OLYMPIA – State Sen. Val Stevens says the culprits who released thousands of minks from a Sultan farm in 2003 are ecoterrorists who should be locked up for longer sentences than other criminals.
For the second year, she has proposed legislation that creates a new crime of ecoterrorism carrying harsh sentences.
“We don’t have a law to protect us,” said Stevens, R-Arlington, who introduced Senate Bill 5314 last week.
But her bill might never be debated by her colleagues. It was sent Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the chairman, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, has not scheduled a hearing for it.
“It is in line to happen, but the number of bills before it makes that unlikely,” Kline said Wednesday. For the bill to have a chance at passage, the committee must approve it by March 2.
SB 5314 defines ecoterrorism as organized crime against the animal, farm or timber industries. Depending on the amount of damage, those arrested could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Punishment ranges from a fine to up to 10 years in prison.
Stevens pushed an identical bill in 2004 without success.
Ecoterrorism as defined by the FBI is the use or threatened use of violence against innocent people or property by an environmentally oriented group for political reasons.
In 2002, the Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, creating exceptional penalties for certain kinds of criminal sabotage. The law may be applied to ecoterrorism cases, but does not cover actions specifically against the timber and fur industries.
Attacks on the fur industry prompted Stevens’ bill.
Snohomish County has had seven mink farm break-ins in the last eight years, including the 2003 incident in which 10,000 minks were released from a farm near Sultan. The Animal Liberation Front claimed credit. No one has been arrested for that crime
“These people know what they are doing. They are very organized,” Stevens said.
Jerry Vlasik, press officer for the Animal Liberation movement in Los Angeles, blasted the proposed law as “an attempt to chill freedom of speech” with the threat of arrest for taking part in certain types of protest.
Activists in the underground Animal Liberation Front won’t be affected, he said, because they are committed enough to act regardless of the increased penalties. They view their actions to free animals from captivity as equivalent to the abolition movement of the 19th century to free slaves, he said.
“If you want to talk about terrorism, we can talk about terrorism suffered by these animals in their cages,” Vlasik said.
The Washington Farm Bureau backed Stevens’ bill last year and will do so again this year.
“Many of these ecoterrorist acts are staged against agricultural facilities and definitely impact our members,” Farm Bureau spokesman Dean Boyer said. “Too often, nobody is ever caught and punished for these acts. If they are caught, we need to be sure there is significant punishment so they won’t do it again.”
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@ heraldnet.com.