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Chained activists carried from Forest Service office

Thursday, May 21, 1998

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Four environmentalists linked together by steel tubes and a bicycle lock were arrested yesterday for occupying a U.S. Forest Service building to protest the largest federal timber cutting plan east of the Mississippi River.

The Earth First! protesters entered Forest Supervisor John Palmer's office in downtown Warren shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday and staged a peaceful sit-in.

They refused to leave and were carried out by police and firefighters as a dozen protesters picketed the front of the building and distributed leaflets denouncing the 10,000-acre East Side Project timber sale.

"We wanted to bring our concerns directly to the forest supervisor," said Mark Goldberg, a spokesman for the group. "I go camping in the Allegheny National Forest a lot, and I get concerned when my hikes take me across a clearcut.

"The Allegheny is a special place, and we'd like to see it remain special," he said.

Kathy Frank, a spokeswoman for the forest office in Warren, said the project was in line with the Forest Service's policy of multiple uses for public lands.

Charged with disorderly conduct and defiant trespass by Warren city police were Michael G. Kruse, 21, of Millerplace, N.Y.; Adam T. Weissman, 20, of Woodcliff, N.J.; Tara Doran, 23, of Morganville N.J.; and Sarah J. Blum, 19, of New York City.

The four were arraigned yesterday afternoon before District Justice A. W. Zerbe, who set bail for each at $5,000.

They were taken to the Warren County Jail. A trial date was set for June 3.

The protesters said the proposed tree cuts bordered and would adversely affect popular recreational areas, environmentally sensitive old growth tree stands and pristine streams.

"We decided we needed to take a proactive stance against the East Side Project," Kruse said before his arrest. "We're trying to take back the forest, starting with the Forest Service office."

The arrests and protest were timed to call attention to the May 26 public comment deadline for preparation of the East Side Project's environmental impact statement.

The East Side Project combines several smaller timber sale proposals, including the Mortality II project, a 5,000-acre, scattered site salvage cut valued at more than $10 million.

Mortality II was halted in October by U.S. District Judge William Standish, who ruled that an environmental impact study had to be done before the sale proceeded.

The 510,000-acre forest, which sprawls over Elk, Forest, McKean and Warren counties in northwestern Pennsylvania, has experienced high tree mortality on more than 90,000 acres because of insect infestation and poor regeneration.

In response, the Forest Service has increased cutting of dead and dying trees in the state's only national forest.

The East Side Project and Mortality I, another tree cutting plan for 7,500 acres, would create more than 30 clear-cut openings bigger than the 40-acre limit established by the National Forest Management Act.

The Forest Service has said it isn't bound by the clear-cut limit because the high tree mortality rate qualified as a natural catastrophe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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