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Fourteen Greenpeace activists were cited for a variety of infractions Wednesday after staging a two-day protest and blocking a U.S. Forest Service road to a logging operation south of Petersburg.
Alaska State Troopers and the U.S. Forest Service ordered 22 protesters Wednesday morning to disband the roadblock, which consisted of 15- to 25-foot high metal structures that held several activists. Other protesters chained themselves to bulldozers and other forest equipment Tuesday and set up a "forest rescue station," or hanging tent, about 30 feet high in the forest canopy.
The activists are protesting logging in the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest and demanding an end to industrial logging across the country.
Nancy Hwa, a Greenpeace spokeswoman, said law enforcement officials brought in a cherrypicker crane to the Point Finger Timber road near Petersburg at about 6 p.m. to remove the bipod metal structures and forest rescue station.
Hwa said 14 protesters were cited for blocking the road and violating an order from the Forest Service closing the area. None of the activists were arrested because they complied with law enforcement officials' orders to come down from the trees, said Patty Grantham, a district ranger for the Tongass,
At press time, eight protesters remained chained to logging equipment at a different location near the logging site, Hwa said.
Jeremy Paster, a Greenpeace activist at the site of the protest, said in a cell phone interview that activists decided to come down from the trees because of safety concerns.
"They didn't want to come down but they are concerned about safety," Hwa said. "It's unfortunate that the authorities weren't as concerned about safety."
At about 11 a.m. Wednesday an order signed by Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole closed the area to the public.
"We issued a forest closure notice for the area that the people are protesting in," said Ray Massey with the Forest Service. "Anything within 300 feet of the road or the log transfer facility or the forest sale units that they're in, people are prohibited from being in there."
Massey said fines for violating the closure are $5,000 maximum and up to 6 months in prison for individuals. Organizations can be fined up to $10,000, he said.
The closure was issued to ensure public safety, according to the Forest Service.
Greenpeace released a statement following the issuance of the order, stating: "It is ridiculous for the Forest Service to close this area under the guise of 'safety.' Our peaceful protest is directed solely at logging operations and is not interfering with those who want to use the area for recreational purposes."
District Ranger Grantham said the protesters presented a potential conflict.
"They are breaking the law," she said. "It's good they are saying they are going to conduct themselves in a certain way, but they are already breaking the law."
Gov. Frank Murkowski issued a statement Wednesday evening condemning the activists and praising the timber industry.
"The group's blatant disregard for the communities and economy of Southeast Alaska, their vitriolic rhetoric and their mean-spirited and antagonistic actions are un-Alaskan and unacceptable," Murkowski said. "We all have an interest in a healthy Tongass National Forest, but the Greenpeace tactics do nothing to assist in resolving our differences."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.