'We better start moving ahead'

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Wayne Hirst is an accountant in Libby, the small town in northwest Montana where asbestos mining has sickened hundreds and led to the town's consideration as a Superfund site (HCN, 3/13/00: Libby's dark secret). Libby is more than half busted, with the logging industry also way down. Hirst is a Republican who founded the Montana State Parks Association, finagles park laws through the Legislature, and lives up the Bull River with no home phone. He says he voted for Judy Martz for governor and regrets it, but that Montana's environmental movement has also made mistakes.

Wayne Hirst: "Libby was a big Democratic town, because of the unions, until the late 1980s, when the environmental movement got very strong in the Democratic Party, and they went with strong anti-logging. Then the town turned Republican. In 1993, more than 40 percent of my clients lost their jobs when Champion International liquidated (its private forests) and the cut dropped so much on the national forest because of designated grizzly habitat and the Clinton Forest Service. Environmental groups appeal nearly all the timber sales here. Judges make the logging decisions ...

"Sometimes environmental groups say the sky is falling, and it is not. That hurts them. That's a problem in this state - no compromise. Environmentalists want no timber sales, and that hurts the loggers, and they want no mining, and they do things that hurt ranchers. Meanwhile, development marches ahead, and that gets no attention except on the local level. Development of Montana will be Colorado-type development (residential sprawl into the mountains). Development is the environmental problem I see in Montana, the long-term threat. You cut down a tree, it grows back. You build a house, it breeds other houses.

"I don't really like what's happening in Bozeman and Missoula and the Flathead. The yuppies and developers are moving in. The environmentalists ally with the yuppies to fight the old battles, and that opens the door for the developers. Environmentalists should focus more on the future. We better start moving ahead in this state, or while everybody fights, we'll turn into Colorado."