon, the world's population recently topped six billion people.

So what's not to like?

Plenty, say the thousands of concerned scientists, attorneys, activists and students who have gathered in Eugene, Ore., this weekend for the 18th annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

The conference, which is being held on the campus of the University of Oregon, is perhaps the premier gathering of environmentalists in the world. The theme of this year's event, "Six Billion Downstream," is designed to underscore the interdependence and interconnectedness of all living things, conference organizers say.

The conference's attendees this year include the venerable David Brower, who is considered by many to be one of the primary inspirations behind the U.S. environmental movement. Also featured at this year's conference are several Boulder-area residents. CU Law School professor Charles Wilkinson, an expert in public lands matters and Indian law, will deliver a keynote address at the conference Saturday night. And Boulder attorneys Ted Zukoski and Karl Anuta will be featured on a panel, titled "The Ski Resort Cancer," which will explore how lawsuits and other legal means have been used to challenge ski-area expansions in Colorado and other western states.

But other prominent conference guests will advocate a radically different set of solutions for the world's environmental problems. Julia "Butterfly" Hill will speak about her highly publicized two-year "tree sit," which she conducted to draw attention to the destruction of old-growth forests. And animal-rights activist Rod Coronado, who was convicted for taking part in the 1992 firebombing of a Michigan State University animal research laboratory, will discuss why the environmental movement should embrace "direct action" tactics.

"We should utilize every tactic available to us, and not feel restricted because of illegalities," Coronado said. "We're living in a stage of extreme urgency. We don't have the time or the right to compromise." According to Coronado, arson and other means of "direct action" are completely justified, since the Endangered Species Act and other laws established to protect the environment aren't being enforced, anyway.

"We should feel no obligation whatsoever to adhere to (the government's) laws," Coronado said. "Those people who feel that certain tactics negatively effect the (environmental) movement aren't seeing the truth about what's going on. They're in denial."

Graphic evidence that Coronado obtained of animal abuse in the U.S. fur farm industry has been aired on the television program 60 Minutes. According to Coronado, the fur industry -- like many other such enterprises -- won't be dissuaded by peaceful protests.

"We have a responsibility to take action when laws aren't enforced," Coronado said. "We should use lawsuits and other legal means, but we should not be limited to them."

Also appearing at the conference will be Burmese environmental and human-rights activist Ka Hsaw Wa, who fled the repressive military regime of his country in 1988. Wa, who has documented a host of atrocities committed by the Burmese military, was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1999.

For more information on the topics to be addressed at the conference, see the event's Web page at www.pielc.uoregon.ed.