Groups such as the ELF oppose genetic engineering of trees, believing that "You cannot control what is wild," according to the group's motto. In taking responsibility for the attack, an ELF message claimed that Bradshaw "continues to unleash mutant genes into the environment that is certain to cause irreversible harm to forest ecosystems."
Bradshaw was using only traditional breeding methods in his own research, though he had about 80 genetically engineered aspen trees, obtained by collaboration with a colleague in Oregon, growing elsewhere at the center. He has never released a genetically engineered plant of any kind into the environment. All such releases require special permits from the state and federal governments. Of the ELF, he says, "They're unbelievably ignorant about science. We're not dealing with the brightest pennies in the fountain, here."
An architectural rendering of library space in the new Merrill Hall, courtesy Miller/Hull Partnership.
Asked to characterize the ELF for a TV reporter, Bradshaw described the group as the Taliban of environmentalism. "They're fundamentalists who believe that their world view is so correct that it needs to be imposed on everyone," he says. "And if you don't subscribe to it, they'll burn you out."
Professor Tom Hinckley, the center's director, arrived at the scene about 6:30 a.m. "I knew Toby's work, or alleged work, was not well received by some extremist groups. It seemed really obvious," he recalls. He found the captain of the fire crew and explained his suspicions. Despite investigations by the FBI, ATF and local police, no suspects have been arrested to date.
By afternoon of that first day, the recovery effort was already under way. A makeshift headquarters was set up in the greenhouse. Firefighters had been able to put tarps over most of the library's collection and, once the immediate danger of fire was past, began hauling books and other materials out to the anxious arms of the library staff.
Community groups offered to share their space in another center building. The UW Physical Plant provided three temporary trailers for faculty and staff and a doublewide for grad students. The University, which is self-insured, spent more than $1.2 million in efforts to help recover materials, arrange for interim work and office space, restore books, demolish the building and provide emergency resources.
On the third day, a few people were allowed into their offices for 15 minutes. "It was surreal," Reichard reports. The humidity inside the water-soaked building was unbearable. Drenched with sweat, she made her way through the blackened hallways. The paint had peeled, the walls burned through in some places. Fallen, wet plaster lay on the floor and was quickly trampled and turned into pulp.
Confronting the mess in her office, Reichard says, she faced a moment of panic. She gathered up some personal pictures, slips of paper from her bulletin board and a couple of out-of-print books. "Then I just looked around. What do you save? I really didn't know. I started to cry," she says. "Then I pulled myself together and just started putting things in a box."
Volunteers started showing up immediately after the fire. They brought food, flowers, comforting words and, most important, muscle power. They carried the rest of the books and reading materials out of the library, wiped the soot off and loaded them into freezer trucks, bound for restorative treatment in California. They cleaned slides. They helped carry file cabinets and equipment, anything that could be salvaged, and heaped it into piles in the greenhouse. And they offered one thing sorely needed-affirmation that the center matters.
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