RENO, Nev. —(AP)— U.S. Forest Service officials are pressing Nevada's Shovel Brigade to retract radio ads they say are inflammatory and promote ill will toward agency officials by describing them as ``armed and dangerous.''
But leaders of the citizen activist group challenging federal jurisdiction over a rugged canyon road bordering "threatened" trout habitat are refusing, saying the ads are truthful.
They accuse the Forest Service of trying to intimidate those who want to drive the remote stretch of road local volunteers have gradually reopened in Elko County since the Jarbidge River flooded and washed it out in 1995.
The ad aired on Elko radio stations over the weekend after the Forest Service cited John Eickhof Sept. 26 for allegedly damaging forest resources through off-road driving.
Eickhof, Wendell, Idaho, is the head of an Idaho truck club that's been active in rebuilding the South Canyon Road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest near the Idaho line over the agency's objections.
One version of the ad said:
``The Forest Service has a new policy of issuing citations for the following offense: Operating any vehicle off road in a manner which damages or unreasonably disturbs the land, wildlife or vegetative resources.
``If apprehended by Forest Service personnel, consider them armed and dangerous and cooperate to the fullest. Then contact the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade for assistance.''
Similar ads began running Thursday in the Elko Daily Free Press.
Dan Dallas, Forest Service district ranger in Mountain City, said he telephoned Shovel Brigade leaders to request ``erroneous information be corrected or eliminated'' from the ads, but said they refused.
Grant Gerber, an Elko lawyer who has represented the Shovel Brigade in past legal actions, confirmed he talked to Dallas about the ad and told him he considered it truthful.
He referred additional questions to another Shovel Brigade activist who helped finance the ad, Mike Lattin of Elko.
Lattin said he has no intention of backing off the ads.
``I stand by what's in the ads,'' he told the Elko Daily Free Press. He said the presence of ``armed forest rangers in Elko County is a bad precedent.''
Bill Van Bruggen, Forest Service district ranger for Jarbidge and the Ruby Mountains, said in a letter to Lattin on Wednesday that the ad characterizing Forest Service employees as ``armed and dangerous'' was ``inflammatory.''
``Describing our personnel in a public forum as criminals is simply unacceptable and tantamount to slander,'' he said.
``It is this kind of public rhetoric that can promote ill will toward our employees and tears down any efforts we continually work on to establish positive community relationships.''
The Forest Service said in a statement from its Elko office on Wednesday that only commissioned law enforcement personnel are armed and that they make up a small percentage of Forest Service officials.
``Forest Service personnel are no more dangerous than Shovel Brigade members or any other persons visiting or using national forest system lands,'' the statement said.
Gerber said he likely will help defend Eickhof against the misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle off road in a manner which damages the resource. The crime is punishable by a maximum of up to six months in jail or a $5000 fine or both, Forest Service officials said.
``It is pure intimidation,'' Gerber told The Associated Press.
``It is an act of intimidation by the Forest Service to keep people from using the road,'' he said Thursday.
``The road has been open for three years and the Forest Service now admits it is open. So if the road is open, how can they cite him? Apparently they concluded he ran over a bush on the side of the road,'' Gerber said.
Van Bruggen confirmed last week the Forest service no longer considers the road to be closed.
``The road technically is `open in disrepair,''' he said.
The agency statement released in Elko Wednesday said the citation was issued because the damage was ``excessive or severe — not a bent twig or a crushed bush.''
Forest Service spokeswoman Christie Kalkowski said an agency special agent told her stream banks were damaged.
The group has been at odds with the agency for years over jurisdiction of the road. The dispute heated up again last week when the Forest Service spent $15,000 on a helicopter to help haul sewage from an outhouse at the end of the road, saying the volunteers' proposal to haul it out in a horse-drawn wagon posed health and environmental risks.