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Former tree-sitting protester charged in 2001 arson at UW
Seattle Times staff reporter
A 30-year-old violin teacher from California has become the first person directly charged with the 2001 arson at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture, a crime that has been linked to extremist environmental groups.
Briana Waters of Berkeley, who in 1999 participated in a well-publicized tree-sitting protest in southwest Washington to protect old-growth forest, on Thursday pleaded not guilty to two counts related to the UW arson. The first count, arson, carries a mandatory minimum term of five years; the second, using or carrying a destructive device during a crime of violence, carries a mandatory minimum of 30 years.
Waters is the 14th person implicated in a string of arsons in the Northwest described by the government as domestic terrorism attacks tied to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), loose-knit, underground groups of environmental radicals.
While many of the acts go back several years, no charges were filed until December, when federal prosecutors in Oregon announced the arrests of six people. In January, an Oregon grand jury returned a 65-count indictment that named 11 people and charged them with 17 arsons and sabotage attacks that prosecutors say were committed on behalf of ELF and ALF.
Two were implicated in the UW arson as part of an alleged overarching conspiracy. But Waters was not among them.
During a hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Waters was ordered released on her personal recognizance on condition she surrender her passport. U.S. Magistrate-Judge Monica Benton, citing the "gravity of the case," also imposed electronic home monitoring on Waters when she returns to the Bay Area.
In ordering the monitoring, Benton noted Waters is a mother "who cares for a small child" and a self-employed violin teacher. Waters' child was in the courtroom Thursday.
A 1999 graduate of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Waters has left numerous postings on the Internet. In one self-profile, she described herself as being from the Bay Area, said her hometown was Lansdale, Pa., and listed her interests as tree-climbing, "cute babies" and violin playing. Another posting described her as an "excellent violin teacher in the East Bay."
Waters was among a group who in the summer of 1999 perched in Douglas fir trees on Watch Mountain, just above the Lewis County town of Randle. The tree-sitters refused to descend from their 150-foot-high perches until they received written assurance the land wouldn't be traded to Plum Creek Timber. Months later, the boundaries of the land exchange were reconfigured. About 28,000 acres — roadless lands and old-growth timber — were saved from logging.
Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay said the government believes there are "more individuals directly involved" in the UW fire. He did not elaborate.
According to the U.S. Justice Department indictment released in January, Stanislas Meyerhoff, 28, and William C. Rodgers, 40, allegedly met in a strategy session and decided to set the UW fire as well as a second blaze at an Oregon poplar-tree farm simultaneously.
Sometime before the arson, the indictment alleged, Meyerhoff, Rodgers and Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, 28, of Portland made at least one reconnaissance visit to the UW campus. Meyerhoff, Rodgers and "other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury" set the fire, according to the indictment filed Jan. 20.
The May 21, 2001, UW fire caused between $1.5 million and $2 million in damage. At almost the same time, a poplar-tree farm was torched in Clatskanie, Ore., causing more than $1 million damage. The UW's horticulture center was rebuilt at a cost of more than $7 million.
Both blazes were caused by similar, crude incendiary devices composed of cheap digital timers and fuel. When he learned of the indictment of Waters, Bruce Bare, dean of College of Forest Resources at the UW, said Thursday, "We appreciate their efforts, the ongoing investigation and hope those responsible will be brought to justice."
Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or email@example.com
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.
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