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More on forest power plays

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Ray Ring | Jul 28, 2009 04:20 PM

Here are three more takes on experiments in running the West's national forests differently -- follow-up to my High Country News story, "Taking Control of the Machine."


Do I think the experiments will succeed? ... That question was posed by Colorado Public Radio host Kirk Siegler, when he interviewed me last Friday on KUNC in Greeley … I had to grin, thinking: Who can predict outcomes in our current political system? (The edited interview runs five minutes.)


Bob Decker, former head of the Montana Wilderness Association, has edgy remarks about wilderness politics these days ...

Decker ran the statewide wilderness group for 13 years, then stepped down in 2005 when the group's board of directors wanted a change. He'd gotten crossways with Montana's Congressional delegation -- the only path for wilderness designation. As the Helena Independent-Record reported, he was seen as "too confrontational." He isn't fond of collaborative experiments like the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership (covered in a colorful blog post -- "A farmer's wilderness deal" -- as well as in my story). He says they're a result of "the institutionalization of wilderness advocacy" by groups he calls "Wilderness LLC" (limited liability corporations). They present deals to the public instead of wilderness values, and they're interested in "money, power and the quest for consensus, instead of straight-on advocacy for protection of an area."

In the old days, the West's members of Congress -- like Montana Sen. Mike Metcalf and Idaho Sen. Frank Church -- took the initiative proposing big wilderness designations, and wilderness issues figured prominently in election campaigns, Decker points out. Now "we have no expectation that our Congressional delegation will lead us to a solution. Now solutions have to be resolved (by interest groups) and Congress just gets these packaged agreements."


Todd Morgan, a Western timber analyst, says we should make more effort to keep the industry operating in the national forests ...

Montana, for instance, has roughly the same number of mills (about 200) as during the 1980s. But the number of big mills in Montana (at least 10 million board feet per year) has declined from 36 to 17, says Morgan, who's with the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The small mills use smaller trees to make products like furniture, posts and poles -- instead of lumber.

The annual harvest on Montana's federal land is down 88 percent, while the total harvest on all types of Montana land is down 68 percent.

Environmental restrictions are a major factor forcing the declines, in Morgan's view. "It's not because of lack of inventory -- the amount of standing timber in the forest. We're only harvesting one-sixth of the annual growth, and only one-fourth of the annual mortality."

Morgan goes on: "A lot of people are worried that Montana might go the way of Arizona (where the timber industry has shrunk to nearly nothing). If we lose that part of our infrastructure, and the skilled professionals that understand forest operations, it would greatly diminish our capacity to manage the forests. … It's incredibly expensive now to get forestry work done anywhere we might need it for ecological or social needs (such as reducing wildfire danger around communities). There's less infrastructure to do it, so it costs more or it doesn't get done. It becomes a downward spiral."

Filed under:
more litigation....
Jul 29, 2009 10:14 PM
It only took seven days from Tester's wilderness bill announcement for the local Montana obstructionist environmental groups to file another lawsuit. The Alliance For the Wild Rockies and The Native Ecosystems Council sued the Forest Service on 7/24/09 to prevent logging on the Rat Creek Salvage timber sale located on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. According to press reports this sale would cover only 6% of the acres of a 2007 fire (1652 acres) and would leave most snags on those acres that are over 15" D.B.H. According to court filings The Alliance For The Wild Rockies sued largely in part due to snag retention concerns. If anyone has driven through the BVD lately they would know that lack of snags is not a pressing issue. The forest is currently being decimated by the mountain pine beetle on a landscape scale. This is the same group of people who where complaining the loudest when Tester's bill came out.
And they wonder why they weren't invited to the table to try to reach some sort of workable compromise.

Armchair Forestry Isn't Going To Cut It
Aug 03, 2009 09:49 AM
You stated in your post that:

"If anyone has driven through the BVD lately they would know that lack of snags is not a pressing issue."

Instead of making some generic comment based on a driveby that may or may not have been anywhere near the area in question, why don't you take a look at the Forest Service's environmental analysis and see what it has to say about snag deficiencies for the area in question. Then look at the science. Then we can have an informed discussion regarding forest management instead of just throwing out opinions that are unmoored from science.

new lawsuit
Ray Ring
Ray Ring
Jul 30, 2009 10:17 AM
Yes I noticed it too ... -- Ray

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.

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