Enviro infighting on forest deal


When I researched my new High Country News story on bold experiments emerging in national forests, I talked to a bunch of people whom I couldn't fit into the magazine story. That's a drawback of magazines -- the pages are not infinite the way the Web is.

So I'm going to use my blog to publish additional material related to the story.

Today, here are summations of the positions of two more environmentalists who don't like the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership -- the Montana experment in which the timber industry cut a deal with three sizable green groups (National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Montana Wilderness Association).

Montana Sen. Jon Tester says he'll hold a press conference Friday to announce how he's tuned the deal and wrapped it into proposed legislation that would designate new wilderness while supporting timber jobs and off-road driving in Montana. Forest restoration -- fixing mistakes of the past -- is also a primary goal.

These two environmentalists run small groups that challenge timber sales with appeals and lawsuits (often winning). They say it's a bad deal in many ways ...

Michael Garrity, head of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, based in Helena: Garrity is a fifth-generation Montanan who has a bachelor's degree in economics and studied natural-resource economics in grad school at the University of Utah (he didn't complete his Ph.D.). He says the best strategy for forest management is NREPA (the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act), which has been introduced in Congress regularly since 1993. NREPA would essentially designate wilderness to protect the Clinton administration's "roadless rule" areas in the Northern Rockies -- 24 million acres -- and manage connecting corridors for wildlife. NREPA has a lot of support in Congress, but almost no support in the Northern Rockies delegations -- so there's little chance Congress will pass it. Some of Garrity's thinking has to do with economics: "The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest loses $1,400 per acre on average on commercial timber sales (when its overhead is factored in)," he says. "The forest is a critical corridor connecting the Yellowstone and Glacier national park ecosystems. NREPA would spend $135 million in restoration work, creating 2,100 jobs over 10 years, paid for by not logging roadless areas. We agree there are restoration needs, we just disagree about how to go about it."

Sara Jane Johnson, head of Native Ecosystems Research, based near Bozeman: Johnson grew up in rural South Dakota, earned a Ph.D. in biology from Montana State University and worked as a Forest Service biologist for 14 years (1974 to 1988). Now she runs a campground in Southwest Montana. She founded Native Ecosystems Council in 1992 -- a one-person group (her) with a board of directors. "The species of concern on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest include cavity-nesting birds (such as) woodpeckers, swallows, nuthatches," she says. "The clearcutting of lodgepole pines has had tremendous impact. All these areas are black holes for these species for a hundred years (after clear-cutting). Goshawks require 3,000 to 4,00 acres of older forest to raise the young in one nest -- they're forest hunters, they need forest prey. … People who want to save wilderness -- that's for people to go hiking and for aesthetics, not for wildlife. I think the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership is outrageous -- the last thing we need is more logging and more roads. If you have to have a job that destroys the environment, maybe you should get a different job."

I'll publish more supplemental material -- including more support for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership deal -- on my blog soon.


Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership
Nov 09, 2009 11:33 AM
What I fail to hear being recognized in much of the argument against the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Parntership proposal is the incredibly dire situation that Montana's southwestern forests are facing right now. I spent the better part of a morning this past summer flying over a large portion of the southern BDNF, and was completely floored by the extent of the beetle damage that is happening. It would be very easy to simply cruise through Hwy 15 and have little idea of the extent to which these forests are dead or dying.

I'm not presenting this information simply to bolster a pro-logging argument, I'm stating it as fact - Montana's forests are dying, and that is not an exaggeration. It is however, a reality that too few people seem willing to acknowledge. Logging will not change that fact, but there are several things that the stewardship contracts proposed by the BDP will help accomplish - clearing dead and dying forests to minimize future fire danger (and danger that will soon become catastrophic at the rate that beetle damage is currently spreading), and also provide jobs to the small towns of southwestern Montana, which, if you have spent much time touring the region and actually getting off the highway, you will see the undeniable need for. Why not permit harvesting of dead/dying trees? If we don't allow them to log and wither and die instead, what will that forest look like in 5 or 10 years? Will not logging and instead letting the dead forests deteriorate provide the habitat for the bird species that Sara Jane Johnson notes above?

My point is that I think a lot of people are very misinformed about the current state and health of the forest in much of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and imagine that we are simply looking at the same, age-old debate about evil, greedy logging corporations coming in and decimating the pristine wilderness. As is often the case, and as is certainly the case in the BDNF, this isn't accurate. I would encourage more people to get out and actually spend time in the area instead of rushing to judgement without personal experience.

At the same time, there are certainly areas of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge that are worth protecting - undeniably. The headwaters of some of the most famous trout streams in the western U.S. are here - the Madison, the Ruby, the Big Hole, Rock Creek, as well as other lesser-known streams home to pure native cutthroat and grayling. These areas would, and should, be protected. S. 1470 would do this.

NREPA was a bold vision. But frankly, I think it is too bold, and apparently, most people seem to agree. Why else would a bill that has been regularly introduced since 1993 still have gotten nowhere?

The Forest Jobs and Recreation act isn't perfect - and no land management bill ever will be. There are too many interests attempting to be accommodated for every interested party to walk away from the table happy. Yet the BDP has done something notable - it has moved passed the ideological paralysis that has marked land management processes for decades. It has brought timber companies together that want conservation organizations to share information with them about environmentally sensitive areas, and where it is, and isn't appropriate to log. It has brought conservation organizations together who are willing to see that not all logging is inherently evil. This, in my opinion, while not perfect, is both notable and exciting.

About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.