Then he points out that the fire "doesn't even fit the m.o. of eco-saboteur."
Indeed, as Dave Foreman, the Tucson-based co-founder of the radical environmental group Earth First!, wrote in his book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, the rules of engagement for monkeywrenchers demand that "careful monkeywrenchers avoid explosives, firearms and arson . . ." and insist that monkeywrenchers "be willing to disavow stupid acts," one of which is arson.

Foreman, incidentally, is still on probation for guilt by association with Flagstaff's last major monkeywrenching incident. Mark Davis, an environmental zealot who was more erstwhile than Earth First!, cut several bolts on the chair-lift towers at Arizona Snowbowl. The FBI put Davis in jail and accused Foreman of being in on the conspiracy, which he denies.

There is no denying the sentiments that remain in Flagstaff between environmental outsiders who moved to Flagstaff for its relatively unspoiled greenery and locals for whom development means jobs. There seems to be no middle ground.

Gary Raper, whose spec home was torched, says, "I've known a lot of people who move here and then think they can put a fence around Flagstaff. They want all these regulations, but when prices go up, they're the first ones to raise hell."

Speculating about the arsonist, Raper adds, "If I was going to throw the dice, I'd put my money on the environmentalists. You hear them talking all the time. There was even a group around here for a while that was playing ninja, running around and cutting billboards down."

"If it had anything to do with the environment at all, the behavior looks much more like the other side to me," counters Betsy McKellar of the environmental group Friends of Walnut Canyon. She speaks of people spray-painting hateful slogans on cars bearing liberal bumper stickers and of rednecks deliberately driving on roads that have been closed on public lands for environmental reasons.

But then she admits that she has done some small-scale monkeywrenching to protest the National Forest Service's shoddy road-closing techniques. To make sure a certain road was impassable, she threw large rocks in the middle of it, and when she was caught, she paid a fine of $100.

There are guilty consciences on both sides. Shortly after the first painted message appeared on the subdivision fence, a truck was stolen from Warren Smith, the contractor who was building the roads into the parcel of land. Smith wondered if it was in retaliation for a dispute he has with the City of Flagstaff over water rights to an inholding he owns in Walnut Canyon National Monument, just east of town.

"Warren's water thing ain't no big deal," says McKellar of Friends of Walnut Canyon.

Still, Smith fears a conspiracy. "You're aware that the Grand Canyon Trust headquarters is about a half-mile down the street here?" he says with suspicion in his voice. The trust, of course, is a staid and respectable environmental organization, and when that is pointed out to Smith, he responds, "Well, it has you thinkin'."

"I was wondering when somebody was going to make that assumption," quips Roger Clark, director of conservation programs for the Grand Canyon Trust. He admits he is angry with the National Park Service for not aggressively pursuing the purchase of Smith's inholding. He assumes that Smith is holding out for a profit, but Clark doesn't see monkeywrenching within his organization's method of operations.

Then he makes a confession of his own. "Is the statute of limitations over?" Clark asks before continuing. "I did chain-saw down a billboard on the way to the Grand Canyon in a fit of anger one night in 1970, when I was a college student. But I've developed other tactics, and I haven't been involved in any monkeywrenching before or since then.

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