Environmental terrorism is commonly referred to as "ecoterrorism," a combination of the terms ecology and terrorism. An environmental protection movement began in the 1970s when Congress passed a number of environmental protection laws. By 1980 some environmentalists believed little progress was being made to halt developers and industries destroying wilderness areas for profit.
Acts of eco-terrorism, also known as ecotage (a combination of the prefix "eco" and the word "sabotage"), attack people or things that threaten the environment or the wildlife it supports. Eco-terrorists, or "ecoteurs," as they're sometimes known, profess to value all life, so they don't strike to kill, but instead use scare tactics like arson to discourage their enemies.
Some environmentalists decided to take action and used ideas from two books, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) by Edward Abbey, a former forest ranger, and Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching (1985) by Dave Foreman.
Foreman founded the terrorist group Earth First! in 1979. Its members successfully used the tree stake method, which does not hurt the trees, in California and the Pacific Northwest to slow logging. Earth First! members also set fires and cut livestock fences in protest of overgrazed grassland. Another ecoterrorist group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), formed in the late 1990s when Earth First! began backing away from violent activities. The FBI considers ELF one of the major terrorist groups within the United States.
ELF's terror act of choice is setting fires. Claiming a Vail, Colorado, ski resort negatively impacted the habitat of the lynx (a type of wild cat), ELF set fire to a portion of the resort on October 18, 1998, resulting in $12 million damage. In the 2000s ELF was responsible for burning sport utility vehicles (SUVs) on car lots as well as mansions under construction in Southern California.
While they're certainly no al-Qaida, extreme activists acting on behalf of animals or the environment have committed hundreds of crimes over the past two decades and inflicted more than $100 million worth of damage in the U.S.
The increasingly violent attacks of eco-terrorists worry many people. Those familiar with the movement suggest that, although groups are not in the practice of killing anyone, it is only a matter of time before they do. Since these radical environmentalists oppose pretty much anything having to do with development or with the alteration of the environment, they have a lot of potential targets from which to choose.