Rainbow Gathering update

The following is the U.S. Forest Service's update for noon, June 29, 2006

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Information/education:

The Rainbow gathering continues to be an illegal activity because no Special Use Permit has been issued. Up to 20,000 people gathering in a high-altitude meadow and camped among dead and dying trees continues to be a serious public safety concern. Officers and resource advisors have been and continue to talk with the gatherers about natural resource related issues such as fire hazards, water and riparian issues, human and dog waste disposal, roadless character (Dome Peak roadless area), soil erosion and compaction, wildlife habitat/displacement, potential prehistoric sites, parking problems (4000 to 6000 vehicles), traffic congestion and vehicle related problems, Leave No Trace camping, use of fire, tree cutting, domestic dogs and wildlife.

Social issues such as communicable diseases, violence, user conflicts, runaways, drug use, and deadly weapons are also concerns with such a large, diverse gathering.

Law enforcement: On June 26, while law enforcement officers walked the gathering to discuss resource concerns, gathering participants attempted to surround their position and became verbally abusive. When officers began questioning the individuals and attempted to obtain their identification, the individuals became uncooperative and ran from the officers. As the officers where in the process of apprehending the suspects a confrontation ensued. Fifteen Forest Service law enforcement officers were surrounded by a hostile crowd of approximately 200+ people from within the gathering. Individuals from the crowd assaulted three officers, pulled the suspects away, and piled on top of one of the suspects to prevent his apprehension. Officers were forced to defend themselves with the use of pepper spray and batons. Three officers received minor injuries that required medical attention including a female officer who was elbowed in the face and chest. Officers were able to escape the hostile crowd and take one person into custody.

Law enforcement personnel are conducting an investigation of the incident and are attempting to locate the individuals who assaulted the officers.

A safety and information checkpoint is being staffed intermittently near the entrance to the gathering area. Law enforcement officers continue to distribute flyers stating that the gathering is in violation of federal regulations and issue citations for illegal occupancy and use when deemed appropriate.

Arrests -- No one is being arrested for participating in the illegal gathering. People are being issued violation notices that require a court appearance. Five arrests have been made to date, two for assault on an officer, three for outstanding warrants out of West Virginia for failure to appear for court at last year's gathering.

Rainbow meeting with the Forest Service -- On June 27, the Forest Supervisor and several Forest Service employees met with a contingent of the Rainbow gathering to discuss issues related to the illegal gathering. Issues discussed included: reasons for denying the permit, the three incidents involving aggressive actions toward Forest Service personnel, and lack of response to requests to work with the Forest Service in advance of the gathering. Rainbow participants acknowledged that the site chosen by them presents problems for the safety of gathering participants, adjacent residents, and recreationists who would need to egress along the one road out during an emergency. Additionally, there was a failure to work with the Forest Service in advance to find an appropriate site for the gathering. There was an agreement by all that the health and safety of everyone involved with this event is the highest priority, and that there is a philosophical difference in the way decisions are made within both entities. Both entities agreed that they would come back to the table with ideas for working through the challenges of this gathering.

Fire restrictions for the Routt National Forest went into effect yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2006. The restrictions include prohibiting the building, maintaining, attending or using a fire that is not in an agency provided or approved facility; using explosives, smoking, welding, and using a combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed.

Fire severity funds have been requested to bring extra resources to the area for initial attack, fire prevention, and law enforcement. This is not specific to the Rainbow gathering, but is in response to overall forest health issues on the entire Routt National Forest.

The application for a special use permit authorizing the large gathering was denied by the Forest Service in large part due to fire danger and the road system is inadequate to evacuate such a large number of people in case of an emergency. This poses a serious public safety concern.

In recent history, the area where the gathering is being held has experienced numerous fire starts beginning in July when dry lightning precedes summer afternoon showers. The Mt. Zirkel Complex, which consumed 38,000 acres of the Routt National Forest, started on July 12, 2002. Since that time, the spruce and pine beetles have killed tens of thousands of acres of trees in the North Routt area, dramatically increasing the fire danger.

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